October 8, 2004

OCTOBER 8, 2004

Sourced from www.greenwichcitizen.com

Baseball's Humanitarian Commissioner Feted at Hyatt

By DON HARRISON HYPERLINK mailto:dharrison@bcnnew.com dharrison@bcnnew.com

Baseball's last true commissioner and the game's most enduring Negro League figure have a bond of long standing. The love between these two men one white, one black, both honorable was evident Sunday night at the "Baseball Tribute to Fay Vincent," held at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich. Vincent, who served as the game's eighth commissioner from 1989 until he was unceremoniously pushed out by the teams' owners in 1992, was recognized for his myriad achievements, notably among them gaining baseball pensions for the surviving players of the old Negro Leagues.

That's why John "Buck" O'Neil, nearly 93 years young, who spent his baseball prime as a first baseman and manager with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League, made the trek from Kansas City, Mo., to honor his friend. "He took a group of Negro League ballplayers most of them dead now and brought them to Cooperstown," O'Neil told the gathering. "It makes my heart good to see you." O'Neil may have been referring to the June 1990 event when he and eight other Negro League veterans accompanied home-run king Hank Aaron to the Baseball Hall of Fame where they presented a videotape of a reunion of 80 former members of the all-black leagues.

The ceremony was part of the game's observance of Negro League Baseball Players Day. More than 300 people laid out $300 per plate for the privilege of sharing the evening with Vincent and a cluster of other sports luminaries. They ranged from the program's host, sportscaster Bob Costas, to Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, from Geno Auriemma, architect of the University of Connecticut's women's basketball program, to former slugger George Foster, from Dan Duquette, former Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos general manager, to retired Major League umpire Terry Tata. All spoke in glowing terms of Francis Thomas "Fay" Vincent Jr. of Greenwich and Vero Beach, Fla.

"I can honestly say I umpired in the golden years of baseball," said Tata, and then, directing his attention to Vincent, "I'm proud that I worked with you." Tata, like Vincent a native of Waterbury, umpired in the National League across 27 seasons, with numerous World Series, Championship Series and All-Star Game credentials. The dinner tribute to Vincent was organized by the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL), a 10-year-old summer league similar in concept to the well-established Cape Cod League and now its rival. (Both use wooden bats as opposed to the aluminum bats employed at the collegiate and high school levels.)

Serving as the NECBL's president from 1998 to 2003, Vincent helped to bring instant credibility to the new league. During the evening the league presented $5,000 in Vincent's name to the Negro Baseball League Museum in Kansas City. Kevin MacIlvane, NECBL commissioner, noted that "some of the Negro League players couldn't even afford insurance, and he (Vincent) made that possible." Other notables in the ballroom, but not at the dais, included Len Coleman, the former president of the National League; Terry Cashman, the "Balladeer of Baseball" who performed for the guests; and Steve Greenberg, son of the Hall of Fame first baseman, Hank Greenberg, and the game's assistant commissioner during Vincent's three-year tenure.

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