Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 17, 1965: William D. Eckert Is Named The Commissioner Of Baseball

On November 17, 1965, former 3 star General William D. Eckert was named the commissioner of Major League Baseball. He would be the fourth commissioner in the history of the league. The announcement was a bit of a shock as Eckert was not a part of the baseball world in fact he hadn't attended a game in more than ten years. When the great Willie Mays heard that he was the new chief his exact words were "Who's that?" The 56 year old Eckert came out on top of a list of more than 150 names that were in the running to replace the retiring Ford C. Frick. Eckert quickly earned the nickname "The Unknown Soldier" because of his link to the military and the fact nobody knew who he was. When he was named commissioner he inked a 7 year deal that would pay him $65,000 per year which would be close to half a million dollars per year by today's standards. It was a contract that would not be served in full. He was widely criticized for not cancelling games after the assassination of  both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., then in 1968 with a players strike looming he was relieved of his duties. Although he had his share of shortfalls, Eckert did help the league become a more efficient organization. He developed more effective committee actions, streamlined business methods and helped stabilize franchises with bigger stadiums and long term leases. He was also a key contributor to helping baseball expand in 1969 when the Seattle Pilots, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, and Kansas City Royals all joined the ranks of Major League Baseball. He might not have been in the commissioners seat when those teams took the field for the first time but as you could imagine the planning for bringing new teams into the league began well before that '69 season. Bowie Kuhn followed Eckert and would hold the office until 1984. Just two years after Eckert left the offices of Major League Baseball he passed away suddenly while playing a game of tennis in the Bahamas. Even today Eckert could be called the unknown soldier. I would bet that a great deal of people wouldn't think of his name if they were asked to name some of the past commissioners of baseball.


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