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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 151-153
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Fay Vincent. The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine. New York: Simon& Schuster, 2002. 336 pp. Cloth, $26.00.
Fay Vincent was the eighth commissioner of baseball, from September 13, 1989, through September 7, 1992. This book is partially about his role as commissioner but is much more of a love story for the game. There are many reasons for writing a book. One such reason might be to make money. Money is not the reason for this book, however, as Vincent donates all of the proceeds from this book to the surviving Negro League players. This single gesture tells us a lot about Fay Vincent and about his affection for the Negro League athletes.
This book also could have been written as a criticism of the business of Major League baseball, particularly since Vincent was in office such a short period of time. But I find it quite refreshing that the vast majority of the book is spent detailing one interesting story after another, which shows the reader that Vincent is a huge fan of the game. Baseball fans like me will love Vincent's writings on the legends of baseball, including Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Branca, Johnny Bench, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, and so on. I have to agree with Vincent when he says that baseball is the best of the four big American sports because it truly is athinking person's game!
Fay Vincent inherited from his father a love of umpires and umpiring in general. I think you will enjoy reading about the special relationship Vincent had with the men in blue. Probably the most touching part of the book deals with the relationship between Bart Giamatti and Vincent. How many of you know that Fay Vincent negotiated Giamatti's contract when he became baseball's seventh commissioner? Of course, Vincent became his trusted deputy commissioner.
Given that my home town is Cincinnati, I read the chapter on Giamatti, Vincent, and Pete Rose with particular interest. My conclusion: Vincent makes a [End Page 151] convincing case that Rose bet on baseball. Giamatti banished Pete Rose from Baseball on August24, 1989. A week later, Giamatti was dead, and his trusted deputy, Fay Vincent, was the new commissioner.
Several remarkable events occurred during Vincent's short tenure as commissioner. It was a mere six weeks after Bart Giamatti's death that Fay Vincent presided over the earthquake World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. It is sad but true that Giamatti never attended a World Series game as commissioner of baseball. I think you will agree with me that the new commissioner showed extreme calm under intense pressure. As everyone knows, game 3 of the Series was played on October 27, some ten days after it was first scheduled. The Athletics won that game and the next evening as well, to conclude a two-week, 4-game sweep.
How could one write a book about being commissioner without a chapter about George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees? I'll let you read about Vincent's dealings with Steinbrenner for yourself—but here is one little teaser. When Dave Winfield was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, he chose to wear the San Diego Padres cap (not the cap of the Yankees) on his Cooperstown bust. Fay Vincent understands why!
Vincent also includes some very interesting material in his book about his relationship with former president George H. W. Bush and current president George W. Bush. The latter was president of the Texas Rangers when he called Fay Vincent (some six months after he was out of baseball). The question was, what do you think about me (Bush) becoming commissioner of baseball? Vincent's answer seems particularly prescient today. Even though Bud Selig had told Bush he would support him for commissioner, Vincent told the future president that he suspected Selig wanted the job for himself! George W. began his first term as governor...