On the Corner
By Robert Docter –
For the position of Commissioner of Baseball … I nominate
MR. HARRY STILLWELL, O.F.
It’s pretty obvious that baseball needs a strong, competent, experienced, committed voice to weld together the divergent powers of wealthy, egotistical owners and wealthier prima donna players if this great old game is to survive. The players and the owners have finally settled a lengthy dispute. This is good–the players now have a contract, and the game has a way to survive in smaller venues.
The contract seems to have been achieved when many of the owners were frightened into submission because one of the brethren contracted with a player for something like $55 million. I don’t know if this guy will bring the crowds in because the team is now expected to WIN or they will go simply to BOO.
Well–if they give Harry the job, these kinds of decisions will give some consideration to the people who end up paying the bill–the FANS. This owner must not realize that people go to games because they identify with PLAYERS– that the player is more important even than winning. How much somebody makes does NOT guarantee identification.
You ask–“Well, isn’t Harry a little old for this job?”
HEAR THIS! That’s ageism–and we’ve already dealt with that matter in this space.
It is appropriate to wonder what qualifications Harry does bring to the task, and I am happy to enumerate them.
Harry is in the tradition of Kennisaw Mountain Landis–the first commissioner of baseball who saved the game from itself. He’s a lot like Bart Giamatti, who loved the game and brought it a greater sense of dignity. He’s a lot like Peter Ueberoth, who knows how to weld divergent groups together and negotiate successful compromises.
Harry hails from a great family of athletes. He was great at anything he did, and as the first-born son of Salvation Army officers in the middle of the great depression, he sacrificed any career he might have had so that each of his brothers could excel in whatever profession they might have chosen. All were great competitors–real achievers on whatever field of play they chose.
Harry’s own son, Ron, played big league ball, and Ron’s son, Kurt, is having a great career as a big leaguer.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Ya gotta have more goin’ for you than talented brothers and children to be Commissioner of Baseball.”
How about integrity. If you’ve ever known Harry Stillwell, you sense immediately that here is a complete man. His sense of right and wrong are always fully intact. With absolute consistency you can depend on this man to keep his word, to be honest and fair, to elevate the interests of others over self.
How about genuineness. Have you ever talked to Harry Stillwell even for a second and felt any incongruence between what this man felt and what he said? Have you ever heard him talking out of both sides of his mouth? Has there ever been the slightest doubt in your mind that Harry meant what he said? In the 50 years I’ve known him, I have discovered him to be absolutely straight in every respect.
How about negotiations. Let me ask you: “Have you ever been a bandmaster of close to a 60 piece brass band?” Do you know the skills required to maintain overall band proficiency with so many volunteer musicians holding so many different points of view about almost anything; so many different and monstrous egos; so many arguable decisions? Harry kept some of the greatest prima donnas in human history happy all the time and working together.
How about courage. Did you ever play a stand up cornet solo in front of a couple of thousand people? Harry did — many times. Did you ever take your LA style brass band into the heart of brass band country in England? Harry did. Did you ever face two heart by-passes, diabetes, toe amputation and now some mysterious blood problem and be more concerned about how others are doing than yourself? Harry does.
Come to think of it–this guy’s so terrific, maybe I should nominate him to be our next Commissioner. Forget baseball.