Former MLB Commish Fay Vincent: ‘Players Really Run and Control Baseball’

Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent discussed steroids, the ban on Pete Rose, and the power of the players’ union in a wide-ranging interview with The Sporting News.

Following the sudden death of Bart Giamatti in 1989, Francis T. “Fay” Vincent, Jr. became commissioner of Major League Baseball. Vincent took over the reins of America’s pastime after Giamatti succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 51, just one season into a five-year term. Three years after his becoming commissioner Vincent stepped down from the position due to a vote of no confidence by eighteen team owners.

Vincent, a 1963 Yale Law School graduate, former partner at the New York law firm of Whitman and Ransom and chief executive officer of Columbia Pictures, recently took some time to talk to The Sporting News.

Some mistakenly believe that it was Vincent who banned steroids from baseball but he clarifies that he didn’t ban steroids. He states in the SN interview that the United States congress put steroids on a prohibited substance list.

“They were banned by Congress. What I did was say, ‘Because they’re banned by Congress, we are gonna be bound by those restrictions, and steroids are gonna be a problem.’”

Vincent recalls that sometime in 1990 or ’91 he stated in a memo to MLB that because of Congress’s stance on steroid use by players and employees of MLB he would treat the subject as a “serious matter.”

It wasn’t until around 2000, Vincent maintains, that the union complied and said they would allow for steroid testing.

The former commissioner believes unequivocally that using steroids is cheating and should be punished more harshly than the MLB does today.

“I would be very severe with the punishment because I think the punishment’s a great deterrent, and it works. It certainly works in the gambling area in baseball. I think the problem we have today is that players will take a risk of only being banned for 50 games or something. They take the steroids because it certainly helps their performance. I think that we should be very much tougher on steroids,” Vincent told SN.

Vincent says that leaving Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame proved positive for the game and served as a mighty deterrent for gambling spreading in MLB:

The issue is, do we want to change the deterrent? One thing we know is the deterrent against gambling is 100 percent effective. The only person of substance in the last 75 years to challenge it was Pete Rose. He thought he was bigger than baseball, and Bart Giamatti told him he wasn’t. That’s a very important rule, and I think it works. I think we have no gambling problem in baseball. You change the deterrent, you’re gonna have a gambling problem.

It would be “a great shock” to most fans if they knew that the commissioner’s and owners’ power is very limited. With the strong unions on their side the players really control baseball, Vincent argued. “It’s a disappointing insight to fans… but the players really run and control baseball. The really major force offsetting that power is Congress.”

Significantly, the internet, according to the former commissioner, served as a major boon for MLB revenues. Vincent estimates that revenues spiked from $2 billion to about $10-12 billion since he oversaw MLB. “I think it’s terrific for baseball…. There’s so many changes in American culture that are very hard to measure,” he contends. “In 1986, Microsoft went public. Nobody in those years, and I was one of them, thought that that would have an enormous effect on baseball, but it did. The Internet, MLB.com, fantasy baseball, all that revenue is just pouring into baseball. I think baseball financially is in terrific condition.”

According to Baseball Almanac, Vincent moved to England after leaving baseball, wrote  a book, and eventually returned to the U.S.. He joined Time Warner on their board of directors and later turned down a job as president for the New York Mets. He now works as an investment banker.


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