Wavemaker Conversations: The Fay Vincent Sessions, Part I

By Michael Schulder, Wavemaker Conversations

Fay Vincent, the eighth Commissioner of Major League Baseball, sat down one day with Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn.

“Warren Spahn,” Vincent tells me, “was the smartest person I ever talked to about baseball, by a wide margin. … Spahn fought all the way across Europe in the army in World War II, lost four or five years, had never won a game in the big leagues until after World War II, when he was 25 years old. And then he won 363 games … the most wins by a left-handed pitcher in the history of baseball.”

While sitting with Spahn, Vincent asked him, “Warren, who taught you how to pitch?” Spahn answered, “Commissioner, hitters taught me how to pitch.”

“The light went off,“ Fay Vincent tells me, “and I thought, of course … who teaches anybody anything? … You do it by learning from your experiences. And he learned how to pitch from hitters.”

Sometimes you also learn from other people’s experiences – which I did when I recently sat down with baseball’s former commissioner for my Wavemaker Conversations podcast.

The first episode of “The Fay Vincent Sessions” begins with The Accident.

Fay Vincent was a 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound high school athlete from a working class town.

Williams College recruited him to play football. He was captain of the freshman team, a defensive tackle.

During a game against Williams’ big rival, Amherst, “I was doing some damage,” Vincent says, “and they couldn’t block me … and the Amherst coach yelled out, ‘if you don’t start blocking that kid, he’s going to kill someone.’ And I thought that was the ultimate affirmation … because that coach is worried about me, and I kinda like that.”

A month later, a friend played a practical joke on Vincent, and locked him in his dorm room. Vincent couldn’t break down the door, so he opened the window.

“I went out on the ledge. It’s December 10th, 1956, and the ledge was covered with ice. I was stupid. I fell, and it was a fourth floor window, so I fell four stories.”

Fay Vincent was paralyzed for months, from the chest down.

“And my mother, who was a great woman, said to me, ‘look, your brain is fine. Your body’s hurt badly, but there’s nothing wrong with your brain. And you ought to be able to construct a very good life centered around your brain, not on your legs.’”

What Fay Vincent went on to accomplish is an inspiring tale of resilience that he shares with me here.

Vincent would walk again, always with difficulty, always with a cane. He pursued a career in law. He achieved a reputation for honesty.

Twenty years after the accident, the esteemed investment banker, Herbert Allen, invited him to breakfast and offered him a major position in the movie industry.

“I’m not a businessman,” Vincent told Allen. “I don’t even go to the movies. I don’t like the movies. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

Allen persuaded him to take the job – president of Columbia Pictures.

How did he do?

“I ended up making probably 200 million dollars in a ten year period because of that one breakfast.”

Who taught Fay Vincent how to make a fortune?

Find out by listening to part one of The Fay Vincent Sessions on Wavemaker Conversations: A Podcast for the Insanely Curious.

***

Michael Schulder is host of Wavemaker Conversations: A Podcast for the Insanely Curious. Subscribe for free on iTunes here or listen on the CBS podcast network Play.It.

You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelSchulder and on Facebook.

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