George W. Bush, managing partner of the Texas Rangers and the most outspoken of commissioner Fay Vincent's supporters, said Monday that he was totally surprised by Vincent's decision to resign rather than fight a potential firing.
Bush, who has known Vincent for 30 years, said he got no hint that Vincent would resign when they last talked on Friday and that he spent the Labor Day weekend talking to lawyers and other pro-Vincent owners, lining up strategy for the firing confrontation during the quarterly meetings that will begin in St. Louis on Wednesday.
"I think he just didn't want to go out mud wrestling," Bush said of Vincent's decision. "It got to be very personal, and I think he just decided he didn't want to go to the mat. I'm disappointed, but maybe his supporters dug in their heels harder than he did.
"I went to the meeting (last Thursday in Chicago) and said, 'I'm prepared to fight, he's prepared to fight.' I thought he was, but he's a noble man. It's a hard concept for people to grasp. It's called principle, integrity. He was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the game."
Former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who was also forced to resign, agreed.
"I think what Vincent did was the act of a statesman," Kuhn said from his home in Ponte Vedra, Fla. "Inevitably, the 18 (who voted) against him (in Chicago last Thursday) would have gathered more votes as Fay's supporters thought about the situation. I'm sure he realized that."
Kuhn was not offered a renewal after his two seven-year terms and finally gave up the fight for re-election. The owners then extended his term twice until they found a successor in Peter Ueberroth.
"I could have hung on and fought, but what I decided after looking at the convictions of the handful of teams against me was that that only would be more disruptive," Kuhn said. "Fay obviously thought the same thing."
Vincent opponent Bill Giles, president of the Philadelphia Phillies, said he was relieved by Vincent's decision, that the process "had been messy enough and would have only become that much more messy" if the owners had been forced to fire him, precipitating a legal fight.
"A majority of owners lacked confidence in his ability," Giles said. "He made the sensible choice. We can focus now on the critical issues that the game faces."
But Eli Jacobs, the Baltimore Orioles' owner who supported Vincent in last week's vote, said he was saddened by Vincent's decision.
"I have always been a great admirer and friend of Fay," Jacobs said. "He accepted the job of commissioner in a most difficult time. While in office, he has been an unselfish decision-maker, not once failing to act in the best interests of baseball.
"Even this final act of resignation is one I'm sure Fay considers to be the best thing for baseball given the existing divisions among ownership. I am disappointed. Baseball and its fans have lost a great friend."