cover image THE LAST COMMISSIONER: A Baseball Valentine

THE LAST COMMISSIONER: A Baseball Valentine

Fay Vincent, Author . Simon & Schuster $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7432-4452-7

To publish a valentine to baseball on the heels of the sport's recent labor crisis seems like a particularly bad stroke of timing. It is to his credit that Vincent, the commissioner of baseball in the late 1980s and early '90s, ignores the game's current scars to focus on its past—both the distant past of DiMaggio and Williams and the more recent past of Vincent's own tenure. Unfortunately, Vincent too often sends his valentine to his brand-name chums, to whom he gives various shout-outs ("Ralph Branca... is today a great friend"; late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti was "a friend who enriched me, changed me, challenged me, fascinated me"), or even to himself. He describes his "full life" cavorting with CEOs—he was a Hollywood producer, a Coca-Cola executive and a Yale Law School graduate, he reminds readers a few times—and assorted baseball legends. What redeems the book are the deep reserves of baseball anecdotes throughout, recalled by everyone from Leo Durocher and the DiMaggio brothers to a rookie umpire. Vincent also vividly retells the turbulent months he spent building cases against Pete Rose and George Steinbrenner in a manner that manages to be informed without feeling like insider gossip. A chapter on baseball's most recent labor crisis offers some innovative, if at times not fully cooked, ideas about how owners and players can better work together. This is an uneven and at times self-indulgent effort, but Vincent gets away with it, in part because of the book's appealing leisurely pace and nostalgic tone. (Oct.)