RIP, Bowie Kuhn

Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has passed away at the age of 80. To say the least, he was Commissioner during interesting times.

In 1976, he voided the attempt by [Charlie] Finley’s Oakland Athletics to sell Vida Blue, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers for a combined price of $3.5 million, saying the deals weren’t in the best interests of baseball.

He fined [Ray] Kroc, the San Diego Padres’ owner, $100,000 in 1979 for saying he wanted to sign Joe Morgan of the Reds and Graig Nettles of the Yankees.

During Kuhn’s years as commissioner, attendance in the major leagues grew from 23 million in 1968 to 44.6 million in 1982. In 1983, baseball signed a $1.2 billion television contract that would earn each team $7 million a year for six seasons, then an astonishing sum.

It was clear by now that baseball was transforming itself from a sport to a business, with revenue rising from $163 million in 1975 to $624 million in 1984.

“You can’t be commissioner for 14 years and not change, for better or for worse. I hope I’ve changed for the better,” he said. “I’m more philosophical about our problems. Initially, I used to become more upset. Now, I take problems for granted as being part of the office.”

While business boomed on his watch, players wanted their cut.

[Curt] Flood sued to gain free agency, but lost his U.S. Supreme Court case in 1972. In 1975, the union finally ended the reserve clause, which bound players to their teams forever, winning an arbitration case filed on behalf of Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith. Baseball hasn’t been the same since.

“He was in a difficult, untenable position in that whole period,” said [Marvin] Miller, who remembered Kuhn for his humor. “My own guess is that if he had had his druthers, he would have moved to modify the whole reserve system sometime before the Messersmith case arose.”

David Pinto was not a fan of Kuhn’s because of his actions with Charlie Finley. Given the history of the A’s franchise in selling off star players, I’m a bit more forgiving. Whatever the case, rest in peace, Bowie Kuhn.

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