AT first baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent thought he was dreaming. He was working late in his office, and maybe he'd dozed. Because when Vincent looked up, there he was, sitting in a chair across the desk. ``Branch Rickey!?'' ``Hello, Commish,'' said the late Cardinal and Dodger executive, the man who brought Jackie Robinson into baseball. ``Meet some of my friends.''
They stepped out of the walnut paneling: Connie Mack, with his trademark boater and spats, of the old Philadelphia A's; Colonel Rupert, Ruth's boss; Walter O'Malley and Horace Stoneham, who took baseball to the Coast; and some of Vincent's predecessors - Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner, Ford Frick, Bart Giamatti.
``Well, Commish, the owners and players finally struck a deal,'' Rickey said.
``Yes, Branch - may I call you Branch? Terms were hammered out Sunday, and the spring training parks were unlocked yesterday. Whew! Opening Day will be moved back just a week, to April 9.''
Vincent could tell that Rickey had something else on his mind.
``Some of the boys and I wanted a word with you, Fay. I probably don't have to tell you that these latest negotiations stunk up baseball in a lot of people's minds. The fans are angry with the players now, but that will pass. The players are seen as young guys just trying to make money while they can, and they provide the thrills on the field.
``But your people, the owners, are regarded as greedy business types who don't really care about the game. Now, we know how hard it is to be baseball execs. The players just play. You people have to produce, sell, and regulate the sport.
``But now you've got to show the American people that you really love baseball. And you can start by making sure CBS-TV allows a full 162-game schedule to be played. Don't shortchange the fans. The players come and go; you people are the long-term trustees of our great pastime.''
Vincent started to speak, but they were gone.