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Vincent Doesn’t Look Beyond Temporary Role, at Least for Now

Times Staff Writer

Baseball’s deputy commissioner, Francis T. (Fay) Vincent Jr., said Saturday he was still too deep in shock over the death Friday of Commissioner Bart Giamatti, a longtime friend, to know if he wanted to remain as commissioner--on either an interim or a permanent basis.

Vincent seems certain to be offered the interim position Friday when the Executive Council holds an emergency meeting at a location to be determined.

The council, meeting by telephone Saturday, appointed Vincent acting commissioner and said in a statement that he will report to the council until a more definitive action is taken Friday.

The council is composed of Bobby Brown and Bill White, the American and National league presidents, respectively, and four owners from each league, including Peter O’Malley of the Dodgers, who did not participate in Saturday’s meeting. O’Malley is in Moscow attending the ceremonial opening of the first ballpark there.

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Baseball rules provide the council with authority to appoint an interim commissioner, who can serve for not more than three years. The election of a permanent commissioner requires three-fourths approval of the 26 owners, who are scheduled to meet Sept. 13-14 in Milwaukee.

A member of the council who asked not to be identified said it was his feeling that Vincent will be asked to stay--certainly as the interim commissioner and possibly as the permanent choice.

Vincent, reached Saturday at his vacation home on Cape Cod, said it was premature to think about his future, though he received calls from several owners Saturday inquiring about it.

“They were encouraging and supportive, but it’s fair to say they were all still in shock, as I am, and that all of baseball is still reeling under the impact of Bart’s loss,” Vincent said.

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“The action the Executive Council took today was an orderly response to an emergency situation on a weekend, and Bart believed in an orderly process.”

Vincent said he might need a long time to decide what he wants to do.

“The owners have been wonderful,” he said. “They encouraged me to take the job (of deputy commissioner) when Bart reorganized the office, and it’s been terrific, but in large measure that was because I was working with Bart.

“It was a happy partnership, with Bart and I having such a great time looking to the future, but that’s changed now. Even filling his shoes on an interim basis is a big assignment. But I didn’t only lose a business colleague, I lost a man who was like a brother to me.”

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Vincent said that his relationship with Giamatti flowered after they were introduced by a mutual friend in the mid-1970s. Vincent was chairman and chief executive officer of Columbia Pictures, and Giamatti was president of Yale. “We compared notes on who had the tougher job and decided that he did because I, at least, got paid pretty well,” Vincent said, forcing a laugh.

The depth of their relationship, Vincent said, can be measured by the fact that virtually every weekend since they went to work in the New York commissioner’s office, they would charter a plane and fly to their vacation homes in New England.

“Yesterday’s flight was no different than any other,” Vincent said. “Bart was in good spirits. He showed no signs of being ill. In fact, my sister, who is a doctor, was on the plane with us and she saw nothing different about Bart. We dropped him off on Martha’s Vineyard and he was fine. He had a couple of books and said he planned to spend the weekend doing some reading, relaxing and swimming.”

Dr. William Zane, the Barnstable County medical examiner, said Saturday that Giamatti, 51, died of constrictive artery disease.

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“There is evidence that he had a heart attack in the past and may not have even known about it,” Zane said.

Vincent said that Giamatti had never complained of heart problems. He acknowledged that Giamatti was a chain smoker who failed in several attempts to quit smoking, but he denied that the battle over Pete Rose’s gambling activities might have proved fatally stressful.

“I don’t believe that,” Vincent said. “Bart showed no sign he was under any particular stress or pressure. I don’t think there was one event or one incident that triggered this. Bart was in leadership positions for the last dozen years (serving as president of Yale and then the National League before becoming commissioner).”

Vincent shared Giamatti’s lifelong love of baseball. His father, Francis Vincent Sr., was an outstanding athlete who captained the football and baseball teams at Yale and later officiated in the National Football League.

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The younger Vincent, who has been an executive with Columbia Pictures and Coca Cola, said he maintained an interest in baseball, always a topic of conversation when he and Giamatti were together.

Asked if he could be comfortable with a long-term position in the sport, Vincent responded affirmatively but added: “I came into baseball because of Bart. It won’t be the same without him. There’s a lot to consider now that he’s gone.”


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