Former MLB Commissioner’s Dad Memories Of Football Legends
You could never have enough good stories to share on Father's Day.
Having a catch at a little league field in the early morning before heading out to treat dad to his favorite meal, or tossing a football around, and reminding each other when training camps open, it's fun. It's private time with dad.
No matter what your sex, what your profession is, or age, for the most part, we all have piles of mental memories of the person who we see as dad.
Sports is a major contributor to these good times.
For instance, take former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent.
Today, Vincent, 83, isn't short on details of his favorite times being with his dad. When reading his autobiography - The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine, and speaking on the phone, it's clear that Vincent's dad is his hero. Involvement in sports runs deep in his family's lineage.
Francis Thomas Vincent, Sr. as a student at Yale University captained the baseball and football teams. Upon graduation, when not at his day job with a local telephone company, Francis Thomas could be found umpiring college and high school baseball games. He also worked his way up the ranks officiating football games at all levels - high school, college, and ultimately for the NFL.
Vincent, who served as MLB's eighth commissioner for three years, following the death of his longtime friend Bart Giamatti in September 1989, usually finds a way to work in memories from his childhood involving the Cleveland Browns football club. Why not? When he thinks of the football Browns, Fay includes his dad.
"I grew up sitting on the bench," Vincent explained earlier this week during a phone conversation from his Connecticut home." Dad would wrap me in a blanket to keep warm on the team bench. The team doctor would keep an eye on me. I first remember this when I was eight or nine-years-old."
With all of his prestigious professional accomplishments including being named Chairman of Columbia Pictures, executive vice-president of Coca-Cola, and MLB commissioner, it's football that revs up our conversation. Great names from the gridiron, several who went on to become hall of famers, are just waiting to be released by Vincent.
"My dad would be working a game at Yankee Stadium, and I was enamored to meet the stars. I met Mel Allen (hall of fame baseball broadcaster who also called play-by-play of college and professional football) at the stadium. Buddy Young, Otto Graham, stars of their time, I knew them up close."
The 1946 Browns is probably Vincent's favorite. They turned in a 12-2 win-loss record, and won the All-American Football Conference championship that season. Paul Brown, coach and co-founder of the team, was Francis Thomas, Sr.'s favorite.
"Dad thought (Brown) was the greatest coach. He felt that Brown didn't get the attention deserved as others do," says Vincent, who, when commissioner, had to navigate through a 1989 World Series interrupted by an earthquake, an owner's lockout, and banning Yankees' principal owner George Steinbrenner from baseball.
As a youngster, and being on the sidelines of Browns and other teams' games, Vincent recalls getting friendly with some of the players. Fullback Marion Motley and rookie right guard from Ohio State, Bill Willis, of the '46 Browns, are who come to mind first. That team, that season, remains Vincent's favorite.
"They ('46 Browns) were the first team I rooted for."
Then, in 1950, came the merger between the AAFC and the National Football League.
The Browns opened up their initial NFL season against the Philadelphia Eagles, who were expected to rout one of the newest teams in the league. All the Browns did is win 35-10. This remains a happy time to revisit for Vincent. Future coaching greats Don Shula and Chuck Knoll, who saw their limited playing days come through Cleveland, are among others who Vincent met up close.
"Every game my father would get me a program. I'd have players autograph them, then cut out their pictures, and make my own football scrapbook. One time, I didn't have my program with me, and I saw Bruiser Kinard of the Yanks (AAFC New York Yanks) and asked him to sign a scrap of paper I had. Bruiser said to go ask my dad to buy me a program."
The respect Francis Thomas Vincent, Sr. earned from the players on the field transcended to his safety, while getting on and off of it. There were times when upset fans, fresh off of their home team coming out on the losing end and blaming part of their disappointment on the officiating, players from both teams made sure both Vincents boarded the bus without incident.
Such a compliment was a direct result of the respect the athletes had for Vincent, Sr.'s sense of fair play. And all the while, the kid from Waterbury and later New Haven, the future MLB commissioner, was having a blast as a fan, always within eye contact of his dad.
Happy Father's Day, Mr. Commissioner.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.