Sep 26, 2013, 5:00 PM EDT
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.
Apr 16, 2014, 12:03 AM EDT
From Tim Britton of the Providence Journal comes word that Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli was removed from Tuesday night’s series-opener against the White Sox with a dislocation of his left ring finger. X-rays were negative, meaning he does not have a fracture.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:28 PM EDT
Josh Johnson’s arm injury woes continue. According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, the right-handed starter is still being bothered by discomfort in his forearm and will be examined next week by Dr. James Andrews.
Apr 15, 2014, 10:44 PM EDT
Clayton Kershaw continued his recovery from a teres major muscle strain on Tuesday, throwing a bullpen session with improved fastball velocity.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:59 PM EDT
Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes was pulled from the club’s season-opener with tightness in his left hamstring. He is expected to return to action this Friday.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:05 PM EDT
On the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and with the Red Sox in town for a three-game series, the White Sox wore these “Boston Strong” shirts during pregame warmups Tuesday …
Apr 15, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Mariners top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker was scheduled to make one final rehab start on Tuesday at Triple-A Tacoma before joining the major league starting rotation. But that plan can now be torched.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:41 PM EDT
Curtis Granderson is not in the Mets’ starting lineup against the host Diamondbacks because of minor rib cage, forearm, and knee injuries that he sustained in a collision with the outfield wall on Monday, but he will be sporting these custom cleats on the bench …
Apr 15, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
According to beat writer James Wagner of the Washington Post, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos got the stitches removed from his surgically-repaired left hand on Tuesday afternoon and has now been cleared to begin basic rehab activities.
Apr 15, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
Tests taken Monday on the sore left wrist of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia ruled out any major structural damage. He is not in the starting lineup for Tuesday night’s series-opener against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, but ESPN’s Gordon Edes says Pedroia is aiming to return on Wednesday.
Apr 15, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
I can’t vouch for the study, but I do know this much: politics gets this stuff in the news, but money is what will ultimately change things.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Earlier this month journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald announced his retirement via Instagram and he’s already landed a good post-playing gig in the Cubs’ front office as a baseball operations assistant.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Border wars in baseball. Why not?
Apr 15, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT
Michael Bourn is back from the disabled list after being sidelined since the middle of spring training with a hamstring injury and to make room for his return the Indians optioned Nyjer Morgan back to Triple-A.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
There are fewer U.S.-born blacks playing baseball today than there were 20-30 years ago. But how many fewer, and what can be done about it?
Apr 15, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
To some people, Yasiel Puig will always be a problem rather than a person.
Apr 15, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Francisco Cervelli injured his hamstring Sunday night and the Yankees have placed the backup catcher on the 60-day disabled list rather than the usual 15-day disabled list.
Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists
Apr 15, 2014, 1:19 PM EDT
Thank God he didn’t suggest people still had the capacity for violence, or else the manner in which these idiots took offense might’ve been even worse.
Apr 15, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
MLB sends an odd message given how open they’ve been about instant replay being a work-in-progress.
Apr 15, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT
Every year lots of people act like spring training numbers mean something and every year they don’t. I guess there’s really no way of avoiding it, since everyone is so excited to have any kind of baseball to watch again after a long winter that they latch onto some random 20-game sample against varying degrees of competition.
- Jose Reyes is on track to be activated Friday 3
- Dustin Pedroia given cortisone injection for sore left wrist, aiming to return Wednesday 1
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists 209
- John Farrell to get fined for being critical of instant replay 47
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 91
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (210)
- The Red Sox are still steamed that a PED guy played against them in the playoffs last year (129)
- We don’t need to celebrate Barry Bonds, but we should avoid whitewashing baseball history (122)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (121)
- Must-Click Link: Yasiel Puig’s harrowing journey to the United States (95)