Former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has died at the age of 80. Kuhn's 15-year tenure as commissioner was arguably the most tumultuous that any commissioner has faced.
He died today at St. Luke's Hospital due to complication from pneumonia, said his spokesman Bob Wirz.
He is survived by his wife, Luisa; his son, Stephen, of Chappaqua, N.Y.; his daughter, Alix Bower of Ridgefield, Conn.; two stepsons, Paul Degener, of Redding, Conn., and George Degener of Somers, N.Y.; a sister, Alice McKinley of St. Augustine, Fla.; and 10 grandchildren.
Commissioner Selig said in a statement regarding Kuhn's passing:
“My wife, Sue, and I are terribly saddened by the passing of Bowie Kuhn. He was a close friend, a respected leader, and an impressive figure in all ways. He led our game through a great deal of change and controversy. Yet, Bowie laid the groundwork for the success we enjoy today. He brought us expansion, night World Series games, and greater national television exposure.
“All of baseball mourns him and I have asked all clubs to observe a moment of silence and fly their flags at half mast in his honor. My condolences and sympathies go out to Luisa, to their children and to their legion of friends and admirers.”
Donald Fehr, the Executive Director of the MLBPA said in a statement of his passing:
“I was saddened to learn late this afternoon of former Commissioner Kuhn’s passing. A lifelong fan of baseball, Bowie dedicated many of his best years to the game.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Kuhn family and his many friends.”
During his tumultuous 15-year tenure, Kuhn saw the rise of the Players Union, the Curt Flood case that went to the Supreme Court, the breaking of the Reserve Clause, a shift in the types of owners that ran the game, the two-year suspension of George Steinbrenner, feuds with the likes of Charlie Finley and Ted Turner, as well as several work stoppages. Yet attendance grew and the game expanded.
By the time Peter Ueberroth succeeded Kuhn on Oct. 1, 1984, the major leagues had 26 teams in four divisions, a designated hitter in the American League, the first night World Series games, color-splashed uniforms, free agency and an average salary of nearly $330,000.
Over those 15 years, the game became an ongoing push and pull between management and the Players Association, headed by Executive Director Marvin Miller. The tension created by several work stoppages lingers to this day.
I was fortunate enough to interview Kuhn in February of 2005.
In the interview, Kuhn reflects on his selection as commissioner, the Braves litigation, the breaking of the Reserve Clause with the Seitz ruling, DC’s loss of the Senators and the Pilots move from Seattle to Milwaukee. He shares thoughts on Marvin Miller, Charlie Finley’s aborted trades, the little known negotiations that took place in 1975 to bring an exhibition game to Cuba, the political dynamic that comes with the position of commissioner, and much more.
When I asked if Kuhn had any regrets, he said:
I regret that in addition to salary arbitration, I think I would like to have been more effective in persuading the ownership that the reserve system had to be further loosened up beyond salary arbitration. Salary arbitration was a great step, I'm proud of it. I'm proud of supporting it. I'm not proud about it being there anymore because it's not necessary anymore but it's there. But it was awfully hard in persuading the management in those days that the reserve system had to be changed. There were a few owners that understood that—Wrigley in Chicago being the prime example—but most, they didn't recognize that and I was not able to persuade them.
When asked what baseball meant to him and what it had done for him, he replied:
What baseball did for me was it gave me the ability to communicate publicly ... with confidence. Most Wall Street lawyers, in my opinion, are not particularly good at that. I developed that. So that was an asset.
So, it's given me tremendous access and still does. While the name Bowie Kuhn might not resonate like it once did, it resonates in the corridors of power—a lot.
Click here to read the entire interview with Bowie Kuhn
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