Kuhn remembered at funeral service
Former Commissioner praised for his contributions to the game
PONTE VERDE BEACH, Fla.-- Bowie Kuhn was remembered as a compassionate, spiritual humanitarian at a funeral mass Tuesday afternoon, his role as a forceful baseball Commissioner vividly overshadowed by the greater missions of his life.
"We're here to show our love to Bowie. His greatest gift was the gift of friendship," the Rev. C.J. McCloskey III said in his remarks to the assemblage in Our Lady Star of the Sea Church.
Associates, friends and mentors filled the church to pay their last respects to Kuhn and to honor his widow, Luisa.
Kuhn passed away at 80 on Thursday afternoon, in death losing the anonymity he'd cherished since his 15-year run as the game's Commissioner ended in 1984.
Tuesday's Mass of Resurrection, preceding a family reception and private burial, drew scores of Kuhn's friends across this coastal community and the nation, as well as former baseball connections.
Among those in attendance were Commissioner Bud Selig, MLB President and CEO Bob DuPuy, Rachel Robinson, former league presidents Leonard Coleman and Lee MacPhail, and former club owners Bill Bartholomay, John McHale and Tom Monaghan.
Baseball was also represented by Bob Wirz and Chuck Adams, public relations cogs in the Commissioner's Office during Kuhn's tenure.
Monaghan owned the Detroit Tigers until he answered a call to prioritize his spiritual life, a move that only strengthened his bond with his sport's onetime boss.
"He offered the most meaningful spiritual relationship I had in my adult life," said Monaghan, along with surviving son Stephen Bowie Kuhn, the only one chosen to eulogize Kuhn.
Stephen Kuhn injected into his own address the only reflections of his father's public life, recalling, as would any other son of any other dad, two lives bonded by baseball.
Stephen took a nostalgic trip through all the World Series he attended at his father's side -- from Roberto Clemente's 1971 heroics through the Carlton Fisk moment to Reggie Jackson's Mr. October baptismal -- and said, "My father wasn't just a baseball executive. He was a lifelong passionate baseball fan."
"I knew him for 24 years," Monaghan said, "and we would talk on the phone every Saturday, usually for about an hour, about our spiritual struggles."
Spirituality was a prevalent guiding force in the life of the private Kuhn, who, in failing health, spent his final months preparing for this last journey.
He personally organized his own mass, selecting the readings and hymns that echoed through the still in the somber sanctuary.
Monaghan served as one of eight pallbearers, along with O'Malley, McHale, Wirz and friends Jim Goodwin, Larry Johnson, Bob Mons and John Sennett.
To the haunting melody of Jim Goodell's baritone "Ave Maria," the pallbearers followed the rolling casket into the sanctuary, the procession ending with Luisa Kuhn, four sons and 10 grandchildren.
"Pray for him. It's what he would want us to do. Pray for his eternal rest," Rev. McCloskey said during his homily, in which he touched on the most turbulent phase of Kuhn's life.
"His public life," said the reverend, referring to his years as Commissioner, "was not without trials and tribulations."
There were literal trials -- the Curt Flood case, the Andy Messersmith arbitration hearings that struck down the reserve clause -- and many figurative ones, involving renegade owners such as Charlie O. Finley, Ted Turner and George Steinbrenner. They were the slings and arrows that had to keep Kuhn light on his feet.
"He stood up to any owner who he felt was threatening the integrity of baseball," Monaghan said.
From his chosen hymn, "On Eagle's Wings": "You need not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day ..."
"We cannot help but celebrate his life," Stephen Kuhn said. "He was a great man. To me, he was a hero. How many sons can say that about their fathers and truly mean it?
"His best quality was his humanity."
While Kuhn's biggest battles were fought in public, his greatest triumphs and accomplishments were private. All who spoke of him remembered his frequent visits to console AIDS patients -- at a time little was known about how the disease was transmitted, a tacit danger that did not deter Kuhn.
"It is a crying shame that he isn't in baseball's Hall of Fame," noted Monaghan, who then brightened. "The good news is, he now is in the biggest hall of fame."
Enduring glimpses into the soul of this very proud, brilliant, private man were provided by Rev. McCloskey, and Kuhn's son.
The reverend related exchanging emails with mutual acquaintances upon word of Bowie Kuhn's death, and of receiving from one of the correspondents the note:
"What I remember most is that there wasn't a moment when I was with him that I felt like being anywhere else."
Stephen Kuhn recalled the family leaving the hospital a final time upon their patriarch's death, and returning to the home Bowie and Luisa shared, where they found a list he had prepared of his final thoughts and wishes.
"At the bottom, the very last item said, 'Love one another, and forgive me.' This, from a man we all admired and who did so much for us," Stephen said. "There is nothing to forgive."
A memorial mass to Bowie Kuhn will also be held later this spring at a date to be announced at The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Quogue, N.Y.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.