Like his predecessor Eckert, Bowie Kuhn was elected by a unanimous vote of the twenty-four club owners on February 4, 1969 and like Landis, his tenure would span over a decade and a half. Also a businessman, Kuhn's background was in both law and economics and provided a perfect blend for the ever-changing business climate of baseball. After graduating high school, Bowie attended both Franklin and Marshall College in the Naval V-12 Officer Training Program before going on to Princeton University to study Economics. Upon receiving his Bachelor of Arts, Kuhn went on to the University of Virginia where he earned his law degree and later served on the editorial board of the law review.
He later went on to become a member of the prestigious law firm of Wilkie, Farr and Gallagher in New York and spent the next nineteen years working closely in baseball's legal affairs. Perhaps his biggest case during that time was serving as counsel to the National League in a lawsuit brought against them by the City of Milwaukee when the Braves were moved to Atlanta. He also acted as a liaison for negotiations between the Major League Players Association and the club owners.
Following the retirement of General William Eckert after only three years in office, the team owners unanimously decided that baseball's next Commissioner should be someone familiar with the business of baseball. Despite a close popularity race with Mike Burke, president of the New York Yankees and National League President Chub Feeney, Kuhn was elected by unanimous vote on the first ballot. Immediately after taking office he proved his supporters right when he successfully negotiated a new three-year contract between the owners and the Players Association that averted what may have been baseball's first official strike.
He was also called upon to act as the voice of reason during one of the most disruptive times in the history of the game. The most famous of these disputes was the Curt Flood reserve case of 1970 in which the disgruntled Flood was traded against his will by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Phillies. Refusing to play, he initiated a lawsuit that ultimately challenged the legality of the reserve clause and the right of clubs to trade players. After a heated debate, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower courts decisions in favor of baseball, ruling that federal antitrust laws did not apply to the game.
Five years later, the players were granted the right to free agency following the Messersmith-McNally case in which arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that players were free to negotiate with any club after the option of their contracts had expired. This led to multiple bargaining sessions and an agreement between the players and owners for the right to free agency after six years in the major leagues.
The turmoil off of the field continued in 1976 when the Oakland Athletics' owner Charles O. Finley was blocked from selling three of his players at a cost of $3.5 million for what Kuhn said was "not in the best interests of baseball." This ruling diminished Kuhn's popularity among the owners and he later added the players to his list of growing nemeses after being unable to stop a fifty-seven day players' strike in 1981.
Despite the struggles late in his career, Kuhn was an effective administrator and was responsible for an astounding growth in the game both on the field and off. During his time in office, Major League Baseball grew from twenty to twenty-six teams and fan attendance rose to over 45½ million in 1983.