A. D. Suehsdorf

Bowie Kuhn overstayed his term by a year until Peter V. Ueberroth, 47 years old and fresh from a triumph as head of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, was unanimously elected to a five-year term in October 1984. In this trim, composed, and self-confident executive, the owners finally acquired the leadership they knew was needed to deal with the complexities of contemporary life that were engulfing the baseball business.

Baseball Hires a CEO

Ueberroth became the game's CEO. All departments and activities reported to him. As did the two league presidents, Dr. Bobby Brown of the American League and A. Bartlett Giamatti of the National League. The commissioner's authority to discipline owners was greatly increased. He could transfer or deny any club's draft choices, and the limit on club fines was upped from $5,000 to $250,000. Reelection of the commissioner reverted to a majority vote of the clubs, with a required minimum of five votes from each league. His salary was raised to a reported $450,000, nearly twice what Kuhn was paid.

With concentrated power in his hands, Ueberroth demonstrated that his management style was to delegate responsibility. Although he took unilateral actions to tidy up baseball operations that he found "in disarray," he preferred to have problems solved by the people most closely involved. Cool and controlled in demeanor, yet insistent on high levels of performance and not afraid to make unpopular decisions-he once described himself as "shy and ruthless"- Ueberroth worked first to restore fiscal "sanity" to owners' operations. Many franchises-estimates ran as high as 21 of the 26-were losing money yet continuing to offer long-term player contracts at high wages, even to veterans headed for the inactive list. Exchanges of information to control this extravagance soon brought charges of collusion from the Players Association, which complained of a suspicious absence of bidding by clubs for free agents. Two arbitrators agreed that this was indeed the case during the 1986 and 1987 seasons. Ueberroth denied the allegation but did not dispute the judgment, insisting that baseball must find ways to improve financial stability before such looming problems as expansion could be faced. He estimated that new franchises could be awarded by 1990, with new teams taking the field by 1993.

Problems, Vices, and Changes

Internally, baseball felt the impact of two pervasive social problems of the 1980s: drugs and the lack of job opportunities for minorities. Each club conducted its own rehabilitation program for drug users through its medical department. The Players Association objected to testing as an invasion of privacy and Ueberroth tended to agree, even though minor leaguers and front-office personnel were tested.

The commissioner was also empowered to suspend relapsed players for one year without pay.

The hiring of blacks and other minorities for positions of responsibility on or off the field, particularly those individuals with distinguished baseball careers, remained a sensitive issue. Ueberroth contended that all clubs had accepted the obligation, although at his departure few, if any, highly visible jobs had gone to blacks or Latinos.

In assaults on gambling, Ueberroth worked principally behind the scenes to eliminate club-owner investment in racing stables or tracks. In one of his first public gestures he won approval by lifting

Kuhn's rather farfetched ban on Mantle and Mays.

At his urging, the Cubs chose to install lights at Wrigley Field rather than reimburse the leagues for lost night-game revenues. While not involved in the owners' negotiations with players and umpires, he kept the parties bargaining until settlements were reached. He found a new source of income in persuading large corporations to pay for the privilege of having their products endorsed by Major League Baseball. He concluded enormous new TV contracts with CBS and ESPN. Then he announced his decision to resign as commissioner, even if a second term were offered. Although the owners did not always welcome his assertiveness-an outsider's voice in which they heard as much coercion as persuasion-they felt he had significantly improved baseball's finances, and they accepted his resignation with regret.