Bowie Kent Kuhn (born October 28, 1926 in Takoma Park, Maryland) was commissioner of Major League Baseball from February 4, 1969 to September 30, 1984. For almost 20 years, he served as legal counsel for Major League Baseball owners prior to his election as commissioner.
Long before he worked for Major League Baseball, Kuhn grew up in Washington, D.C. and graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School. He then attended Franklin and Marshall College in the Naval V-12 Officer Training Program before going to Princeton University in 1945. He graduated from Princeton with honors in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. He then received his law degree in 1950 from the University of Virginia where he served on the editorial board of the law review.
Following his graduation from law school, Kuhn became a member of the New York law firm Willkie, Farr and Gallagher, chosen because it represented the National League. While working in baseball's legal affairs, Kuhn served as a counselor for the National League in a lawsuit brought against it by the City of Milwaukee when the Braves moved to Atlanta.
After the owners forced out William Eckert in 1968, Kuhn seemed like a logical replacement for the job of commissioner. He, unlike Eckert, was very aware of the inner workings of Major League Baseball before taking office.
His tenure was marked by labor strikes (most notably in 1981), owner disenchantment, and the end of baseball's reserve clause, yet baseball enjoyed unprecedented attendance (from 23 million in 1968 to 45.5 million in 1983) and television contracts during the same time frame. Kuhn suspended numerous players for drug involvement and barred both Willie Mays (in 1979) and Mickey Mantle (in 1983) from the sport due to their involvement in casino promotion; both were reinstated (by Kuhn's successor Peter Ueberroth) in 1985.
On October 13, 1971, the World Series held a night game for the very first time. Kuhn, felt that baseball could attract a larger audience by featuring a prime time telecast (as opposed to a mid-afternoon broadcast, when most fans either worked or attended school), pitched the idea to NBC. An estimated 61 million people watched Game 4 on NBC; TV ratings for a World Series game during the daytime hours would not have approached such a record number.
Though he had a reputation as an owners' commissioner, Kuhn did not avoid confronting owners when he deemed it necessary. For example, he was a major adversary of Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. A major embarrassment for baseball resulted from Finley's actions during the 1973 World Series. Finley forced player Mike Andrews to sign a false affadavit saying he was injured after the reserve infielder committed two consecutive errors in the 12th inning of Oakland's Game 2 loss to the New York Mets. Andrews' teammates as well as manager Dick Williams rallied to his defense. Kuhn in return, forced Finley to reinstate the Andrews. In 1976, when the Finley attempted to sell several players to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for $3.5 million, Kuhn blocked the deals on the grounds that they would be bad for the game.
At the start of the 1974 season, Kuhn inadvertantly got into the middle of a small controversy. It was during Hank Aaron's pursuit of the all-time career home run record. Aaron's Atlanta Braves opened the season on the road in Cincinnati with a three game series against the Reds. Braves management wanted him to break the record in at home in Atlanta. Therefore, they were going to have Aaron sit out the first three games of the season. But Kuhn ruled that Aaron had to play two out of three. The end result was that Aaron tied Babe Ruth's record in his very first at bat, but did not hit another home run in the series.
After being office for over ten years, Bowie Kuhn grown a strong reputation for being hard on players who abused drugs. Kuhn was quick to punish players who used drugs with heavy fines and suspensions. St. Louis Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter told the Associated Press that during the winter of 1979-1980, he became paranoid, convinced that Kuhn knew about his drug abuse, was trying to sneak into his house, and planned to ban him from baseball for life. Porter found himself sitting up at night in the dark watching out the front window, waiting for Kuhn to approach, clutching billiard balls and a shotgun. Ironically, when Porter was named the most valuable player of the 1982 World Series, Kuhn was on hand to congratulate him.
In 1983, four players from the Kansas City Royals - Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin, Willie Mays Aikens, and Vida Blue - were found guilty of cocaine use. In addition, such established stars as Ferguson Jenkins, Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and Dale Berra admitted to having problems with drugs.
Bowie Kuhn was both praised and attacked for the firm stand that he levied against offeners. In 1982, some of the owners organized a move to push him out of office. In 1983, Kuhn and his supporters made a last-ditch effort to renew his contract but ultimately failed. Kuhn though, was allowed to stay for the 1984 regular season before being replaced by Peter Ueberroth.
Following baseball, Kuhn returned to his law practice and assumed presidency of the Kent Group, a business, sports and financial consulting firm. He also became an adviser and board member for Domino's Pizza, Wright Investors' Services, Ave Maria Foundation, and Schwartz Investment Counsel.
- Bowie Kuhn is to this day, the youngest (42), tallest (6-foot-5), and heaviest (240 pounds, 109 kg) commissioner in Major League Baseball history.
- Kuhn's closest challengers to the commissionership were Mike Burke, president of the New York Yankees and National League President Chub Feeney.