Their relationship was anything but a bromance during Fay Vincent's three years as the commissioner of baseball, and there hasn't been a rapprochement since. But on Wednesday, when asked by ESPN's Outside the Lines about the Chicago White Sox's plan to extend safety netting to the foul poles, Vincent expressed unqualified support for the initiative of team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
"Jerry is very smart -- I don't often agree with him, but he's right," Vincent said. "He is a lawyer, he is careful and he is very wise."
Vincent, also a lawyer, weighed in on the future of the rule on which Major League Baseball has relied for decades against liability lawsuits over fan injuries. Since 1913, every ticket to a major league game has contained a disclaimer saying the holder of the ticket assumes all the risks inherent to the game. Called the "Baseball Rule," it has made it nearly impossible for fans injured at games to successfully sue teams or MLB.
"The future of tort law is in favor of more safety, more reasonable protections," Vincent said. "Could I see a court overturning the 'Baseball Rule'? Assumption of risk doctrines have been cut away."
Vincent said he doesn't recall having any serious discussions of netting extensions during his tenure from 1989 to 1992, but he shared two other stories from the 1990s.
Shortly after Atlanta's Turner Field opened, Vincent said, he was with longtime Braves owner Ted Turner, who asked him if he thought the owner's box needed protection. As Vincent and Turner chatted on the field, Turner's then-wife Jane Fonda was in the box. Vincent recalls looking in that direction and telling Turner the box was dangerously close to the action and that safety measures were warranted or someone could get killed.
As Vincent recounts, Turner described Vincent's conclusion as "B.S." and added that seeing the game through vinyl netting or plastic would be "like having sex with a condom."
"I said, 'It's to save your life,' " Vincent said.
At the 1991 World Series between the Braves and the Minnesota Twins, Vincent said, he, his daughter and American League president Bobby Brown were among those in the commissioner's box when a foul ball was hit toward them. Brown, a former eight-year major league player, had a glove with him -- and as the ball approached, he placed the glove face down atop his head and ducked.
Then, Vincent's 23-year-old daughter got hit on top of her head by the ball and had to be taken for first-aid treatment. She returned to her seat after about 30 minutes, but she had the imprint of the ball's seams on her head. And before she could identify herself on a visit to a physician the next day in Massachusetts, the doctor said he had watched the game on TV and saw the commissioner's daughter get hit. She confirmed she was the person hit by the ball.
As for how current commissioner Rob Manfred might best proceed to get all MLB owners to do as Reinsdorf has done, and commit to netting extensions to the foul poles, Vincent said, "He could say to them, 'I encourage you to do it, I could order it, but I'd rather you do it on your own.' "
"The fewer things you have to require as commissioner, the better," the former commissioner explained.