NEW YORK -- Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, banned from baseball for holding promotional positions with gambling casinos, were welcomed back to the sport Monday by Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
Accompanied by Mays and Mantle, Ueberroth announced at a news conference in a midtown hotel that he was creating 'two exceptions' to a policy enacted by his predecessor Bowie Kuhn to keep professional baseball strictly separated from gambling interests.
'They are free as of today to be employed by baseball, and any type of restriction heretofore placed on them is removed,' Ueberroth said.
Mays was required to quit his job as a coach with the New York Mets in 1979 when he accepted a promotional position with the Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel. Mantle lost his position as a spring training batting instructor with the New York Yankees in 1983 when he was hired in a similar capacity by the Claridge Casino Hotel.
Both casinos are in Atlantic City, N.J.
'I am very pleased to be back in baseball even though I didn't think I did anything wrong to leave baseball,' Mays said.
'Like Willie, I know we never did anything wrong,' Mantle added.
Mantle said Kuhn warned him before he accepted the Claridge job that he would have to quit his appearances with the Yankees.
'I have never said anything against him (Kuhn),' Mantle said. 'He warned me ... so I did it with my eyes wide open.'
Ueberroth said he 'found no fault' with Kuhn's strict policy and was only making two exceptions to the rule. But he said he was working on new guidelines concerning affiliations with gambling industries because 'the whole world of gambling is changing.'
Major hotel chains are branching into the casino business and a prohibition of baseball players from their employment would affect 'hundreds,' Ueberroth said.
Asked if the new guidelines would cover horse racing -- a reference to Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's ownership of a Florida race track - the commissioner said, 'We're looking at the whole subject.'
Kuhn said he would not have lifted the bans had he still been the baseball commissioner, but he also said he understood the new position struck by his successor.
'In the first place, Pete and I have had several general conversations about this subject over the months, including today,' Kuhn said. 'So I knew what his announcement is going to be.
'As to the basic decision, I'd have to say I don't agree. On the other hand, to the extent Pweter says he is going to issue stronger guidelines as regards to gambling, I'm all for that.'
As he was reviewing the restrictions placed on Mantle and Mays, Ueberroth said he found other cases of baseball professionals -- whom he did not name -- who had involvements with gambling in various capacities.
Though would not discuss the specifics of the new rules, Ueberroth said baseball professionals could not be involved in gaming operations or advertising to promote gambling.
The restriction on advertising will require the Claridge Casino to take down a billboard in Atlantic City featuring Mantle, the commissioner said.
Mays appeared last year in a Bally's commercial which included more than a dozen 'sports legends' dressed in tuxedos singing and dancing in a spot filmed on the casino floor.
Bally spokesman Alan Rosenzweig declined to comment on the proposed ban on commercials. 'I can't speak to specifics because we don't know what the specifics are yet,' he said.
Mantle said his job with Claridge was similar to Mays' at Bally and involved playing in golf tournaments with the casino's customers and appearing at public functions on behalf of the hotel. The men each earn an estimated $100,000 to $150,000 per year from the casinos.
'I'm doing more charity work than I've ever done in my life,' Mantle said, noting he appears at benefits across the country for the hotel. 'As far as hanging out in the casinos, we don't do that.'
Mantle joined the Yankees in 1951, the same year Mays joined the New York Giants providing New Yorkers with the thrill of seeing two of the most gifted center fielders in the game's history performing on rival teams.
Mays' last season as a player was 1973 with the New York Mets. He subsequently served as a minor league instructor and part-time coach for the the team, earning about $50,000 a year.
Three months after being installed in baseball's Hall of Fame in 1979, Kuhn ordered Mays to give up his association with the Mets because the part-time coach had signed a 10-year contract with Bally's.
Mets General Manager Frank Cashen said the club had 'no plans' to rehire Mays.
Mantle retired in 1969 and continued his affiliation with the Yankees -- the only team he ever played for -- as a spring training batting coach until Kuhn suspended him in 1983 for entering an agreement with the Claridge.
New Jersey Attorney General Irwin Kimmelman, who urged Kuhn to reconsider his action against Mantle in 1983, hailed the decision to lift the restriction on the players.
'In our view, barring these men obliquely impugned the integrity of the state of New Jersey in the regulation of the casino industry and I'm glad that Commissioner Ueberroth has cleared the air,' Kimmelman said.