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07/27/08 9:22 PM ET

Kuhn recognized among game's greats

Baseball's fourth Commissioner in Hall hailed for 15-year reign

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bowie Kuhn was the fourth 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.

Kuhn's plaque was accepted by his widow, Luisa, from Bud Selig, the current Commissioner, and Jane Forbes Clark, the Hall's chairman of the board. His stepson Paul Degener followed that with the acceptance speech.

"From opera to oration to spirituality to sports, he knew so much," Degener said about Kuhn, a lawyer by trade. "As Commissioner, his strengths were always built on the merits of each difficult issue, always trying to do the right thing and to be fair at all times.

"No matter what the criticisms of the day, he had a long-term vision of what was good for the game and never shied away from taking the responsibility to carry that out. He honored and respected the responsibility of his office."

Landis was baseball'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 to 1951 and Commissioner from 1951 to 1965.

Kuhn, who passed away at 80 on March 15, 2007, was the fifth Commissioner, from 1969-84, the most tumultuous period economically in Major League history.

Kuhn's 15-year tenure is now the third-longest among the nine Commissioners, behind the incumbent Selig and Landis. Selig will complete his 16th year in September. At 42 years old, Kuhn was the youngest man to be elected to the position, when he replaced Gen. William Eckert on Feb. 4, 1969.

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 prime time at night to increase visibility and commercial appeal.

Kuhn battled with owners and players alike. He suspended Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner for his illegal contributions to President Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign. He also swatted 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."

"Charles Oscar was a good friend of Bowie Kuhn's," said Williams, who managed the A's to World Series titles in 1972 and 1973 under Finley. "They fought like cats and dogs."

Under Kuhn's 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.

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Kuhn 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.

"Bowie Kuhn became Commissioner of baseball during a time when the professional game was possibly at its contemporary low," Degener said. "It had sunk almost into an oblivion that hadn't darkened the grand old game since the disastrous days of 1919. Dad saw in baseball its purest form, as an ethereal ballet played on a stage of natural beauty and perfection.

"He showed us that baseball is something that changing times and even scandals could not destroy."

Ultimately, the owner's support for Kuhn eroded after the 1981 strike, as they 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. The current Commissioner, who will be 74 on Wednesday, 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.

"Dad loved the game that gives you the greatest and most brilliantly talented athletes that any sport has ever produced," Degener said. "And [which] left him, borrowing a phrase from [Dodgers announcer] Vin Scully, endlessly watching a parade of heroes go by and wishing he was one."

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.