Vincent ’60 and Costas talk today’s sports issues

The Boston Red Sox were facing off against the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday night, but Red Sox fanatics, among other sports fans, missed the early innings to hear former Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Fay Vincent ’60 and legendary sports commentator Bob Costas engage in a living-room-style discussion about sports in Chapin Hall. Students, faculty, staff and town residents filled the hall for the event.

Understanding the local allegiances, Costas strode onstage in blue jeans and a blazer, gave a bow and promised that the event would let out in time to see the end of the game.

An iconic figure in modern broadcasting, Costas has hosted several sports programs, including HBO’s “On the Record with Bob Costas,” numerous Olympic Games and, most recently, NBC’s “Football Night in America.” He has won 19 Emmy awards.

Vincent was chairman of Columbia Pictures and executive vice-president of Coca-Cola before serving as MLB commissioner from 1989-1992. During his tenure, he oversaw the expansion of the National League and the three-year expulsion from the league of fellow alumnus George Steinbrenner ’52 after the Yankees owner paid a gambler $40,000 to investigate rumors on former outfielder Dave Winfield.

The Thursday evening discussion, titled “A Conversation about Sports with Bob Costas and Fay Vincent,” was moderated by Will Dudley, professor of philosophy. As he opened the conversation, Dudley jokingly declared himself a man “utterly lacking of qualifications” and compared the task of moderating for Costas to that of playing a round of golf with Tiger Woods. After all, he said in praise of the commentator, “[Costas] spends more time in our living rooms than some of our own family members – and we like it that way.”

The discussion, which centered almost exclusively on baseball, was more philosophical than prognostic and more academic than confrontational. Dudley did not ask questions such as “Who will win the World Series?” or “How many home runs will A-Rod hit in 2008?” but, rather, geared them toward overarching issues facing the game, with topics including gambling and corruption, revenue disparity, baseball’s affordability and accessibility to the common fan, racial diversity and steroid use.

Speaking about the growing trend of steroid use, Costas described how he saw the troubling trend emerging in the ’90s and how he has sought to address it. Vincent declared the steroid problem a “national disgrace.”

The discussion covered many of the game’s recent hot-button issues, but, as Vincent noted, baseball is a game of storytelling, and the two men had many colorful stories to share.

In describing the greatest human beings the men have met in their years in sports, Costas spoke fondly of tennis legend Arthur Ashe and Vincent called Cal Ripken Jr. and little-known Negro League player Alfred “Slick” Surratt as the most exemplary athletes he has known, both on and off the field.

Costas shared anecdotes from the 1986 World Series, where the Red Sox collapsed in Game 6. Waiting in the Red Sox’s dugout with eager reporters and champagne for the anticipated post-game celebration, Costas saw the lead start to slip away. “I asked, ‘Hey, what do I do if the Mets actually win the game?” The answer came, “Get the hell out of there as fast as possible.” The story brought bittersweet laughter from the crowd.

The tone of the discussion was light and, for the baseball fans in the hall, Dudley periodically relayed score updates on the evening’s postseason game, and after the announcement that the Indians had tied the game in the top of the second inning, a scattered round of cheers came from the audience amidst a chorus of boos.

“Are there a lot of Tribe fans in Williamstown, or just bitter Yankee fans?” Costas said, referring to New York’s exit from the playoffs a week earlier. “That’s just like them – they have nothing better to do than to revel in the misfortune of others.”

Amulya Iyer ’10 was impressed with the evening’s discussion. “Hearing Costas on television is one thing, but listening to him in Chapin made me want to invite him over to Carter and just chit-chat with him about anything and everything.”