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Home Biz of Baseball - Interviews Interview - Fay Vincent - Former Commissioner

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Interview - Fay Vincent - Former Commissioner PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 09 November 2005 17:00
Fay Vincent He didn't coin the title of his book. That distinction belongs to George Vescey of the New York Times. Vescey wrote of Vincent, just after his being fired as the commissioner of baseball, and called him "the last commissioner." Of course, this isn't true. Bud Selig is the current commissioner, and after Selig will be another... and another. The reference has more to do with Vincent being the last commissioner that did not hail from the ownership brethren of Major League Baseball, such as Selig has. In that sense, Vincent is arguably the last "independent" commissioner.

Fay Vincent was the 8th commissioner of baseball, following the death of of Bart Giamatti on September 1, 1989. Vincent had been serving as deputy commissioner at the time of Giamatti's passing. Prior to his work in baseball, Vincent was the chairman of Columbia Pictures (beginning in 1978) and the vice chairman of Coca-Cola (beginning in March 1982). In April of 1986, Vincent was promoted to the position of Executive Vice President of the Coca-Cola Company.

His tenure as commissioner lasted less than the 5 years of the term that he had inherited after Giamatti's untimely death. Vincent stepped down in the 1992 after the owners gave an 18-9 no confidence vote. Many issues surround that no confidence vote, but certainly a key event was when many of the owners became angry over Vincent's intervention in the 1990 lockout.

During his tenure, Vincent dealt with the Loma Prieta earthquake's impacts to the 1989 World Series in San Francisco, the lockout of 1990, the banishment of George Steinbrenner from baseball, expansion in the form of the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins, and the hotly debated attempts to realign the National League, which played a key role in Vincent's forced removal as commissioner.

If that had been the last of Fay Vincent, it certainly would enough to fill several interviews, but Vincent has remained very much in touch with the current events surrounding baseball, and touches on a great many aspects of it here.

The following interview touches on the difference between his experiences at Columbia Pictures and Coca-Cola compared to baseball, Bart Giamatti, Pete Rose, the investigations into gambling by umpires in the late '80s, the firing of Barry Rona as the head of the PRC, George Steinbrenner's banishment from baseball over payment's to Howie Spira to get information to discredit Dave Winfield, Vincent's attempts at realignment of the National League, issues he would have tackled if his contract had been renewed, Alex Rodriguez and poker clubs, the relocation of the Expos to DC and how Peter Angelos and MASN factor in that equation, plus his comments regarding ESPN the Magazine's reporting that during Vincent's tenure, a memo (PDF) was sent to all clubs about the use of a drug that has gained more visibility than the cocaine problems of the '80s and early '90s would ever know... steroids. Vincent is frank, and unfiltered in this extensive interview. Enjoy. – Maury Brown


Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network (BizBall LLC): If not for a twist of fate, you might have been a Jesuit priest instead of a former Commissioner of Baseball. Did your background make taking on Baseball’s issues more of a moral calling than a business calling in some senses?

Fay Vincent: You know, that’s a very good question, and I don’t know the answer to it. I think not. I think that one of the problems in American life is that we tend to add a moral dimension to political and economic issues. I think most of the issues in baseball, when I was there, were economic issues and I think it makes it a lot harder to resolve them if you turn them into moral ones.

BizBall: What was the biggest difference between your experience at Columbia Pictures and Coca-Cola compared to baseball?

Vincent: My position in both places was very visible, though I think there’s almost nothing as visible as baseball. I think that one of the differences was everything I did - every decision - was written about by 150 columnists around the country who have nothing to write about except baseball for part of the year. The other difference was that in the movie business, in the entertainment business, there was one objective, to make money for your shareholders, and to do it properly. In baseball, you were serving a number of different constituencies, one of which was the owners, another of which was the public. I tried also to keep in mind the players. So, it was a more complicated job.

In the business world, you work for a Board of Directors, you know that your assignment is the make them money, and if you fail, you’ll get fired. In baseball, it’s not clear. Part of the responsibility was to do well for the owners, but part of it was to represent the public interest, and I had to discipline owners for doing stupid things, like George Steinbrenner.

And so, I think it’s a very difficult job being baseball commissioner, because you have to discipline the very people you work for.

BizBall: You and Bart Giamatti were not only business associates, but by all accounts great friends. Is there something anecdotal about Giamatti that sums up what kind of person he was as a man and as a Commissioner?

Vincent: Well, my wonderful anecdote about him was very early on – you know he only lasted five months as Commissioner – he died very early on, right after we finished the disposition of the Pete Rose case. But in that period, we went to some ballgames together. And we sat somewhere at a ballgame. I remember it was a beautiful day, and we were both just enjoying the experience, and he leaned over and said to me “You know, Dep” – he always called me “Dep” as in Deputy – he said, “You know, Dep, you’ve gotta remember that this is work.” I thought that was perfect. It summed up the fact that for both of us, it was not just work. There was a lot of work involved, and a lot of pain, but there was that extra dimension, which was the joy of baseball.

BizBall: Speaking of Pete Rose – did the admission that he gambled on baseball - do you feel vindicated about that situation?

Vincent: Not really, because I never felt that there was any doubt about it. You know, anyone who has looked at the evidence had to conclude he bet on baseball. We were right in 1989 – Bart [Giamatti], John Dowd, and I. And then, after Bart died, John and I took a lot of abuse from Pete. If you go back and look at all the instances where he claimed he was railroaded and not treated fairly, and his rights were trampled…. I mean, Pete Rose was a vicious, and I think somewhat demented person, and I think he still is.

BizBall: Also in 1989, there were secret investigations into another gambling issue that didn’t get a lot of visibility: Umpires. While Mr. Giamatti started the probe, you eventually signed and enforced the findings of that investigation. Can you touch on the particulars of the investigation and why this issue didn’t become visible to the public until almost 2002?

Vincent: Well, because, I think in baseball, there are all sorts of investigations and what I consider to be relatively minor disciplinary issues that are not public. I think with umpires, that’s especially the case. I mean, think about it - if you were to publicize any transgression by an umpire, you undercut their ability to be a moral authority on the field. I think we always felt that unless it was a very serious case – sort of a capital punishment case – we would not publicize what was going on.

What happened is, a couple of umpires plus Don Zimmer were gambling on football and basketball through a bookie in Florida in the off-season. It turned out the bookie was a drug person – was selling drugs. The FBI tapped the phone of the bookie, and it turned up a number of numbers that were baseball numbers. That is, they were the numbers of Zimmer and some of these umpires. We looked into it. It was very clear that Zimmer and the umpires thought they were just betting small dollars on a football game in the NFL - something that I think a lot of Americans don’t even know it’s illegal. I put them all on probation – Zimmer and the umpires.

I’m talking about this because Zimmer wrote about it in his book and acknowledged my role. The umpires - I don’t know what their position has been publicly, but I don’t identify them. I just say that I thought I did the right thing. I’m very proud of what I did. I think it’s ridiculous to think that I was covering up something. There was nothing to cover up.

If they had been betting on baseball, that would have been serious, if they had been in major debt to this guy, there would have been major consequences. But I put them all on probation, I scared the hell out of them, and I don’t think they went back to that bookie or anything like it again.

BizBall: The day before collective bargaining negotiations were to occur in 1989, you fired Barry Rona, then head of the PRC. Rona had been the PRC’s point man during Ueberroth’s tenure. Rona is quoted as saying, “Every commissioner wants to have an image, leave a legacy. Bowie Kuhn took care of the game. Peter Ueberroth brought business sense. Bart was trying to take baseball back to a non-crass business. And Fay wanted to be the labor-relations commissioner.” How did the decision to let Rona go and move Chuck O’ Connor into his place come about? Did you feel that something substantial had to be done just prior to the negotiations to try and quell the anger that the MLBPA had over collusion?

Vincent: It’s a very fair question - the problem with it is that the facts are wrong. Barry Rona worked for the Player Relations Committee, which was headed by Bud Selig. Bud Selig fired Barry Rona, not Bart or me, though Selig asked me to actually tell Barry it was Selig’s decision.

The owners control the Player Relations Committee. It’s not under the supervision or authority of the Commissioner – never has been. Selig and his committee felt that they had lost confidence in Rona and they wanted to go in a different direction with the outside law firm Chuck O’Connor. Selig made that decision, and I carried it out.

By the way, you’re very good to ask that question, because that is something that is almost never appreciated in baseball. That is, Selig, for the last 30 years, has been in charge of labor relations in baseball. It never reported to the Commissioner. I thought it should’ve. They brought in, when I was Commissioner, a fellow from New York City, whose name I forget, to be a negotiator and that was really one of the turning points in my involvement in baseball.

BizBall: Let’s talk the Steinbrenner/Spira/Winfield episode of your career. You ruled against Steinbrenner citing that he broke Rule 21’s “best interest of the game” clause by his methods of discrediting Winfield by purchasing information from Spira to try and discredit Winfield. When the time for handing out the two-year suspension to Steinbrenner occurred, he very nearly got out of baseball all together. Just how close do you think he was to quitting baseball, and what type of ramifications do you think it would have had on you from the public’s perspective, if he had?

Vincent: Oh, but he did quit baseball. That was the point. He never accepted the two year suspension. He did quit baseball, permanently. He told me that he wanted to leave. He was not suspended for two years. He agreed with me to leave baseball. He went on the Permanently Ineligible List, the same list that Pete Rose is on. And he went on for life. He said he wanted to turn it over to his son. The reason was that he was up to be elected to a position on the US Olympic Committee. He told me that if he’d been suspended by me for the two years, which is what I told him I would do, he would lose his ability to be on the Olympic Committee. So he voluntarily – if you believe that – decided to leave baseball.

I wrote an agreement – actually Steve Greenberg had written it before we met with Steinbrenner – we had guessed that this might be his approach, and we were correct. I think he got very bad legal advice. I think his lawyers were basically incompetent. And he went out of baseball for life.

No sooner did he get out, then Jerry Reinsdorf and others told him he made a terrible deal. He realized that his whole life was baseball. Nobody cared about him as head President of a bankrupt shipbuilding company. He then started telling me he wanted to come back. I told him that he’d have to get rid of some lawsuits that he’d put other people up to filing against me – one in Cleveland and one in New York. He didn’t want to do that, because he knew these guys would hold him up for money. He finally had to pay them over a million dollars to get rid of the lawsuits. They dropped the lawsuits. I thought it was the fair thing to do.

That is, I told him he had a two year problem. It was a little bit like having a guy saying “I’ll go to jail for life” for a speeding ticket. I mean the Winfield matter was serious, but it wasn’t that serious. So I reinstated him after he got rid of those lawsuits and said he would behave. I think people have criticized me for that, but I think it was the fair thing to do.

BizBall: Steinbrenner didn’t sue over the ruling, but two limited partners did, as well as Leonard Kleinmann. Moreover, lawyers were able to petition the executive council over the process in rendering your decision, and filed a report which Reinsdorf and Bartholomay reviewed, and Bartholomay read to the council. Nothing became of this, but the report was apparently destroyed. Looking back, do you feel that due process was afforded Steinbrenner and his team of lawyers?

Vincent: Look, I mean Steinbrenner never really complained very loudly, because he knew, and his lawyers knew, that he was treated very fairly. Don’t forget, it’s a little bit like a guy complaining about jury selection after he’s plead guilty. I mean Steinbrenner came in, basically admitted what he did, acknowledged that two years was perfectly reasonable….

The Bartholomay and Reinsdorf report is a total fraud. It’s a disgrace to the two of them. I’ve never forgiven either one of them. It was really a put up job, and their job was to really discredit me. It was ludicrous. Bartholomay was a serf, he still is, and I have no regard for him. Everybody knows what Reinsdorf is.

BizBall: In 1992, you ordered the realignment of the National League moving the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals into the Western Division. The decision created quite a storm with NL President Bill White in strong opposition, and the Cubs suing over the decision. Do you feel that this event may have been a turning point in which the “anti-Vincent” alignments started to appear within the ownership ranks?

Vincent: Oh, I think you’re absolutely right. I think, looking back on it,that was something that was a political mistake. I think that it was absolutely correct. To argue that Atlanta is west of St. Louis is ludicrous. A third grader knows that St. Louis is west and Atlanta is east. Baseball had that reversed.

The Cubs were basically dishonest. The Cubs – it was all about WGN and television.

After I left, they realigned – went to the three segments.

The difficulty with that decision was that a number of owners in baseball – John McMullen was one of them – were really pushing me to overrule the National League vote because they said the Cubs are always going to screw the rest of us. The Superstation is killing us on television, and it’s unfair. It would be a significant improvement for the have-nots in baseball.

But yes, politically that was one of my bigger mistakes. I think a lot of people in baseball were very angry with me about that.

BizBall: Let’s change history for a second. If your contract had been renewed in November of ‘92, and you had continued as commissioner, what things would you have worked on in baseball that you did not get the chance to do otherwise?

Vincent: Well, that would have been a long list. One is, I think the marketing of baseball in the black community has been a disaster. I think what’s happened, is that baseball, now less than 10% of big league players are black. I think the loss of minority players – look, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, you know you and I can go on and on. The black players in baseball have made a huge contribution. And had it not been for Hispanics filling in that vacuum, I think the public would have noticed a terrific diminution in talent.

And you know, I think it has noticed a diminution in the sense that we all recognize that – you take left-handed pitchers – Why are there so few quality left-handers? The population has gone way up in the past 30 years. We’re not getting the talent. The whole black community’s given up on baseball. That’s a tragedy. I think there are very few blacks in the stands. It’s a major issue for baseball. There are very few black executives. There are very few black General Managers – I can’t think of any – oh, in Chicago, the White Sox. There are very few.

I think that’s one, I think youth baseball, getting kids playing the game of baseball up in places where it needs help…. I think the steroid issue – the drug issue – is a huge problem in baseball. It was a mess when I was there, it’s still a mess. The Union’s been very difficult. I think building a relationship with the Union, #4, would have been a huge priority. The Union basically doesn’t trust the Ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by Selig and Reinsdorf of that money from the players. I mean, they rigged the signing of free agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the players. And I think that’s polluted labor relations in baseball ever since it happened. I think it’s the reason Fehr has no trust in Selig. And I think it’s one of the huge reasons I brought Steve Greenberg to baseball as the deputy. He’s now an investment banker. Everybody in baseball uses him, everybody loves him. But people forget that I brought him to baseball to help deal with Union because he was a former agent, he was well-liked by Fehr, and I think I was absolutely right.

Indeed, I think that the firing of Steve by Major League Baseball was one of their huge mistakes. They should have kept him on. I think he should be Commissioner. I think he’s by far the most talented businessman in baseball.

BizBall: You mentioned at one point that baseball might make a good stock to purchase. Recently, a possible IPO of MLB.com, worth anywhere between $2 billion and $4 billion, was shelved by the owners. Is it realistic for any facet of MLB to go public knowing that by making an offering public, full discloser would have to occur?

Vincent: Well, I’ve always thought the public company should be a company in which the owners and the players have interest. That is set up a separate company, put into it some of the players licensing revenues, put into it 5% of each of the franchises and take it public. It would give the public a chance to own a portfolio of interest in baseball. Sure there’d have to be disclosure, but I think the only thing that would come of disclosure is that people would realize how badly run a number of the franchises are and how weak some of them are financially. It’s not unusual for the top three or four players on a team to make more than the owner by a substantial margin.

BizBall: The Montreal Expos have now relocated to Washington, DC, and with that the questions about whether Peter Angelos would be able to block the move have been removed. You were on record several times saying that you felt Angelos would never allow it. What are thoughts about the arrangement with the Orioles and the Nationals? And, do you feel that the franchises will co-exist without any detrimental effects given the close proximity over the long haul?

Vincent: First I don’t think there is an arrangement. I think they’re still struggling over the… You have to go back, the essence of economic life in baseball life is television. Angelos realizes that the regional sports network that’s going to include rights to both the Washington and the Baltimore games is going to be the most valuable asset that those owners are going to have. The YES Network last year made a $150 million operating profit for the Yankees. So Angelos wants a piece a big of that. I don’t know the numbers (are). Let’s say he wants 75% of that and Washington guy is going buy in and to get 25%. That’s a big win for Angelos. They haven’t worked that out because it is such a big win. And it will decrease the value of the franchise when it’s sold. I mean that number, which is the percentage of the regional sports network that Washington owns, that’s the critical number. And they haven’t been able… In other words, my point was Angelos has got all the cards, and he still has them and he’s still playing them hard which is why over years gone by they haven’t worked it out.

BizBall: Florida is currently struggling to get a new facility. While at the same time, Tampa Bay has had a continued run of poor attendance. There is the perception, real or otherwise, that expansion was done to offset the losses incurred over collusion in the ‘80s. What is your perception of that issue?

Vincent: Well, I think it’s absolutely correct. Indeed, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. Look, each owner had a $10 million bill and there were about 26 clubs before expansion and 30 at the moment, then $280 million, let’s say $10 million a club – they didn’t have the money. So they did what most would business do, they sold stock, they sold interest in the clubs, in the expansion clubs. In my day two of them - Miami and Denver. And that money, which was vital, paid off their collusion debt. Without it I think baseball would have had a very serious time. Indeed some of the clubs had had a serious time financially, a number of them were in tough shape. I remember we had to subsidize Detroit, which was going under, I think after I left, baseball helped Tampa Bay and I think in Phoenix, and probably other places where I think clubs were in tough shape financially. So there’s no doubt about that, I was there. I suggested that instead of expanding, we move two clubs, one to Denver and one to Miami. Seattle was weak and I thought Houston was another one. There were a number of candidates. We could’ve moved those clubs. I’m glad we didn’t because Seattle turned out to be a great franchise and Houston is all right. I remember one of the owners said, “That’s the single dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!” But what he was really saying is, “We need the money to pay off the union because we colluded.” By the way Selig and Reinsdorf have never admitted that collusion occurred. To this day you can’t find any public statement in which they conceded they did it. Walter Haas, who was the owner of Oakland, told me that he was in the middle of it and he said, “Never, ever feel bad about criticizing collusion simply because I was in on it and it was the presidents of the leagues who were calling around saying, “Make sure you don’t sign anybody since that would be a breach of the understanding.”

BizBall: Commissioner Selig has said that after his term expires in 2006 that this will be his final term. If that is truly the case, do you expect to see a continuation of a commissioner being promoted from within the ownership ranks, as opposed to an individual that has no vested financial interest in the game?

Vincent: Well, it’s a tough question. I don’t know how to predict that. Because I think the answer is that it should be an independent. But I think the owners are very happy with Bud. On the other hand, I don’t there’s anybody in baseball… You know Steve Greenberg is the best choice I mean he ought to be the next commissioner. [We’ll] see what happens.

BizBall: We’re fast approaching the next round of collective bargaining. The current agreement expires in mid-December of 2006. Let me throw out some areas that may be key points of the next round, and if you could, give me your thoughts on them:

Contraction –

Vincent: Well, it goes back to the expanding. Expansion was a mistake, but it was done to finance collusion. It’s very hard to contract because of the union. I think when Bud announced it a couple of years ago he botched it terribly by not having cleared the process with the union. They went to court (and) that was the end of that. I think it is a very good idea, but I think it’s going to be very difficult to get done.

Revenue Sharing –

Vincent: Well there is a lot of revenue sharing. I think there are big problems with it. One of them is there is a huge loophole I think that if you building a new club, and you’re the Mets and the Yankees, you don’t have to revenue share to the extent that what you would have had to pay downstream to smaller clubs is used to pay for a new stadium. That’s why the Yankees and the Mets immediately announced that they’re going to build new ballparks. The tragedy of that is (that) the little owners are not going to get anything from the big guys for a while, while they build these stadiums. I don’t think that was really understood very well either by the public or by the small markets. I think it explains why the Yankees and the Mets all of the sudden, in the same year, decided to build new ballparks. It’s a ludicrous provision. But revenue sharing on paper theoretically is a good idea. The problem is that the owners downstream have no obligation to spend the money on players. They can take the money home, pay off debt with it, and I think that issue is an issue for the unions.

The Luxury Tax –

Vincent: Well, the same thing. The luxury tax is a redistribution of wealth. On the owners side I think players have… The only interest the players have is that the issue doesn’t gut the Yankees and the Mets and the Red Sox ability to pay top dollar. And the luxury tax is just enough so that it gets people to feel good about it but it’s not enough to really diminish the Yankees, largely because at the same time the luxury tax went into effect, the Yankees started making [a] huge amount of money from the YES Network. I mean a $150 million profit is a big profit. That’s more money than five clubs, maybe ten clubs make in a year. So as I said earlier television is key. If the owner of a baseball team doesn’t own the television distribution facility, as the Yankees own YES, and as the Cubs own WGN, as Time-Warner owns WTBS, if you don’t have those together, you have no ability to make any money in baseball.

BizBall: On Steroid testing, (1) how do you feel management has handled the situation, and (2) how has the MLBPA handled the situation?

Vincent: Well, I think there’s an awful lot to be done. I think it’s a good start. I think it’s significant the union reopened the contract. They improved the sanctions. I think the public pressure was enormous and Congress should stay out of it. I don’t think they can get involved and do any sophisticated good and I think they know that. Congress has threatened for 40 years to get involved in baseball antitrust issues and never has and that’s a good thing.

BizBall: While you were commissioner, it has been reported a number of times that you overturned Ford Frick’s asterisk on Roger Maris’ homerun record. Looking at the steroid testing policy, as it stands, and as Commissioner Selig has proposed, is it practical for those that say that an asterisk should be placed next to some of the players in the so called “steroid era”?

Vincent: Well, you’re with SABR so you know there never was an asterisk and it’s a misnomer - there were double records. Asterisks make no sense. I don’t think you can do that going forward. I think (the best solution to this) miserable problem is sunlight as I said. I think that you just tell people everything there is to be known about what players were doing while they were breaking records. I mean there’s nothing more. I mean if Bonds breaks Aaron’s record, so be it. It’s a great achievement and if he does it with the help of steroids, I think people are going to know that. If we get precision about what he was taking and when, I might make that better known, maybe even put it on his plaque. But I don’t think asterisks don’t make sense. How are you going to put asterisks on records? Think of the difference between the old days when all the games were played in day time and night baseball came along, think of artificial turf, think of the differences in baseballs from the old days. We don’t asterisk records because there’s been a different baseball used after 1920. I just think the whole asterisk proposition makes sense, and I don’t think it’s ever happen, too many things would have to be tried to be equated.

BizBall: Early this November, Alex Rodriguez was cautioned that his activities of playing poker in illegal poker clubs in New York could be dangerous, and sources within MLB have said Commissioner Selig is keeping an eye on the matter and would step in, if necessary. Given the fact that what Rodriguez is doing is perfectly legal, is there a sense that this is a precautionary tale based on what has occurred in the past with Rose?

Vincent: Maybe. I’m not sure what he’s doing is illegal. It’s legal for him to play poker. It’s not legal for the table to have a stake in the game a take a fee. So if there’s a club that is arranging the poker and is taking a cut, then that’s an illegal gambling operation. I don’t know what he’s been doing; I haven’t followed it very carefully, but I think it’s alright for baseball and probably prudent for baseball to watch it largely because gambling almost always involves individuals losing. That’s why it’s a stupid thing to be involved with. You can’t win and secondly when you lose, you run up debt, and when you run up debt, you’re vulnerable to pressure to pay it off. That’s the way gamblers got involved in a number of instances in sports. Gambling is all around our society. It is very dangerous in the sports context and I don’t think baseball players should be involved in high-stakes gambling operations where a) the club is probably illegal and b) debt can be incurred. We had that problem with (Lenny) Dykstra, which is why I shut down Dykstra’s gambling. He was running up some debts in poker games and it was not a smart thing for him to be doing.

BizBall: You are a non-voting Chairman of both the Voting committee and Screening committee for the special election of Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues candidates to the Hall of Fame in 2006. How has that process been?

Vincent: Well it’s going very well, we’re actually going to meet tomorrow and Sunday (11/5 and 11/6) in Vero Beach here at Dodgertown and we’re and the nominating and screening committee is going to start work. I think there are a number of people who are strong candidates because I think they have been overlooked with terrific records and I hope we’re going to find a number of them that the full committee in February will elect to the Hall of Fame. Some of the pre-Negro League names are very interesting to me and I’ve been fascinated to see what they did and some of the Negro League guys, I mean there are a number of the players that have a terrific amount of support based on their records.

BizBall: In the Weds., 11/9 issue of ESPN the Magazine is 16-page examination of the spread of steroid use throughout baseball, and how many of those closely involved with the game were involved. Your name surfaced regarding a memo (pdf) outlining that baseball had a list of banned substances in the memo (pdf) sent to all MLB teams, and while baseball could not test for steroids, if a player was caught with steroids, he would be sent for treatment and subject to penalties. What comments do you have on this issue being raised?

Vincent: I don’t remember much about the circumstances and I don’t remember who really pushed for it. But, I can speculate that it came out of an awareness that for people who were not in the union – not protected by the Union agreement – that steroids might be a problem. I think that we had become to realize that there were a variety of other compounds floating around that were dangerous. We’d heard rumors about Jose Canseco. I think we thought that steroids and the like were basically a “football problem”, but we did think that they were dangerous. And so for at least coaches and managers and everybody else in baseball we thought we ought to go on record and say that this is bad stuff and we don’t want it getting a toe-hold in baseball.

I wish I remembered more. Obviously, it wasn’t a major thing because I don’t think any of us thought steroids was really a major issue at the time. We were so wrapped up in cocaine problems, so I just don’t remember that much about it.

I’m sure that what the General Managers are saying is correct that nobody paid too much attention to it because it was aimed at people who probably weren’t big steroid users anyway. I mean the clubhouse man, and the coaches would hardly be taking steroids. But that’s all we could do. We couldn’t do anything with the union because the union wouldn’t even give us a hearing on strengthening the cocaine drug problem laws. I mean, I’m glad I did it (sent the memo), I wished we’d done more.

BizBall: So, on the contents of the memo, was the subject matter of the document broached to the union at the time, or was this a matter of this is an internal thing sent to the clubs, “Please be aware.”

Vincent: I don’t know the answer to that question. I think it would have been highly unusual to raise it with the union because we knew that there was a contract with them there was no way we could do anything in the middle of the contract. And, I think it was really our attempt to be on record, if this was our universe, if we controlled the whole thing, this is what we would do. And we did it, but we did it only for the people that were not covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

BizBall: Have you donated your papers to a research library or archive yet, and if not, is he planning to do so in the near future?

Vincent: I don’t know what papers I have; I mean I’m not the tidiest. The answer is “no” and “no” and I would certainly be willing to think about it if I had anything that I thought was valuable. I don’t think I do.

BizBall: You’ve been a member of SABR for some time now. What do you think of the organization, and what would you say to anyone considering joining SABR?

Vincent: Well I like the publications, I like what SABR does. I like going (to the meetings). I haven’t been to many meetings, but I’ve been to some. Here in Vero Beach we have a group that meets once a year. I’ll go this year. I think it’s a good organization. I think if you’re bordering on manic about baseball you might like it. If you’re not crazy about baseball you shouldn’t join.

  • Interview conducted by Maury Brown on 11/4/05 and 11/8/05
  • Transcribed by Steven Charnick, Patrick Mondout and Maury Brown.
  • Edited by Maury Brown.
 
 
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