- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Happy Chandler probably had the right idea. Happy went into politics first — serving as governor of Kentucky and U.S. Senator — before turning to the fun and games of the baseball commissioner’s office.

Peter Ueberroth did it the other way, and it doesn’t seem to have worked out too well. The last time I checked the California recall results — 99 percent of the precincts reporting — I saw the following mind-boggling figures:

Peter Ueberroth, Republican (21,808 votes); Larry Flynt, Democrat (15,245); Gary Coleman, Independent (12,584).

That’s right, folks, the miracle worker of the ‘84 Olympics, former Time magazine Man of the Year and erstwhile MLB commish barely outpolled the publisher of Hustler (campaign slogan: “Vote for a Smut Peddler Who Cares”) and a one-time child TV star who recently could be seen on the reality show “Star Dates.”

And here’s the scary part: If Coleman had thrown his support to Flynt in days before the election, the Smut Peddler Who Cares might have finished ahead of Ueberroth.

Granted, Peter withdrew from the race last month and was no longer an “official” candidate, but we all know why: because his pollsters were telling him he was running neck and neck with Larry Flynt and Gary Coleman!

How could this have happened? How could the fortunes of a man who turned a $200million profit at the L.A. Games — who was awarded the French Legion of Honor, for goodness sakes — have taken such a plunge? It’s like Gen. William “Spike” Eckert (another former baseball boss) being busted back to second lieutenant.

Of course, Ueberroth wasn’t exactly a smashing success as commissioner. It was on his watch that owners were found to have colluded against free agency, and the period will be remembered, as much as anything, for the baseball drug trial in 1985. But, come on. Larry Flynt and Gary Coleman? I mean, we’re not talking about Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt here.

Flynt had a swell plan, by the way, for solving the budget problems created by “those pinhead bureaucrats in Sacramento”: Allow slot machines in private casinos and tax them 30 percent. He also thought he could raise money by legalizing prostitution. His candidacy took a bit of a hit in the late stages, though, when a disgruntled former employee claimed she found sex toys in the company dishwasher. (Then again, maybe the story gave him a boost. In California, you never know.)

Coleman’s platform had a bold proposal as well: universal health insurance for a $30 flat monthly fee. (Since $30 is about the cost of a tongue depressor, it would have been interesting to see how he was going to make the numbers work.) Alas, he, too, had a few skeletons in his closet. For instance, he’d recently appeared in TV court, Judge Mills Lane presiding, and been ordered to pay the hospital bills for a female autograph seeker he’d punched in the head. He also came out with this quote after the death of Dana Plato, who acted opposite him on “Diff’rent Strokes”: “She was a wonderful woman, but her death was a welcome, though sad piece of closure to ‘Diff’rent Strokes.’ The possibility of a reunion no longer exists, and thank God.”

Yup, it was pretty formidable competition Ueberroth was facing. And on the plus side, he did outdraw, by more than a 2-1 margin, Mary Carey. She’s the porn actress who wanted to tax breast implants.

Seems like just yesterday Peter was on top of the world — or a neighboring summit, at least. Important people wined him, dined him, sought his sage advice. And the Lords of Baseball hired him to replace bumbling Bowie Kuhn, convinced he would lead the sport into the 21st century. But the game’s problems were too great for an ex-travel agent, and less than four years later the owners were lining up a replacement, the erudite Bart Giamatti.

After he left office, Ueberroth fell into the alive-or-dead category — until he made his aborted run for the California governorship. He served as a director of several companies, including Coca-Cola, and did low-profile good works in his home state, but he was no longer the Man of the Moment. When he dropped Ronald Reagan’s name in a ballot statement, talked about working with the former president on the ‘84 Olympics, the Ronald Reagan Foundation sued him, arguing that such a reference suggested that Reagan endorsed Ueberroth.

And on Tuesday, Ueberroth ran just in front of Larry Flynt and Gary Coleman in California recall voting. Smart man, that Happy Chandler.

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