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FAY VINCENT STEPS DOWN AS COMMISSIONER

After a summer of battling major league owners, Fay Vincent decided he was no longer "in the best interests of baseball."

Vincent, who had promised to fight owners all the way to the Supreme Court, resigned on Monday, four days after an 18-9 no-confidence vote."I've concluded that resignation - not litigation - should be my final act as commissioner `in the best interests of baseball,"' Vincent wrote in a three-page letter to owners that he made public.

Thus ended a three-month public struggle between Vincent and owners disenchanted with various decisions made during his 1,091-day term, the second-shortest among the eight commissioners. Vincent, 54, talked with President Bush by telephone before announcing his decision.

"I thought hard about it over the weekend," Vincent said from his Cape Cod vacation home in Harwich Port, Mass. "I consulted with good friends and got lots of advice."

The commissioner was forced out by owners angry at his refusal to relinquish the commissioner's "best interests" power on collective bargaining, his unilateral order to realign the National League and his stance against superstations.

The group was led by Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers, Stanton Cook of the Chicago Cubs and Peter O'Malley of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"It would be an even greater disservice to baseball if I were to precipitate a protracted fight over the office of the commissioner," Vincent wrote. "After the vote at the meeting last week, I can no longer justify imposing on baseball, nor should baseball be required to endure, a bitter legal battle - even though I am confident that in the end I would win and thereby establish a judicial precedent that the term and powers of the commissioner cannot be diminished during the remaining months of my term."

Reinsdorf, among Vincent's earliest critics, was relieved the battle had ended.

"It was the only sensible thing he could do," Reinsdorf said in Chicago. "It was his best interest and in our best interest. The important thing is that the commissioner made the decision that was right for himself, for baseball and for everybody. We don't have to speculate on what we would have done had he not done that."

Vincent was deputy commissioner and took over when his friend, A. Bartlett Giamatti, died on Friday of Labor Day weekend three years ago. Vincent becomes the third commissioner forced to leave early, joining Happy Chandler and William Eckert. In addition, Bowie Kuhn was defeated in his bid for a third term and Peter Ueberroth departed prematurely after sensing owners would not re-elect him.

"He accepted the job as commissioner of baseball in a most difficult time," Baltimore Orioles owner Eli Jacobs said. "While in office, he has been an unselfish decisionmaker, not once failing to act in the best interests of baseball. . . . I am disappointed. Baseball and its fans have lost a great friend."

Vincent's resignation put baseball's 10-member executive council in charge of baseball. The council is made up of American League president Bobby Brown, National League president Bill White and eight owners: Jackie Autry of California, Bill Bartholomay of Atlanta, Douglas Danforth of Pittsburgh, Eli Jacobs of Baltimore, Fred Kuhlmann of St. Louis, Carl Pohlad of Minnesota, Haywood Sullivan of Boston and Tom Werner of San Diego.

Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles said the executive council will meet by telephone today and in person Wednesday in St. Louis to discuss what happens next. Among the possibilites for the next leader are former AL president Lee MacPhail, Democratic National Committee chairman Ron Brown, the current league presidents and former Montreal Expos executive John McHale.

"I doubt anybody will be given the title of commissioner, but we'll see," Reinsdorf said when asked what would happen in the near-term. "The council consists of 10 very able people. We'll see what they want to do."

MacPhail, for his part, said no one has talked to him about the job and added, "I wouldn't want to."

Vincent was elected Sept. 13, 1989, to a term through March 31, 1994. He argued that the Major League Agreement, which governs baseball, prevents a commissioner from being fired. Reinsdorf said his lawyers had the opposite view, and it seemed likely that disenchanted owners would have attempted a firing this week.