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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. fahmundamahbalsaq - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    Total shit! Set the sport back 25 years. English Premier League futbol will be more popular than MLB in 5 years. MLB will be the #4 sport only slightly ahead of hockey. Great job Bud

    • asimonetti88 - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:55 PM

      “English Premier League futbol will be more popular than MLB in 5 years.”

      Doubtful.

  2. steveflack - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    “The Man Who Cancelled The World Series”.

  3. rbj1 - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    I will give Selig credit for the 7 day concussion DL. (Anyone remember how it came about?)

    • yahmule - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:12 PM

      Selig himself invented it while coming off a seven day drunk.

  4. fahmundamahbalsaq - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    His legacy is about as great as Joe Paterno’s last 10 years. A crotchety old man, not with the times. Whoever replaces him better be able to email, enough said.

  5. yankeepunk3000 - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    I felt he really didn’t try that hard. he just Lind of floated through the years. nothing very special or stressfull and when shit went down he had to act otherwise look like an idiot. but atleast its over in a year

  6. frank35sox - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    Just because something is the best of what is available, does not mean it is good. Clearly baseball still has a PED problem and the current punishment is not a detergent. That is still called a failure.

    • Francisco (FC) - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:36 PM

      Clearly baseball still has a PED problem and the current punishment is not a detergent.
      Ah yes, baseball has so many problems staying clean. We need more detergent!

  7. Jason @ IIATMS - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    His handling of the sale of the RedSox/Expos/Marlins thing was sketchy at best. His handling (or lack thereof) of Loria (and that wretch in LA prior) was textbook Selig, too (in a bad way).

    He did get Lux Tax and Revenue Sharing through. The WildCard was great; the 2nd wildcard blows.

    CB Bucknor is still employed, as is that fatass wannabe singer/umpire Joe West. That’s a failure.

    A’s still stuck in a cesspool. Failure. Rays attendance sucks and won’t get better until MLB buys out their bajillion year contract.

    Shoot, Wilpons are still in control of the Mets, but at least Amway is on the rentroll.

    And Dodger and SF Giants fans are still trying to kill each other, and succeeding.

    And lastly, if ARod walks from his suspension, Selig’s legacy will be having blown this layup.

    • singingfriar - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:34 PM

      The owners got astronomically richer while the fans of Los Angels, Oakland, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Miami, and San Diego got completely screwed. Great legacy, Bud!

    • roadryder - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:23 PM

      The WildCard was great; the 2nd wildcard blows All wild cards blow.

      Fixed it for you.

  8. dowhatifeellike - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    Absolute refusal to join the 21st century.

  9. thesmedman - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    Ridiculous investigations. And a lot of self importance.

  10. stublues33 - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    I can see that Bud is loved and respected by all. However, for those of us who waited for 34 years to have baseball return to Washington, he did one thing previous commissioners screwed up. Every time I watch the Nats play I thank Bud.

    • roadryder - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:25 PM

      Ever think about those fans in Montreal?

  11. caeser12 - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Hold on.

    *crickets.

  12. thomas844 - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    I love how he helped start the WBC.

  13. thesmedman - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:48 PM

    The Miami Marlins.And that whole sordid deal.

    Not getting another team into Canada.

    PEDs

    Cancelled world series.

  14. dw3dw - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    You are doing Bud a big favor by claiming the MLB commissioner is “basically a CEO” whose primary task is to make money for the owners; Selig did that, but after all, he was one of the owners. Every previous commissioner had at least some stake in protecting the integrity of the game, whether it be drugs, stadium issues, revenue sharing, gambling, etc. The bottom line is that everything Selig did was motivated simply by profit, and if it turned out to benefit everyone else–players, fans–so be it. If not, well, too bad. It is hard to have any goodwill toward a commissioner whose sole motivation was to enrich the owners at any expense.

  15. bigdaddy44 - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:53 PM

    It would be too time consuming to go over Bud Selig’s career as commissioner and give him his proper due based on his overall performance. Instead, I will use MLB’s handling of the Braves-Brewers incident to place a total judgement on Selig’s career.I do this because this incindent is a microcosm of Selig’s whole tenure, and it is a conflict that Selig himself should have stepped in and guided his deputies to handle.
    This childish statement sums it all up – Bud Selig is the biggest TURD to ever hold the post of commisioner of Major League Baseball.

  16. elmo - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    Throwing up his hands in the tied 2002 All-Star game, as if he couldn’t fathom the problem and nothing could be done. Then, attempting to compensate for it with the gimmicky home field advantage rule. Yeah, you’re oh for two there Bud.

  17. losangelesfan - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    For me personally it’s kicking Frank McCourt to the curb.

  18. heyblueyoustink - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    But he’s a Democrat youse guys. That has to count for something!?!?

  19. thebadguyswon - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Scumbag. Good riddance.

  20. chill1184 - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    1. 1994 World Series being canceled

    2. The destruction of the Montreal Expos

    3. The failed vetting process of Frank McCourt until it was too late

    4. The continuation of allowing Fred Wilpon to own the New York Mets, the same man who gets caught in the biggest financial scandal since the Enron mess

    5. Jeffery Loria’s ownership of both the Expos and Miami Marlins

    6. The ignoring of the PEDs during the Bonds-Sosa-McGwire era but fast forward years later (well after Juiced was published) decided to take a “stand” against users

    Hows that for a legacy?

    • apmn - Sep 26, 2013 at 7:55 PM

      1a. Moving the Astros to the AL. His most heinous and unforgivable crime.

      • tackandcover - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:57 PM

        Stealing the Seattle Pilots, bringing them to Milwaukee and then moving them to the NL

  21. dlf9 - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:41 PM

    … 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.

    I think the Uebberoth and Kuhn attempts to bypass the CBA to impose penalties for the cocaine users in the early 80s — attempts that were almost universally rejected (see Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin, Fergie Jenkins, Lamar Hoyt; c.f. Steve Howe) by impartial arbitrators — played directly into this, perhaps even more so than the Free Agency Collusion against Dawson, Raines, et al. Selig’s role in former is more positive than his predecessors: before he was a star, one of the Brewer players, Paul Molitor had a cocaine problem; Selig and the team helped him get and stay clean and become a pillor of the baseball community.

  22. kando53 - Sep 26, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    His entire lack of effort regarding PED’s make him a permanent embarrassment to the league. So many tainted records, and such terrible examples for kids growing up.

  23. moogro - Sep 26, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    Craig, you would have been better served not doing the short, cliff notes recap. It’s pretty crummy. Each issue deserved a post. But that was maybe by design: it couldn’t help but cause lots of comments to fill the huge number of issues not covered.

  24. jlilly67 - Sep 26, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    HOF? C’mon. He’s a blue blood given the post by fellow blue bloods to be their guard dog. Selig did what the majority wanted on money issues…..just as any schmuck chosen would have had to do. He presided over the record book being ruined…….a cardinal sin in the sport identified by stats. Sorry, not a HOFer in my opinion.

  25. hildezero - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    @fahmundamahbalsaq,

    I doubt that the Barclay’s Premier League will be popular than MLB in 5 years. If you would’ve said the sport of soccer, then I would agree with you. BPL and MLS are the main reasons why it will happen. Also, let’s not forget about the good form that US Soccer is in right now. Especially with the decrease of interest of baseball in US.

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