Francis T. (Fay) Vincent Jr.
Eighth Commissioner of Major League Baseball
On September 13, 1989, Francis T. Vincent Jr. was elected MLB's eighth commissioner by a unanimous vote of all 26 major league owners. Having been designated as the first Deputy Commissioner of Major League Baseball only five months earlier, Vincent succeeded A. Bartlett Giamatti, who died in office on September 1, 1989. Vincent was elected to complete Giamatti's five-year term, which had begun on April 1, 1989.
• Vincent, born in Waterbury, Connecticut on May 29, 1938, graduated with honors from Williams College in 1960 and received a law degree from Yale in 1963.
• Upon graduation from Yale, Vincent, specializing in corporate banking and security, served at a New York City law firm for five years before he was named partner of a prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm. It was during this time that Vincent also served as Associate Director, Division of Corporate Finance, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
• In 1978, Vincent was named President/CEO of Columbia Pictures. After the 1982 acquisition of Columbia by the Coca-Cola Company, Vincent was appointed Senior Vice-President of the Coca-Cola Company. In 1986, he was promoted to Executive Vice-President, responsible for the company's entertainment activities.
• As Deputy Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Vincent played a key role in the investigation of gambling allegations against baseball legend Pete Rose. Based upon the investigative findings, Rose agreed to a lifetime ban from professional baseball.
Fay Vincent planned to follow Bart Giamatti's lead in maintaining the integrity of MLB. Unfortunately, his attempts to do so often brought him into conflict with the baseball owners. For example, on July 30, 1990, Vincent shockingly ordered Yankee owner George Steinbrenner to resign as the club's general partner and banned him from the day-to-day operations of the team for life. The ruling stemmed from an investigation that proved that Steinbrenner had paid $40,000 to a confessed gambler in return for damaging information about former Yankee player Dave Winfield. Steinbrenner's son-in-law served as acting managing general partner of the Yankees while Steinbrenner appealed Vincent's directives. Within three years, Steinbrenner had resumed his role as general partner, another strong indicator that anyone who challenges the owners is in for an ordeal.
In 1991, Vincent sent a groundbreaking memorandum to all MLB clubs regarding the use of steroids, although he really did not consider steroids to be a major problem at the time. Vincent merely wanted to lay the groundwork for an attempt to control the entire drug and potential steroid problem, i.e., he was being proactive with regard to steroids. In his memorandum, Vincent emphasized, "There is no place for illegal drugs in baseball. Their use by players and others in baseball can neither be condoned nor tolerated. Baseball players and personnel cannot be permitted to give even the slightest suggestion that illegal drug use is either acceptable or safe. It is the responsibility of all baseball players and personnel to see to it that the use of illegal drugs does not occur, and if it does, to put a stop to it."
Commissioner Vincent's memorandum contained the following provisions:
• The possession, sale, or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by major league players and personnel is strictly prohibited. Those involved in the possession, sale, or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance are subject to discipline by the commissioner and risk permanent expulsion from the game.
• In addition to any discipline this office may impose, a club may also take action under applicable provisions of and special covenants to the uniform player's contract. This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids or prescription drugs for which the individual in possession of the drug does not have a prescription.
• MLB recognizes that illegal drug use has become a national problem, and that some players and baseball personnel may fall victim to drugs. Baseball will not hesitate to permanently remove from the game those players and personnel who, despite our efforts to treat and rehabilitate, refuse to accept responsibility for the problem and continue to use illegal drugs. If any club covers up or otherwise fails to disclose to this office any information concerning drug use by a player, that club will be fined $250,000, the highest allowable amount under the Major League Agreement.
• MLB believes that its testing program is the most effective means available to deter and detect drug use. For admitted or detected drug users, testing will be a component of that individual's after-care program for the balance of his or her professional baseball career.
• This office will continue to search for positive and constructive methods of dealing with drug use. While baseball will attempt to treat and rehabilitate any player or personnel who falls victim to a drug problem, we will not hesitate to impose discipline, especially in those cases involving repeated offenses or refusals to participate in a recommended and appropriate course of treatment.
• If any club has a question about any aspect of the drug use program, please contact Louis Melendez, Associate Counsel, Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee.
Francis T. Vincent Jr.
Commissioner, Major League Baseball
CC: League Presidents
Player Relations Committee
Major League Baseball Players Association
(Source: Don Weiskopt, 2006, What if Fay Vincent Remained Baseball Commissioner? Baseball Play America)
Fay Vincent later admitted that there had been talk of steroid use in MLB as far back as 1991 (when his office heard rumors of player Jose Canseco's use of steroids). Most people close to baseball, however, still thought that the use of steroids was essentially a football problem. Nevertheless, Vincent still wanted to incorporate steroid testing into an overall MLB drug policy. At the time, however, Vincent couldn't approach the MLBPA because the owners and union were in the middle of a contract. That fact, coupled with union leader Donald Fehr's mistrust of the owners, meant that Vincent's proposal would have to wait until the next collective bargaining agreement was under negotiation.
In June 1992, the MLB owners met for their quarterly business meetings. During the meetings there was a bitter internal battle between Vincent and the triad of Richard Ravitch, the owners' chief labor negotiator; White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf; and Brewers owner Bud Selig. The latter failed in their efforts at convincing Vincent to eliminate a major portion of his power by abandoning his labor roles. This dispute was strictly an American League effort. Many National League owners were either furious about this closed door conference with Vincent (or didn't even know it was taking place). After the botched attempt to strip Vincent of some of his powers, Selig approached the National League owners to present an explanation for this unusual activity. As he began presenting his case, Selig was interrupted and told that his attempt to strip the commissioner's best-interests clause, which empowers the commissioner to act in the best interest of MLB, was not appreciated and that they (the National League owners) would not participate in such a meeting. Vincent had used the best-interest clause to intervene and halt the 1990 baseball lockout, thus saving the season. Some of the owners, specifically Selig and Reinsdorf, strongly resented Vincent's actions.
Upon hearing about the dispute, union head Donald Fehr said, "What I want to know is, what do they think Vincent is going to do that they're afraid of? The suggestion would be that they were clearly afraid that the commissioner would take some position they didn't want him to take." (Source: Claire Smith, New York Times, June 11, 1992)
On September 5, 1992, the owners casted a "no confidence" vote against Fay Vincent. Two days later, on September 7, 1992, feeling that his departure would be "in the best interests of baseball," Fay Vincent resigned.
Baseball lost an individual who was honestly seeking to preserve and improve the game. He had a definite plan to move forward with drug testing that included steroids and amphetamines. Every owner was aware of this drug policy, but no one would embrace it for the better part of a decade. Vincent's departure constituted the last true and honest effort to maintain integrity in the game of baseball.
It became very clear to many who followed baseball that the owners were not interested in appointing an independent commissioner. Instead, they were looking for a puppet, and Vincent simply wasn't their man. One reporter asked retired baseball executive Lee MacPhail if he would be interested in the job of interim commissioner. His response was, "God forbid; it isn't anything I'd look forward to."
Having led the group to oust Vincent, Selig was invited to be part of the MLB Executive Council and, on September 9, 1992, was given the title of Chairman. This title, which essentially made Selig the interim commissioner, was his for the period of time required to find a new commissioner. In Selig's words, the time period would be "two-to-four months."
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