When ex-President Richard Nixon, 72, a sports fan if ever there was one, was asked to arbitrate the umpires’ dispute with major league baseball, what looked like a possible strike turned into something of a ball for everyone. The situation? The umps wanted extra compensation for working seven games instead of five in the American and the National League playoffs. The owners were balking over the amount. Then Nixon agreed to mediate. “I called Julie and asked her to ask her father if he’d like to do it,” says lawyer Richie Phillips, 45, a Nixon family friend and general counsel for the Major League Umpires Association. “She called back in half an hour and said he’d be delighted.”
Nixon the fan has long peppered his conversations, in office and out, with sports jargon. And while living in exile in San Clemente, Calif. after resigning the Presidency in 1974, he began turning up at Anaheim Stadium to watch the California Angels. In 1979, when the Angels won the American League Western Division championship, Nixon celebrated in the clubhouse with the team and even got the traditional champagne victory shower. Since moving to New Jersey four years ago, he has been seen at New York Mets games.
According to eyewitnesses at the arbitration, Nixon presided over the meeting between the umpires’ lawyers and representatives from both leagues in his Manhattan office with aplomb and dignity, sipping soda from a glass with the presidential seal and listening to the arguments pro and con. At the end of the three-hour session, he said he’d render a decision sometime later, then posed for pictures with everyone. Nixon’s name was once bandied about for Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth’s job. What if Ueberroth does decide to run for the Senate?