L.A. Olympic boss Ueberroth accepts baseball job on his terms
Vero Beach, Fla.
It has often been said that some people continue to swell up when given authority, while others learn how to digest it and grow accordingly. No shoehorn will ever be needed to fit Peter V. Ueberroth, president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and baseball's newly elected commissioner, into the latter category.
What attracted the club owners to Ueberroth was his ability to make quick but well-thought-out decisions regarding the Olympics, which otherwise might have developed a ''put together by committee'' look.
Furthermore, as the former owner of the second largest travel company in the United States, which he built from scratch, he fashioned a reputation for not making financial mistakes.
Until the '84 Games are complete on Aug. 12 - and beyond that if necessary - Ueberroth will remain 100 percent committed to the LAOOC. He has stipulated, in fact, that he will not be available to participate in any baseball-making decisions until Oct. 1.
This was one of several conditions Ueberroth insisted upon before accepting baseball's invitation to serve as its commissioner for the next five years with an option for a second term.
Ueberroth was also extremely instrumental in convincing outgoing commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who didn't get the required number of votes to be reelected last summer, to remain in the post until Peter becomes available. In fact, they have already discussed the problems of the job at length on at least a couple of occasions.
When baseball first approached Ueberroth several months ago, he wasn't interested. He was too busy spouting quotes like: ''Our goal is to make the Olympics a sporting event again, to do something right for the athletes. We're not trying to be bigger, better, grander. We're clearly trying to put on a Games that goes back to the early, easy principles of the Olympics, to celebrate sport.''
But when baseball's search committee, headed by Milwaukee's Bud Selig (representing all 26 owners), called again, Peter said he would be interested if the position were restructured. Without changes, he didn't feel he could do an effective job. He also made it clear that the owners, if they wanted him, would have to wait until the 1984 Olympics were over.
Part of the restructuring that Ueberroth suggested has already been agreed to , and more changes are expected to follow. They include designating the commissioner as baseball's chief operating officer; increasing his power to fine clubs from $5,000 to $250,000; and making both league presidents responsible to his office.
There had been speculation that any new commissioner would be asked to serve under a committee of owners, the members of which would change every three years. Ueberroth reportedly shot that suggestion down in a hurry.
The procedure for reelection of the commissioner in the future has also been changed. Instead of requiring a two-thirds majority from each league, the commissioner now needs only 14 affirmative votes from the 26 owners to remain in office.
If that rule had been in effect last summer, Kuhn would still be in power. Actually it was only five votes against him, all passed by National League owners, that prevented his reelection. However, Kuhn has twice agreed to stay on after baseball's search committee failed to turn up an agreeable successor.
When Ueberroth was introduced as baseball's sixth commissioner at the owners' annual spring training meeting in Tampa, Fla., one of the first questions reporters asked him was: ''Who is Peter Ueberroth?''
The new commissioner replied by saying: ''He is an individual who grew up in sports, who played everything he could play, who had an athletic scholarship to get into college (San Jose State) and get through college. It wasn't baseball. It was the well-known and popular sport of water polo.
''He is also a person with some business acumen, with some leadership acumen and, I hope you agree, with a fairly strong degree of integrity. There is a Sports Illustrated story that talks about the 'mystique' of the Olympics, but there is no mystique. There is no miracle man standing here.''
Clever enough not to be too specific too soon about his ideas concerning baseball, he nevertheless did tell the owners that their game ''has the highest integrity of any sport, period, but it also has room for improvement in the area of drugs.'' He said he believes that baseball has a responsibility to fight drugs, and not players.
Ueberroth, who has been a Los Angeles Dodger season ticket holder for many years, also said that with 14 teams in the American League and 12 in the National, perhaps the sport was out of balance. As for playing with a designated hitter in one league (the American) and not in the other, he said: ''I'd like to know what the fans think. I don't know if they have ever been polled.''
Only time will tell, of course, but Ueberroth (once he gets started) could be baseball's most visible commissioner since Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.