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By Peter Della Penna
Cricket’s worst kept secret of the last few months became official on Wednesday when John Howard’s nomination to become the ICC Vice-President, and in two years time the ICC President, was rejected. According to reports, the only Full-Member board to give a reason for their opposition was Sri Lanka, who argued that only someone with previous cricket administration experience should be considered.
Clearly, there were other factors involved. Howard’s past actions as Australia’s Prime Minister counted against him in the tight knit international cricket community, specifically when he blocked Australia from touring Zimbabwe and famously called Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan a chucker. However, if Sri Lanka’s administrators are serious that only someone with previous cricket administration experience should be considered, and if other boards supported this argument, it only goes to show how incredibly shortsighted these decision makers are.
While I generally frown on comparing cricket to baseball, cricket could definitely learn something from America’s pastime in regards to how to govern the game. Throughout its history, Major League Baseball has shown that not only is it acceptable to bring someone in from outside the sport to control the game, but it can be the best way to control the game.
The establishment of the role of Commissioner in the history of the MLB came about in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Baseball had become rife with shady characters such as Arnold Rothstein who were all too eager to pay players to throw or fix games. In the case of the Chicago White Sox, the players were easy targets for Rothstein because owner Charles Comiskey was so incredibly cheap and went to great lengths to pay his players as little as possible. The players and owners had become extremely distrustful of one another and the only way to solve the biggest problem facing the game was to get a neutral party involved.
Enter Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He was a Federal judge in Illinois whose only association with baseball was that he was a fan of the game, just like Howard is a fan of cricket despite not having any administrative experience in cricket. Landis demanded and was given absolute power to hand out whatever punishment necessary as he felt that this would be the only way to clean up the game. The owners agreed to his terms and before the start of the 1921 season, eight Chicago White Sox players, including one of the game’s biggest stars in “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were banned for life.
Landis held the post from 1920 until he died in 1944 when Kentucky politician Happy Chandler became baseball’s second Commissioner. Chandler was Kentucky’s Governor before and after his time as baseball commissioner and also served time as a US Senator from the same state. However, he is known for giving support to Branch Rickey to sign Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers as baseball’s first black player when almost all the game’s owners were opposed to integrating the game.
From 1965 to 1968, William Eckert served as baseball’s fourth Commissioner after a long military career in which he was a three-star general in the US Air Force. Peter Ueberroth was the sixth Commissioner in the mid to late 1980s, taking over the game after he had been the chairman of the USOC during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Yes, he had sports experience, but no baseball administrative experience to speak of.
Perhaps the only Commissioner who was as famous in the history of the game as Landis was Bart Giamatti. While Landis served the longest tenure in the history of the game, Giamatti had the shortest for five months in 1989. Giamatti’s link to baseball was that he was a lifelong fan of the game. Almost his entire adult life was spent in academia, starting off as a professor at Yale University in the mid 1960s before serving as Yale’s President from 1978-1986. He then became President of the National League for a few years before becoming Commissioner.
However, Landis and Giamatti are inextricably linked because their most notable actions are identical and the fact that both men died while serving as Commissioner. Giamatti was the man who handed out a lifetime ban to Pete Rose for betting on the game. Just like Jackson, Rose was a legend of the game but Giamatti stood firm. It was only days after the ruling was handed down on Rose that Giamatti died of a heart attack.
Over the course of time, baseball has proven that it does not need career baseball administrators to be able to run the game effectively. If cricket wants to make progress on a global scale instead of being restricted at an elite level to just nine countries and a geographic island region, it would be beneficial to welcome someone from outside the cricket mold, someone who might be able to provide valuable insight and ideas from his experience as a world leader in order to help the game grow.
Unfortunately, cricket remains a limited game in so many regards. The shortsighted denial of John Howard goes to show that cricket wants to keep itself closed off from broader society for the foreseeable future.