Friday, November 19, 2010

Flashback Friday: All Politics Wasn't Supposed to be Local in Baltimore

Jerry Hoffberger & Earl Weaver
Tip O'Neill popularized the phrase "All politics is local." Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn might well have disagreed.

In a move that irked Kuhn, Baltimore Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger joined Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes on the Memorial Stadium mound for the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Two of the 1979 World Series. President Jimmy Carter handled first-pitch duties nearly a week later before Game 7, but it was the local guy, a friend of Hoffberger, who raised Kuhn's ire.

Kuhn fined Hoffberger $2,500 for using the governor's services and, according to an Associated Press article, cited a rule that prohibited "movie actresses and actors, politicians and people of note" from handling first-pitch duties.

Time magazine picked up on the controversy.
"Kuhn, standing next to the Governor at the toss, was smiling, but his grin was deceptive. Hoffberger's choice violated a rule that all first-ball throwers must be approved by the commissioner, with politicians and movie stars acceptable only in rare circumstances. For disobeying the rule, Hoffberger, who last season sold his team to Washington Attorney Edward Bennett Williams, was fined $2,500 by Kuhn. Hoffberger has protested the fine and requested a hearing; Kuhn is considering the appeal."
Sports Illustrated also spilled some ink on the stare down.
"Hoffberger ... said he defied the rule because Hughes was a personal friend (not to mention a onetime pitcher in Class D baseball), and he said he might refuse to pay the fine. In his anger, Hoffberger claimed that Richard Nixon had thrown out the first ball at an American League playoff game in Anaheim; in fact, Nixon merely was an honored guest of California Angel owner Gene Autry. However, the Pirates did have Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh hold a ball for photographers before a World Series game in Pittsburgh, after which the widow of former Pirate Manager Danny Murtaugh threw it."
Years later, Commissioner Kuhn had his say in the book, Hardball: The Education of a Baseball Commissioner (p. 232)
"Jerry emerged as president of the Orioles under the Williams ownership. Since the sale was not effective until November 1, 1979, Jerry was still the boss during the Pittsburgh-Baltimore World Series, during which he drew a fine from me for inviting Governor Harry Hughes of Maryland to throw out the first ceremonial ball. This was contrary to our sound World Series rule against using local politicians. It was a typical owners' trick designed to give the commissioner fits: invite a popular local governor to do the honors and then say how churlish the commissioner is for standing in the way. I let the governor go ahead and collected my fine with help from Williams."
Major League Baseball's Official Rules do not currently include any provisions about local politicians throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.


Image: Clarence B. Garrett, The Baltimore Sun

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