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Is Bud Selig really prepared to act so decisively?

Jun 5, 2013, 6:06 PM EDT

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig speaks during a news conference in New York Reuters

I’ll end my portion of the day with a Deep Thought of sorts. More of a pondering without a huge point. Just an observation and a musing. That musing: is Bud Selig really prepared to pull the trigger and suspend scores of players, some of them among the biggest names in the game?

This is not a musing borne of sharp skepticism, really. I certainly have my opinions — strong ones — about what Major League Baseball should or shouldn’t do. But I don’t have a strong view on what they will do. There’s just to much unknown right now to determine whether they act or they don’t, whether any suspensions they offer will take or they won’t.  We just don’t know.

But I have been watching Bud Selig for my entire adult life, and one thing that sort of puzzles me right now is how Bud Selig — late period Bud Selig — could act so decisively in an arena where he is bound to get a fight from the union.

If anything has characterized the latter years of Bud Selig’s reign it is his mastery of consensus. You may disagree with some things he has done as Commissioner, but tell me: what was the last thing he actually did where he had to engage in a public fight to do it? Dating back to the 1994-95 strike, I can’t think of one. He is a consensus-builder. He is a planner. He has not had an owners revolt of any kind in years. When someone wants into the club, he gets in. When Bud wants someone out, he’s kicked out. When new initiatives are launched they are launched with unanimous or near-unanimous consent of the owners and the suits in the league office and, increasingly in recent years, the union.  It may be tough going behind the scenes — I imagine Selig has twisted arms and called in favors like nobody’s business over the years — but when something finally gets done, it’s decided and it’s not controversial among the people who could make his life miserable over it (fans don’t always count, naturally).

So I look at the potential for Selig to suspend a zillion players, and the near-certainty that it will lead to a serious, hard core fight from the union, and it doesn’t add up.  Yes, Selig may want to protect his legacy as Major League Baseball’s Commissioner. But Selig’s legacy is not of a drug-free game. Far from it. It’s from operating the gears of the business like a well-oiled machine and never, ever, getting truly thrown into the mud.  Selig is a man who doesn’t like to look feckless or ridiculous. The last time he looked that way was that tied All-Star Game. He made damn sure THAT wasn’t going to happen again. And he did so by getting a silly rule passed about the All-Star Game counting. With very little opposition. That’s how he rolls.

We learned today that the suspensions are not nearly as imminent as ESPN’s report last night made them out to be. There is a timeline — all of June, really — during which baseball is going to assess its evidence and see what it has. And then, maybe, they’ll go after the players.  I can’t help but think that the ESPN report revealed an internal debate among baseball officials about how to act. On the one side some folks who would like to fire a missile at Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez and on the other some of the more Selig-like folk who, to quote a line about the Russians from “The Hunt For Red October” don’t take a dump without a plan.  And given how compromised Anthony Bosch is and how big the fight back from the players would be if suspensions were issued based on his word, suspending 20 or more guys at once is not much of a plan.

Maybe the pro-suspension forces are losing the debate and they got mad and leaked the discussions to ESPN? Maybe baseball really doesn’t know what to do and decided to float this out there to see how it is received? I really have no idea. But I am going to have to have someone explain to me why, after all of these years and after every minefield Bud Selig has successfully navigated, he would choose now to court such potential ugliness and uncertainty.

Bud Selig doesn’t fire before he aims. He fires after the condemned prisoner is standing six inches from him, bound at the wrists and well-aware of how sealed his fate truly is. We don’t have that situation with the Biogenesis stuff right now. And the fact that Selig may be willing to fire anyway is fascinating to me.

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