Bowie Kuhn

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Bowie Kuhn
Bowie Kuhn 1982.jpg
Kuhn in 1982
5th Commissioner of Baseball
In office
February 4, 1969 September 30, 1984
Preceded by William Eckert
Succeeded by Peter Ueberroth
Personal details
Bowie Kent Kuhn

(1926-10-28)October 28, 1926
Takoma Park, Maryland, U.S.
DiedMarch 15, 2007(2007-03-15) (aged 80)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Children2 children
2 step-children
10 grandchildren
Alma mater Princeton University (B.A.)
University of Virginia (J.D.)

Baseball career
Member of the National
Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg
Induction 2008
Election MethodVeterans' Committee

Bowie Kent Kuhn ( /ˈbiˈkjuːn/ ; October 28, 1926 – March 15, 2007) was an American lawyer and sports administrator who served as the fifth Commissioner of Major League Baseball from February 4, 1969, to September 30, 1984. He served as legal counsel for Major League Baseball owners for almost 20 years prior to his election as commissioner.

Commissioner of Baseball Chief executive of Major League Baseball

The Commissioner of Baseball is the chief executive of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the associated Minor League Baseball (MiLB) – a constellation of leagues and clubs known as organized baseball. Under the direction of the Commissioner, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball hires and maintains the sport's umpiring crews, and negotiates marketing, labor, and television contracts. The commissioner is chosen by a vote of the owners of the teams. The current commissioner is Rob Manfred, who assumed office on January 25, 2015.

Major League Baseball Professional baseball league

Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization, and the oldest of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. A total of 30 teams play in the National League (NL) and American League (AL), with 15 teams in each league. The NL and AL were formed as separate legal entities in 1876 and 1901, respectively. After cooperating but remaining legally separate entities beginning in 1903, the leagues merged into a single organization led by the Commissioner of Baseball in 2000. The organization also oversees Minor League Baseball, which comprises 256 teams affiliated with the Major League clubs. With the World Baseball Softball Confederation, MLB manages the international World Baseball Classic tournament.


Kuhn was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Early life and career

Kuhn was born in Takoma Park, Maryland, the son of Alice Waring (Roberts) and Louis Charles Kuhn, a fuel company executive. His father was a Bavarian (German) immigrant, and his mother had deep roots in Maryland. [1] He grew up in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School. He then attended Franklin and Marshall College in the V-12 Navy College Training Program before going to Princeton University in 1945. He graduated from Princeton with honors in 1948 [2] with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. He then received his law degree in 1950 from the University of Virginia where he served on the editorial board of the law review.

Takoma Park, Maryland City in Maryland

Takoma Park is a city in Montgomery County, Maryland, United States. It is a suburb of Washington, D.C., and part of the Washington metropolitan area. Founded in 1883 and incorporated in 1890, Takoma Park, informally called "Azalea City", is a Tree City USA and a nuclear-free zone. A planned commuter suburb, it is situated along the Metropolitan Branch of the historic Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, just northeast of Washington, D.C., and it shares a border and history with the adjacent neighborhood of Takoma, Washington, D.C. It is governed by an elected mayor and six elected councilmembers, who form the city council, and an appointed city manager, under a council-manager style of government. The city's population was 16,715 at the 2010 national census.

Theodore Roosevelt High School (Washington, D.C.)

Theodore Roosevelt High School is a public high school operated by the District of Columbia Public Schools in the Petworth neighborhood of Ward 4 neighborhood of Northwest Washington, D.C. Roosevelt enrolls 698 students (2017–2018) in ninth through 12th grade. Additionally, the high school is also home to Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. program, an alternative academic and career/technical program that leads to a high school diploma or vocational certificate.

V-12 Navy College Training Program

The V-12 Navy College Training Program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the United States Navy during World War II. Between July 1, 1943, and June 30, 1946, more than 125,000 participants were enrolled in 131 colleges and universities in the United States. Numerous participants attended classes and lectures at the respective colleges and earned completion degrees for their studies. Some even returned from their naval obligations to earn a degree from the colleges where they were previously stationed.

Following his graduation from law school, Kuhn worked at the New York City law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher because the firm represented the National League. [3] While working in baseball's legal affairs, Kuhn served as a counselor for the NL in a lawsuit brought against it by the City of Milwaukee when the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta following the 1965 season. [4]

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, commonly known as Willkie, is an international law firm founded in 1888. It has over 700 lawyers, in 11 offices in six countries. The firm specializes in corporate practice. Supreme Court Justices Felix Frankfurter and Charles Evans Hughes began their careers at the firm, as did former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo served as of counsel at Willkie Farr after leaving office. The law firm's profits per equity partner were $2.97 million in 2018, 17th-highest in the nation.

National League Baseball league, part of Major League Baseball

The National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, known simply as the National League (NL), is the older of two leagues constituting Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States and Canada, and the world's oldest current professional team sports league. Founded on February 2, 1876, to replace the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP) of 1871–1875, the NL is sometimes called the Senior Circuit, in contrast to MLB's other league, the American League, which was founded 25 years later and is called the "Junior Circuit."

After the owners forced out William Eckert in 1968, Kuhn seemed like a logical replacement for the job of commissioner. He, unlike Eckert, was very aware of the inner workings of Major League Baseball before taking office. Kuhn's closest challengers to the commissionership were Mike Burke, president of the New York Yankees; and San Francisco Giants head of baseball operations Chub Feeney, who instead became president of the National League. [5] Kuhn was the youngest (42), tallest (6-foot-5), and heaviest (240 pounds, 109 kg) commissioner in history. [6]

William Eckert United States general

William Dole Eckert was a lieutenant general in the United States Air Force, and later the fourth Commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1965 to 1968.

New York Yankees Baseball team and Major League Baseball franchise in the Bronx, New York, United States

The New York Yankees are an American professional baseball team based in the New York City borough of the Bronx. The Yankees compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League (AL) East division. They are one of two major league clubs based in New York City, the other being the National League (NL)'s New York Mets. The Yankees franchise began play in the 1901 season as the Baltimore Orioles. In 1903, Frank Farrell and Bill Devery purchased the franchise after it ceased operations and moved it to New York City, renaming the club the New York Highlanders. The Highlanders were officially renamed the Yankees in 1913.

San Francisco Giants Baseball team and Major League Baseball franchise in San Francisco, California, United States

The San Francisco Giants are an American professional baseball team based in San Francisco, California. Founded in 1883 as the New York Gothams, and renamed three years later the New York Giants, the team eventually moved to San Francisco in 1958. The Giants compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the National League (NL) West division.

Actions as commissioner

His tenure was marked by labor strikes (most notably in 1981), owner disenchantment, and the end of baseball's reserve clause, yet baseball enjoyed unprecedented attendance gains (from 23 million in 1968 to 45.5 million in 1983) and television contracts during the same time frame. [7]

Strike action Work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work

Strike action, also called labor strike, labour strike, or simply strike, is a work stoppage, caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became common during the Industrial Revolution, when mass labor became important in factories and mines. In most countries, strike actions were quickly made illegal, as factory owners had far more power than workers. Most Western countries partially legalized striking in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

The 1981 Major League Baseball strike was the first work stoppage in Major League Baseball since the 1972 Major League Baseball strike that resulted in regular season games being cancelled. Overall, it was the fourth work stoppage since 1972, but actions in 1973, 1976, and 1980 did not result in any regular season games being cancelled. The strike began on June 12 and forced the cancellation of 713 games in the middle of the regular season. The two sides reached an agreement on July 31, and play resumed on August 9 with the All-Star Game, with regular season play resuming one day later.

The reserve clause, in North American professional sports, was part of a player contract which stated the rights to players were retained by the team upon the contract's expiration. Players under these contracts were not free to enter into another contract with another team. Once signed to a contract, players could, at the team's whim, be reassigned, traded, sold, or released.

Kuhn suspended numerous players for involvement with drugs and gambling, and took a strong stance against any activity that he perceived to be "not in the best interests of baseball".

In 1970, he suspended star Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain indefinitely (the suspension was later set at 3 months) due to McLain's involvement in a bookmaking operation, [8] and later suspended McLain for the rest of the season for carrying a gun. He barred both Willie Mays (in 1979) and Mickey Mantle (in 1983) from the sport due to their involvement in casino promotion; neither was directly involved in gambling, and both were reinstated by Kuhn's successor Peter Ueberroth in 1985. [9]

Also in 1970, Kuhn described Jim Bouton's Ball Four as "detrimental to baseball" [10] and demanded that Bouton retract it. The book has been republished several times and is now considered a classic.

On October 13, 1971, the World Series held a night game for the first time. [11] Kuhn, who thought that baseball could attract a larger audience by featuring a prime time telecast (as opposed to a mid-afternoon broadcast, when most fans either worked or attended school), pitched the idea to NBC. An estimated 61 million people watched Game 4 on NBC; [12] TV ratings for a World Series game during the daytime hours would not have approached such a record number.

Through the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s, weekday World Series games were played at night while most weekend games continued to be scheduled in the daytime. An exception came in 1976, when Game 2 was played on a Sunday night to avoid conflicts with NBC's NFL coverage; Kuhn responded to criticism of the scheduling by attending the game, held at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, without an overcoat in spite of the chilly nighttime weather. [13] Kuhn's primetime vision has been fulfilled, however, as all World Series games are now shown in prime time.

In 1980, during the Iranian hostage crisis, Kuhn sat at a baseball game with Jeremiah Denton, a Navy admiral and former POW in Vietnam who would be elected U.S. Senator later that year from the state of Alabama. Recalling the event to The Washington Post , Kuhn believed that "that afternoon...the idea of a lifetime baseball pass was discussed," and upon their return from Iran, each of the 52 hostages was given one of these unique passes. [14]

Curt Flood

On October 7, 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood, catcher Tim McCarver, outfielder Byron Browne, and left-handed pitcher Joe Hoerner to the Philadelphia Phillies for first baseman Dick Allen, second baseman Cookie Rojas, and right-handed ace relief pitcher Jerry Johnson. [15]

However, Flood refused to report to the moribund Phillies, citing the team's poor record and the fact that they played in dilapidated Connie Mack Stadium and played in front of racist fans. Flood forfeited a relatively lucrative US$100,000 contract by his refusal to be traded to the Phillies.

In a letter to Kuhn, Flood demanded that the commissioner declare him a free agent.

Flood's letter to Kuhn

December 24, 1969

After twelve years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the sovereign States.

It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia Club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League Clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.

Flood v. Kuhn

Kuhn denied his request, citing the propriety of the reserve clause, which was language in contracts that essentially prevented a player from playing with another team even after his contract expired. In response, Flood filed a lawsuit against Kuhn and Major League Baseball on January 16, 1970, alleging that Major League Baseball had violated federal antitrust laws. Flood likened the reserve clause to slavery. It was a controversial analogy, even among those who opposed the reserve clause.

The case, Flood v. Kuhn (407 U.S. 258) eventually went to the Supreme Court. Flood's attorney, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, asserted that the reserve clause depressed wages and limited players to one team for life. Major League Baseball's counsel countered that Commissioner Kuhn acted under the way he did '"for the good of the game."

Ultimately, the Supreme Court, acting on stare decisis "to stand by things decided", ruled 5–3 in favor of Major League Baseball, upholding a 1922 ruling in the case of Federal Baseball Club v. National League , (259 U.S. 200.) [16]

Charles O. Finley

Though he had a reputation as an owners' commissioner, Kuhn did not avoid confronting at least one owner whom he disliked. He was a major adversary of Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. A major embarrassment for baseball resulted from Finley's actions during the 1973 World Series. Finley forced player Mike Andrews to sign a false affidavit saying he was injured after the reserve infielder committed two consecutive errors in the 12th inning of Oakland's Game 2 loss to the New York Mets. Andrews' teammates as well as manager Dick Williams rallied to his defense. Kuhn in return forced Finley to reinstate Andrews. In 1976, when Finley attempted to sell several players to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for $3.5 million, Kuhn blocked the deals on the grounds that they would be bad for the game. [17] Kuhn's decision may simply have been a revenge tactic aimed at Finley after he attempted to force an owners' vote to remove Kuhn as commissioner in 1975.

Hank Aaron

At the start of the 1974 season, Kuhn inadvertently got into the middle of a small controversy during Hank Aaron's pursuit of Babe Ruth's record of 714 career home runs. Aaron's Atlanta Braves opened the season on the road in Cincinnati with a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. Braves management wanted him to break the record at home in Atlanta. Therefore, they were going to have Aaron sit out the first three games of the season. But Kuhn ruled that Aaron had to play two out of three. [18] The result was that Aaron tied Ruth's record in his very first at bat, but did not hit another home run in the series. Kuhn did not attend the game where Aaron broke the record, citing a previous engagement.

Ted Turner

In 1977, Kuhn battled the brash new owner of the Atlanta Braves, Ted Turner. Turner admitted that he had made remarks at a cocktail party about acquiring San Francisco Giants star Gary Matthews, at a time when Kuhn had ordered owners not to speak about potential free agents. Kuhn concluded that Turner's statement was not in the "best interest of baseball" and fined Turner, suspended him from baseball for one year, and penalized his club with the loss of a draft choice. [19] Turner sued but both the trial and appellate courts refused to grant Turner relief, emphasizing the limited-extent of judicial review over baseball and the commissioner's office.

Melissa Ludtke case

In 1977, Melissa Ludtke, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, sued Kuhn and the baseball commission for access to the locker room of the New York Yankees. She was denied access to the Yankees clubhouse during the 1977 World Series and asserted her 14th amendment right was violated. She won her suit. The court stated her fourteenth amendment right was violated since the Yankees clubhouse was controlled by New York City. The court also stated that her fundamental right to pursue a career was violated based on her sex. [20] [21]


When baseball writers came out in support of inducting Negro League players into the Hall of Fame, Kuhn supported recognizing the players in the Hall, but was unable to garner sufficient support from the Hall of Fame board of directors. As a compromise, Kuhn established a committee to select the greatest Negro Leaguers, to be honored with a display at the museum in Cooperstown. [22] Satchel Paige was selected as the initial inductee for the Negro Leagues display. [23]

The decision to honor the Negro Leaguers with a separate exhibit received significant criticism. Sportswriter Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "They segregated the Hall of Fame! ... To have kept Satchel Paige from playing in the white leagues for 24 years and then bar him from the pearly gates on the grounds he didn't play the required 10 years [in the major leagues] is a shocking bit of insolent cynicism, a disservice to America. What is this – 1840? Either let him in the front of the hall – or move the damn thing to Mississippi." [24] Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, commented, "With another wing ... whatever good they've done, they've torn it down." [25]

Kuhn, in his autobiography, claimed that he "knew that the furor would be heard by the board of directors and that the public outcry would be hard to resist. That is exactly what happened." [22] Within a few months, the Hall of Fame board of directors changed its mind and agreed to give Paige, and future honorees of the Negro Leagues selection committee, full membership in the Hall. [26]

Bill James, in his book The Politics of Glory: How Baseball's Hall of Fame Really Works , wrote that Kuhn seemed "very proud of how he handled the affair, doing an end run around the Hall of Fame board of directors by exposing the Hall – and himself – to public criticism. Perhaps this does reflect some personal courage, and he was able to see that the right thing was done. But the Hall of Fame was also damaged. ... The message that got through to the public, loosely translated, was that the Hall of Fame was a racist institution. ... Bowie Kuhn would have been a better friend to the Hall of Fame if he had led them to come to terms with their institutional racism in private, rather than leading them to expose it to the public." [27]

Kuhn's war on drugs

After being in office for over ten years, Kuhn had grown a strong reputation for being hard on players who abused drugs. Kuhn was quick to punish players who used drugs with heavy fines and suspensions. Kansas City Royals catcher Darrell Porter told the Associated Press that during the winter of 1979–1980 he became paranoid, convinced that Kuhn knew about his drug abuse, was trying to sneak into his house, and planned to ban him from baseball for life. Porter found himself sitting up at night in the dark watching out the front window, waiting for Kuhn to approach, clutching billiard balls and a shotgun. [28] Ironically, when Porter was named the most valuable player of the 1982 World Series while playing for the Cardinals, Kuhn was on hand to congratulate him.

In 1983, four players from the Kansas City Royals  Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin, Willie Aikens, and Vida Blue  – were found guilty of cocaine use. [29] In addition, such established stars as Ferguson Jenkins, Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and other veteran players such as Dale Berra, admitted to having problems with drugs. In 1980, during a customs search in Toronto, Ferguson Jenkins was found possessing 3.0 grams cocaine, 2.2 grams hashish, and 1.75 grams marijuana. In response, on September 8, Kuhn suspended him indefinitely. However, Jenkins' suspension lasted only two weeks before, in an unprecedented action, an independent arbiter reinstated him and he returned to the league. [30] Jenkins was not further punished by MLB for the incident, as he remained active until his retirement following the 1983 season.

Leaving office

Kuhn was both praised and attacked for the firm stand that he levied against offenders. However, his hardline stand on PEDs and the 1981 strike caused most of the MLB owners to turn against him. In 1983, Kuhn and his supporters made a last-ditch effort to renew his contract but ultimately failed. Kuhn, though, was allowed to stay for the 1984 regular season before being replaced by Peter Ueberroth. [6]

Life after baseball

Following baseball, Kuhn returned to the law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher and assumed presidency of the Kent Group, a business, sports and financial consulting firm. Kuhn left Willkie, Farr & Gallagher in 1987 to join with Harvey D. Myerson, a former senior partner in the firm of Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey, to form the firm of Myerson & Kuhn. [31] He also became an adviser and board member for Domino's Pizza and the Ave Maria Foundation.

Kuhn had been a longtime resident of Ridgewood, New Jersey. [32] According to an AP wire story, [33] he partnered in a law firm with Harvey Myerson which subsequently went bankrupt and then sold his New Jersey home and moved to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, because his home and other assets were shielded from the bankruptcy.

Kuhn became the Chairman of the Catholic Advisory Board of the Ave Maria Mutual Funds upon the inception of their first mutual fund, Ave Maria Catholic Values Fund, in May 2001. Bowie was a member of the Catholic Organization for President's and CEO's, Legatus and was influential in chartering the chapter of Legatus in Jacksonville, FL. Legatus later memorialized him for his dedication and service to the organization by establishing the "Bowie Kuhn Award for Evangelization".

In July 2001 Kuhn appeared on an hour long episode of The Journey Home, [34] in which he explained the role that his Catholic faith had played in his life and career.

During a telecast of the 2004 World Series, broadcaster Joe Buck announced that just prior to his 78th birthday, Kuhn was scheduled to undergo open-heart surgery. [35] He died on March 15, 2007 at St. Luke's Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida after being hospitalized for several weeks with pneumonia. [32]

Kuhn was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, after having been elected by the Veterans Committee nine months after his death. [36]

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