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Bud Selig: "it was a difficult year but a wonderful year"

Dec 28, 2009, 8:31 AM EDT

The week between Christmas and New Year’s means that everyone and their brother will be writing year-in-review stuff.  Might as well lead with the guy in charge:

“It was a difficult year, but a wonderful year. There were a lot of clubs that had difficulty, some were
significantly impacted, but
in terms of management, in terms of the popularity of the sport, which
is just enormous, it was a remarkable year in a lot of ways. We
launched a [television] channel which had remarkable success, [MLB.com]
continued to do very well, we draw 73, 74 million people. It’s a great
tribute to the sport.

“[The decline in attendance] was fractional. If you take out
the two New York ballparks’ reduced capacity, we’re down about five
percent. There isn’t a business, there isn’t an entity in America who
would be unhappy being down only five percent in this economy. You bet,
I’m very proud of that.”

Hard to argue with that. I haven’t seen final 2009 revenue numbers yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were down less than the 5% attendance was down, even if you take out MLB Network revenue. Fewer seats in New York, but they generated higher revenue.

More controversial is Selig’s statement that “On the field, it was fabulous. A great year, beginning to end. We had more competitive balance.”

I suppose it’s possible that there are numbers you can run that, by virtue of overall records or whatnot, there was, in fact, more competitive balance. But when your average fan talks about competitive balance these days, they’re talking about big market-small market stuff, and there’s no escaping the fact that 2009 was a year where the big market teams did really, really well. Maybe that’s an aberration, but whatever it is, you’re going to have a hard damn time selling competitive balance to people who aren’t fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Phillies of the world.

But when Selig talks about success, competitive balance is not anything he’s particularly interested in. Yes, he gives it lip service — talks about baseball being in such a bad state when he took over and how things have improved so much since then — but the fact is that his greatest success as Commissioner has been overall revenue growth.  Revenue, and not competitive balance, is what was dismal when he took over, and that has improved dramatically during his tenure. Competitive balance was great pre-1992 and took a header starting right after that.

If the reverse had happened — stagnant revenues and great competitive balance — the owners would have fired him a long damn time ago.  Baseball’s challenge is getting both of those things to improve at once. To date, no one has shown the inclination, let alone the ability, to make that happen.

  1. Wooden U. Lykteneau - Dec 28, 2009 at 10:17 AM

    Maybe the elephant in the room is that MLB needs to consider football-style scheduling (take your pick: American or European). It’s no secret that some divisions are easier than others to win thanks to having one or two whipping boys, or in some cases, being the welterweight among the lightweights.

  2. Pete Toms - Dec 28, 2009 at 10:33 AM

    Competitive imbalance is probably the #1 issue for MLB.
    There was a Seton Hall poll taken during the WS which revealed widespread concern amongst sports fans about the inablility of small markets to compete. Also, although leauge wide attendance held up well despite the recession and the smaller capacities in NYC, 22 of 30 franchises experienced declines. And Selig’s frequent boasts about the unrivalled state of competitive balance in MLB (not in 2009 but over the last decade plus) have more to do with the expanded playoff format than true parity.
    We’ll see what happens in 10, remember in 08 when the Rays went to the WS and the Brewers made the playoffs us chattering classes were much less preoccupied with this.

  3. hop - Dec 28, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    If Bud really cared about baseball he would have stepped down years ago. “He’s” the problem

  4. RichardInDallas - Dec 28, 2009 at 11:31 AM

    Sir Bud would most likely make a great CEO of a huge widget manufacturer. It seems that baseball is to him just a widget. Sell whatever quantity you need to to make the most profit possible for the already priveleged few that have a vested financial interest today. Once the investment is recouped, and a staggering profit made, who cares? On to the next widget! I hear there’s a soccer league that needs to make a profit. Maybe Bud should take that on, and leave baseball to the purists that love this game more than the money.

  5. Neon Noodle - Dec 28, 2009 at 1:12 PM

    Don’t let those “stats” get in the way of letting you know there’s parity, you can see it with your own eyes!

  6. Pete Toms - Dec 28, 2009 at 1:41 PM

    @ RID.
    Yes Selig has served as MLB’s CEO and not as a Commissioner and there is a phiosophical debate about whether that should change…but….Selig has achieved sustained labour peace (and I know he was one of the major players in 80s collusion) for what will be 16 years when the CBA expires, and that peace was brought about by the staggering prosperity that he reigned over….I also thought interesting that Fehr said recently something along the lines of, it was easier to negotiate with the owners once Selig clarified that he – as Commissioner – clearly represented the owners. Vincent and Giamatti may have been beholden to the “best interests…” but they were ineffective in bringing the owners and players together.
    When we discuss who should succeed Selig we need to ask if we see the commissioner as just that, or as another CEO. I gotta believe that the owners will choose another CEO type, the only alternative being political intervention but that seems very remote…or perhaps I’m not qualified to opine on the role of the MLB Commissioner because of my nationality.

  7. Bobby Townsend - Dec 28, 2009 at 1:58 PM

    You stole my thunder!!!! Yes Bud Light is the problem and I have been calling for him to step down since the strike of 1994

  8. RichardInDallas - Dec 28, 2009 at 2:04 PM

    @ Pete
    If General Motors had gone through their history without a strike, it would have been because of management caving to the ridiculous demands of the UAW time after time. Had that been the case, they would have disappeared long ago. Maintaining labor (note the American spelling) peace for 16 years may not have been in the best interest of the game, at least not long term. I want my great-grandson to access baseball-almanac.com as much as I do, just to compare the players of the 2100’s with the guys that played way back in the 1980’s, when I was a rabid Met fan. If there is no conflict, that means one of two things:
    1) One side is consistently getting over on the other, or
    2) Both sides have a healthy view of what it will take to succeed long-term.
    Given the presence of Donald Fehr and Bud Selig in this scenario, which do you think it might have been? I’m all for players rights, AND owners rights, but above all, I’d like to be able to someday get the morning paper in heaven with my grandfathers that brought me into this game, and have a good long look at the box scores….

  9. Pete Toms - Dec 28, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    What don’t you like about this era? The cost of attending? The salaries? The wild card? Steroids? I’m an old purist too but on the whole isn’t MLB doin pretty darn good? I think it is very entertaining, as entertaining as it has been during my lifetime. But, I’m not an American so maybe I don’t get the “cultural fabric” thing.

  10. credit card reform bill - Jan 24, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    I don’t know if I totally agree… But, you do make some great points.

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