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07/22/08 1:00 PM ET
Kuhn to be immortalized in Hall
Commissioner honored for steering MLB through adversity
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bowie Kuhn will be the fourth Major League Baseball Commissioner inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, joining Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Happy Chandler and Ford Frick. Last December, Kuhn was one of five managers and baseball executives elected by separate Veterans Committees, joining managers Dick Williams and Billy Southworth, and owners Walter O'Malley and Barney Dreyfuss. Rich "Goose" Gossage was the only player elected this past January by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The induction ceremony for all six is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. ET behind the Clark Sports Center and will be broadcast live on MLB.TV. Kuhn's widow Luisa received the call that her late husband had been elected. "It was a feeling of joy, followed by me bursting into tears, which is what I'm apt to do in such situations," she said on a conference call that also included their son, Stephen, just after Kuhn received 10 of the 12 votes from the committee assigned to vote only for executives and pioneers. "I'm so thrilled. Bowie was passionate about baseball, as you know, and he loved the Hall of Fame -- he really did. So this is just an enormous thrill for me and my family." Landis was MLB's first Commissioner, elected in 1920 under the dark shadow of the Black Sox scandal, and he remained in the position until his death in 1944. Chandler, who succeeded him, oversaw the integration of Major League Baseball in 1947, when Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and Larry Doby was brought up to the Cleveland Indians. Frick, who began his career as a sportswriter, was president of the National League from 1934-51 and Commissioner from 1951-65. Kuhn, who passed away at 80 on March 15, 2007, was the fifth Commissioner, whose tenure spanned 1969-84, the most tumultuous period economically in Major League history. Because of his passing, his son, Stephen, called the honor, "bittersweet." "Just to echo my mother, we were simply thrilled and there were certainly some tears," he said. Kuhn's 15 years as Commissioner is now the third behind incumbent Commissioner Bud Selig and Landis among the nine Commissioners. Selig will complete his 16th year in September. At 42 years old, Kuhn was the youngest man ever to be elected Commissioner when he replaced Gen. William Eckert on Feb. 4, 1969. "I congratulate the Hall of Fame for electing five new members," Selig said in a statement. "I am particularly pleased that former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn is among those who have received this great honor. Bowie was a close friend and a respected leader who served as Commissioner during an important period in history, amid a time of change." During Kuhn's reign, baseball grew from a sport with 10 teams in each league to a multi-divisional format with a round of playoffs preceding the World Series. And as television network involvement and payouts grew, games in the Fall Classic ultimately began to be played in primetime at night to increase visibility and commercial appeal. Kuhn battled with owners and players alike, suspending Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner for his illegal contributions to President Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign and swatting irascible A's owner Charlie Finley by negating the 1976 multimillion-dollar sales of players Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to Boston and Vida Blue to the Yankees, citing the Commissioner's power to rule "in the best interest of baseball." Under his watch, the owners and the union, guided by executive director Marvin Miller, battled incessantly. A work stoppage came as part of every collective bargaining season, culminating in the 1981 strike that took a 50-day, 171-game chunk out of the regular season and split it into halves. He also barred Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from employment in baseball for their associations with an Atlantic City, N.J., casino, suspensions that later were rescinded by Peter Ueberroth after Kuhn left office. Ultimately, the support for Kuhn eroded after the 1981 strike as the owners kept losing ground to the players. In 1982, a group of owners organized a movement to push Kuhn out of baseball. The end came a year later when they refused to extend his contract, opting instead to hire Ueberroth, who had just concluded a successful tour as head of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Committee. Ueberroth was succeeded by Bart Giamatti, who passed away in office in 1989; Fay Vincent; and Selig. Selig, who will be 74 on July 30, was the majority owner of the Milwaukee Brewers when he took over as the interim Commissioner in September 1992. He was elected formally to the job in 1998. Kuhn passed away having been unable to reach the Hall of Fame on the 2007 Veterans Committee ballot. Kuhn received 17.3 percent of the vote as his name appeared on 14 of the 81 ballots cast. He needed 61 votes. On the previous ballot in 2003, Kuhn received just 20 votes from the 79 members of the Veterans Committee, 25.3 percent. But with the restructuring of the committee, eight months after his death, Kuhn's moment came. "We were fearful he was being overlooked," Stephen Kuhn said. "It just was his time now. And we're extremely thankful for that."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.