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What is Bud Selig’s legacy?

Sep 26, 2013, 5:00 PM EDT

Bud Selig Reuters

We’ve been hearing that Bud Selig would retire after 2014 for some time. But given how many times he’s backed off on retirement promises, it’s never been the smart bet to believe it. Now that it’s official, however, I think we can finally say that we’re done with Bud Selig after next year.

So: how did the old man do for the past 20 years or so?

The snap judgments will be pretty black or white, I figure. Quotes from people in and around the game about how Selig was the best commissioner of all time and the most wonderful thing since sliced bread. Columns and blog posts (and especially comments to blog posts) from people who think Selig was the antichrist. All of these will contain a kernel of truth to support their thesis and all will ignore the things which don’t.

And that’s the thing about Selig: he defies such decisive characterization. He was an amazing credit to the game at times and a gigantic source of consternation at others. Which is something you might expect for a guy who held any tough job for a couple of decades during which serial challenges came his way.

Bud Selig’s failures have been exceedingly high-profile and photo-worthy. He came onto the scene in what was more or less a coup against then-Commissioner Fay Vincent and quickly found himself embroiled in labor strife which led to the 1994-95 strike. Indeed, his ascent as commissioner was in part because he was head of the hawkish faction of owners who wanted to take a hard line with players over pocketbook issues. Later he presided over moves which rankled the purists: interleague play. Realignment. All manner of shenanigans with the All-Star Game. And, in his final years, the introduction — albeit the painfully protracted introduction — of instant reply.

Most notable among his mistakes in the game — and they remain mistakes no matter how much he attempts to wish them away via his pleading of ignorance — is the explosion of performance-enhancing drug use during his tenure. Whatever the reasons for their introduction to baseball, the league and the clubs were blind to PED use, often willfully so, for years and years. A big reason for this: baseball had other priorities such as its ultimately failed efforts to impose a salary cap or otherwise bust the union. And even if it tried to address PED use the league’s collusion against free agents in the 1980s destroyed any trust that existed between the players and the league. Collusion that was, in large part, orchestrated by Selig and like-minded owners. So no, Selig did not make any player take PEDs, but he did much to keep the league from addressing the problem.

But there’s a funny thing about all of Selig’s controversies and failures: he learned from them. Basically all of them. And from them he enacted measures which made things better than they were before.

While he was co-author of the labor apocalypse of the mid 90s, he has presided over labor peace since 1995. People forget that we came a day or two away from another strike in 2002 but it was ultimately averted. In large part because Selig lived the previous strike, learned from it and decided to pull back from the brink. Since 2002 it has been totally smooth sailing.

The same goes for PEDs. He and Major League Baseball were late to the party, sure, but once it became impossible to hide or ignore the problem Selig, with the help of a finally-amenable union, enacted drug testing. Drug testing which, despite its imperfections, stands as the most stringent in American team sports. While at times there has been amnesia and, in the view of some, grandstanding on the issue from the Commissioner’s office — most recently in the Biogenesis scandal — it cannot be denied that Selig presided over a sea change in baseball’s view of performance-enhancing drugs. Only Nixon could go to China. Only Bud Selig could forge a peace with the union and work to rid the game of PEDs.

Finally, one cannot ignore the fact that Selig did the one job he was tasked to do above all others: make money for the owners and build the game of baseball.

Baseball has grown tremendously under his watch, both from a business perspective and, in my view, in terms of the product on the field. The money flowing into the game via media rights deals are insane. While we fret about attendance around the margins, the fact remains that the days when teams near the bottom of the league averaged four-figure crowds a night — days which weren’t too terribly long ago — are but a memory. While we can quibble with the method of funding for all of those new ballparks, all of those new ballparks fundamentally changed the nature of the game-going experience. Going out to a ballgame is no longer the province of men who smell like beer and cigars and some larger family crowds on the weekend. Ballparks are filled all week with both hardcore fans and casual fans, all of whom pump tons of money into Major League Baseball’s coffers.

Maybe that bugs you, but never forget: baseball is a business, not a public trust. And Bud Selig is a CEO, basically, not a public official tasked with making you happy. He has done the job he was hired to do quite well, thank you.

Selig is far from perfect. And his blackest mark as Commissioner — the 1994-95 strike — may be a sin for which he does not deserve ultimate absolution. But one need only look at what’s going on in other sports or to imagine an alternate history in which some of baseball’s other owners took control in the early 90s like Selig did, to see how much worse things could have gone.

Bud Selig’s legacy is complicated, as anyone’s who has held his job for as long as he has would be. But on the whole he has been a good commissioner with some bad marks, not a bad commissioner with some good points. And when he goes into the Hall of Fame next year or whenever that happens, it will be well-deserved. For even if you don’t like Bud Selig, you cannot deny the mark he has made on the game of baseball.

  1. jlilly67 - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    Enabling the Wilpons is a personal sticking point with me. Those idiots have made terrible choices in leadership for 20+ years since gaining full ownership control. No matter how Bud spins it, he kept the Met fan down as the Wilpons were bailed out and SLOWLY recover. Just go Bud. You’ve done more than enough damage already.

    • badintent - Sep 26, 2013 at 11:22 PM

      Still can’t believe that the Wilpons are not in a cell next to Bernie.

  2. chukpark - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:20 PM

    Selig screwed the Dodgers by violating MLB rules on highly leveraged purchases and strong arming the other owners into approving the deal. So I will never approve of the job he did. … Also, it’s still a little early to believe Selig when he says he’s stepping down. Wait till there’s a new commissioner, then you can trust what he said.

    • gloccamorra - Sep 27, 2013 at 9:24 PM

      Well, he screwed McCourt, the highly leveraged high bidder, out of the Red Sox in favor of John Henry. With that move, he screwed Marlins fans, when Henry sold to Loria, who had been screwing Expos fans, who rejoiced when he swapped teams, only to be screwed by MLB. All that screwing happened before it was Dodgers fans’ turn. The Dodgers recovered, but have a heart for Expos and Marlins fans who still suffer.

      • gloccamorra - Sep 27, 2013 at 9:26 PM

        BTW, that may be Selig’s legacy: more screwing in MLB under him than there was in “Behind The Green Door”.

  3. fissels - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    Ignoring the steroid issue when Bonds, McGuire, Sosa and many others were obviously on the juice .

  4. offseasonblues - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    “Bud Selig’s legacy is complicated, as anyone’s who has held his job for as long as he has would be. But on the whole he has been a good commissioner with some bad marks, not a bad commissioner with some good points. And when he goes into the Hall of Fame next year or whenever that happens, it will be well-deserved. For even if you don’t like Bud Selig, you cannot deny the mark he has made on the game of baseball.”

    Owners and those profiting from his reign may give him high marks but as a fan I give him a big fat F.
    From where I sit, tickets are a larger percentage of my budget, I have to pay Dish Network a fair amount for a lot of junk in order to see what used to arrive on channel 38 for the price of my TV and electric bill, use of banned substances was denied and denied and swept under the rug, the NFL has used replay to increase confidence in the umpires judgement while MLB has done nothing in the face of visual evidence that balls, strikes, stolen bases, plays at first, etc. are not what the umpires say they are, and bloggers feel the need to defend users of banned substances against the big bad MLB machine.

    Selig may have responded to some of these circumstances when he had no choice. That’s not leadership and it’s not good enough for baseball. To me his legacy is that he served the owners but failed the fans and potential fans.

  5. ksctychiefs - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:57 PM

    fissels above nailed it,stole my thunder…….what really bothered me was that ‘moon faced’ (obviously juiced) and ‘pop eye’ armed bicep allstars bonds,mcquire and sosa,et al. , would come to the plate and knock em out of the park…….obviously juiced …..and then he goes to san fran to watch bonds break records…….but obviously this is what he owners want as well, otherwise baseball would solve this issue……

  6. ksctychiefs - Sep 26, 2013 at 9:10 PM

    another issue a few years ago was the the baseball package on cable vs dish…..i got cut out of the package at the time……..it may be back to dish now ? but i havent returned!!…..i only watch what is available on the standard plan,and if that goes some day then i’m gone too …….the major sports leagues have gotten way too greedy for the average fan…..

  7. chrisdtx - Sep 26, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    Essentially, Bud is like that one episode of Seinfeld where everything evens out. For every shitty decision (Expos, McCourt, ASG, his hair that one time), a good one offsets it (labor peace, replay, interleague). It’s a mixed bag, but he leaves the game in better shape than when he found it. That should count for something.

  8. freerayray52 - Sep 26, 2013 at 9:53 PM

    Always reactive. Never proactive. Worst. Commish. Ever.

  9. superturtle611 - Sep 26, 2013 at 9:56 PM

    I wouldn’t give Selig credit for increased value due to media rights. He just happened to be the guy in charge at a time of change. The money being thrown at sports leagues has way more to do with TiVo and the world’s new viewing habits than anything bumbling Bud has done. Any good that has come during his reign has come in spite of him. The only thing keeping him from being labeled the worst commissioner is the gift that is Gary Bettman.

  10. mpzz - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:09 PM

    There’s no question- his legacy is giving free reign to the juicers and letting them destroy baseball’s record book. That is how he will be remembered.

  11. pens5829 - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:13 PM

    1. Abusing/ ignoring the entire steroids era. Yes Bud. It was all about money.

    2. Instituting the dumbest rule ever. Winner or the all-star game getting home field advantage in the WS. Could possibly be the dumbest, irrational decision ever made.

  12. mottershead1972 - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    2. Instituting the dumbest rule ever. Winner or the all-star game getting home field advantage in the WS. Could possibly be the dumbest, irrational decision ever made.

    COULD NOT AGREE MORE! makes no sense, do I really care if the ASG ends in a tie? Nope…

  13. roadryder - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:42 PM

    He should not ever be forgiven for the canceled World Series in 1994 and for the shameful (and illegal) attempted use of scab players in 1995.

    Oh, and his comment about those “affordable” $800 seats in the new Yankee Stadium?

    Craig, you’re right about Selig making money for the owners but in the process he’s presided over

    1) The gross escalation of costs of attending a game (and even watching one on TV). that price many fans out especially in this time of recession.

    2) The continuation of absurd blackout rules.

    3) Playoff games that start too late and are so loaded down with between innings commercials (water torture-like repetitive self-promotions for Fox and MLB) that many cannot stay up to watch the end of the game.

    4) Escalation of stadium-funding ripoffs of taxpayers (many of whom don’t care a whit about baseball).

    5) Sheltering of bad, corrupt owners like Loria and the Wilpons unless they cross him (like McCourt).

    He’s all about the money and not so much about the fans or the game itself. Yep, that’s his job – but let’s not make him out to be some kind of keeper of the flame. Sorry, but contrary to your conclusions h’s been a shitty Commissioner whose only “good” marks are either silly gimmicks (wild cards, inter league play, “this time it counts”) or forced on him kicking and screaming (doing something about PEDs, replay). Yes, most Commissioners have been as bad or worse but that doesn’t really make Selig good. Sure, put him in the Hall of Fame. After all, he’s part of baseball history – just like the Black Sox.

    • badintent - Sep 26, 2013 at 11:29 PM

      So, ya saying that Bud was being Bud the used car salesman, right ? “This little jewel purrrrrs and has only 179 K miles on her, only one head on accident and was sold by The DEA in a sting op, with 20 kilos in her. Everything , wink,wink, included”.

  14. tackandcover - Sep 26, 2013 at 11:00 PM

    Scamming the Wisconsin legislature into putting up almost a half billion dollars in taxpayer money for his team could have a new playpen. The tax that will never end–especially for a team that is no better than a AAA team. Stadium in the wrong location to have any positive impact on economic development for Milwaukee. But that’s what you get when you hire a used car salesman to be MLB Commissioner.

  15. andyreidisfat - Sep 26, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    Well since everyone else is going to hate on him….. He was the guy who was in power when baseball made its great comeback from almost being dead. He has seen the league update almost every stadium( and I would think we all like our new parks better ) and the way the game is broadcast to tv. Like the espn, fox, and your local broadcast or not but they really do a very good job presenting baseball on the TV. Bud and his people have also done a very good job in selling the stars of baseball to public as well, including really pushing the Hispanic players, creating pipeline of talent from south of the border as the sport grows in those countries.

    Bud did a ton of good for the game of baseball. He sure did his share of blunders and bad things. The steroids, the all star game, and not reinstating Pete Rose so that he can be in the hall of fame (with an * if you need it ). For those things bud is not a hall of game commissioner. But he was also the worst either. Just kinda of a bad job to have at an even worse time to have it.

  16. alan3008 - Sep 27, 2013 at 2:37 AM

    Good riddance!
    Selig was “late to the table” to do anything as players used PEDs for years, plus the fact that he won’t reinstate Pete Rose so he can get into the HOF is deplorable. I am glad to see him go.
    Pete Rose DESERVES TO BE IN THE HOF!! I hope the new commissioner does what it takes to get him in. There are many in the Hall that broke the rules. Ty Cobb bet on baseball WHILE HE WAS PLAYING and he is in the HOF. He threatened to kill the man that was going to tell on him, that’s how he got by with it.

  17. deep64blue - Sep 27, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    I think you got it totally backwards Craig – Selig is an awful Commisioner who did some good things. I think you’re being far too generous, any Hall of Fame that has Selig in but not Bonds or Clemens is a joke.

  18. gmsingh - Sep 27, 2013 at 6:58 AM

    Interleague play made the World Series meaningless. I can’t think of a single thing that I would say is good about Selig’s tenure.

  19. Bob - Sep 27, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    Depends on your viewpoint. As a fan with a deep love of baseball, I can say that Selig has been a disaster. I will never forgive him for railroading my Astros into the AL, and I hate the fact that he has rendered winning the division less meaningful than it ever was with the wild-card system. I despised interleague play even before it became an every-day event. And his simultaneous commissioner tenure and family interest in the Brewers for about 12 years made normal conflict-of-interest issues look tame.

    But he was charged to make the owners profitable and they make money beyond anyone’s dreams. So from their standpoint, he’s been a raging success.

    And I’ll believe Selig is retiring when he actually does it. I wouldn’t put it past him to get a new 2-year deal some time in the next year.

  20. chumthumper - Sep 27, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    As long as the commissioner position is a tool of the owners (and it always will), everything will take a back seat to making a buck for them, be it turning a blind eye to PEDs, wild cards or interleague play. With his long tenure, obviously Bud was very good at it.

  21. jakeshuman2 - Sep 27, 2013 at 6:12 PM

    How can you have good sports journalism when every writer is afraid to say anything bad about the worst baseball commissioner since Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis was a racist despot who “allegedly” saved the game and Selig is a spineless CEO who only does the owner;s bidding. He doesn’t care about the fans; he cares about the bottom line. He doesn’t care about the players, he doesn’t care about what is good for baseball or what is good for the franchise as a whole. He cares about the owner’s financial bottom line. If he had any guts he would have made the Wilpons sell the Mets and would have refused Loria owning the Marlins for the good of the game. The fact that he approved the sale of the Dodgers to the previous owner and has, basically, blackballed Mark Kuban ( a great fan’s owner) from owning an MLB tean speak’s volumes about Bud himself. A used car salesman tries to sell you a lemon and make it smell sweet. This is what Selig nd the current crop of owners is doing to baseball. Let’s face it folks, anybody with enough money can own a team but it takes talent to be a player and passion to be a fan and without players and fans there is no sport. Bud has served his masters (the owners) well but he has trashed the game for the fans and players in doing so.

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