Francis T. Vincent, Jr. LAW ’63 is no stranger to success, having served as CEO of Columbia Pictures, commissioner of Major League Baseball and a member of the AOL-Time Warner Board of Directors, a position he still holds. But yesterday at St. Thomas More Chapel he spoke to about 60 people about failure, citing examples from his own life.
Vincent, a member of St. Thomas More’s Board of Trustees, directed his speech towards the younger listeners.
“Failure is something that every young person has to get used to,” Vincent said.
Vincent said he experienced his first life-changing failure during his freshman year at Williams College. A talented football player, Vincent’s sports career ended due to what he called “an 18-year-old failure of judgment and perspective.” After his roommate took the door knob off their room door, Vincent tried to get out of the room by climbing out onto the window ledge. He slipped and broke his back on a railing four floors below.
At age 65, Vincent still suffers from a paralyzed back, but said the injury, which ended his athletic career, helped him focus on academics.
“The good news is that it turned me into a student,” he said.
Vincent said he experienced his next big “failure” when he was rejected from the Yale Law Journal during his first semester at the Yale Law School.
But years after struggling at Yale, Vincent became CEO of Columbia Pictures in 1978 and his top Law School classmate called him to ask for a job.
Vincent’s final example of personal failure involved his baseball experience. After the death of MLB commissioner and former Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti ’60 in 1989, Vincent replaced his good friend to become the MLB’s eighth commissioner and was forced to address the growing labor unrest between the players’ union and the owners. For three years, Vincent tried to convince the owners that they could not “break the union” and that they needed to negotiate gradually.
“The owners said, ‘No, we want you out of here,'” Vincent said. “The fact is, I failed.”
Aware that there were a number of baseball fans in the audience, Vincent shared some anecdotes about the game and answered several questions about the current Red Sox-Yankees series and Boston’s long World Series drought.
A.J. Weissler ’05 said he came to hear about baseball but was also impressed with Vincent’s personal stories.
“He had an incredible life and did a lot of interesting things,” Weissler said.
John Hollis ’06, one of the Yale baseball players at the talk, said he was intrigued by Vincent’s discussion of his failures.
“It’s great that I had the opportunity to come listen to a figure of his caliber,” Hollis said. “Everyone at Yale is always so successful, and it’s good to see things from the other side.”
After Vincent discussed his failures and successes, one student asked him about a controversial issue — the reinstatement of Pete Rose into baseball after the Cincinnati Reds manager was banned from the sport for betting on games. He said he stuck by Giamatti’s decision to keep Rose out of baseball and the Hall of Fame.
“There has to be a quality or character element to election to the Hall of Fame,” he said.
After the hour-and-a-half talk, Vincent signed copies of his new book, “The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine.”