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.
Oct 2, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT
Big, big assets.
Oct 2, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
Jordan Zimmermann, fresh off his regular season finale no-hitter, will start Game 2.
Oct 2, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT
A small part of baseball’s rich historic fabric has died.
Oct 2, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
He’s currently managing in the Twins’ farm system at high Single-A and made headlines in 2013 for starting a brawl by tackling the opposing manager.
Oct 2, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
A second broadcast feed, on Fox Sports 1, with something we haven’t seen before.
Oct 2, 2014, 12:24 PM EDT
Quite a salty day for the Giants starter
Oct 2, 2014, 10:26 AM EDT
I’m assuming they do. The Rawlings people supply each team with cases and cases of them. Or am I missing something here?
Oct 2, 2014, 9:50 AM EDT
It’s easy to be selfless when you have a $289 million contract, but this is still cool.
Oct 2, 2014, 9:28 AM EDT
Or: Great Moments in Small Stadiums With Nice Club Areas Behind Home Plate
Oct 2, 2014, 8:38 AM EDT
Party if you want to party. But why do ballplayers still party like this? Why don’t they do something different?
Oct 2, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Max Scherzer vs. Chris Tillman in the early evening, Jason Vargas vs. Jered Weaver for the nightcap.
Oct 2, 2014, 12:18 AM EDT
The game was pretty much wrapped up at this point for the Giants, but watch Pablo Sandoval go over the Pirates’ dugout railing to make a catch in foul territory in Wednesday night’s NL Wild Card Game …
Oct 1, 2014, 11:54 PM EDT
After Wednesday’s 8-0 loss, it’s time for the Pirates to start thinking about next year.
Oct 1, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Madison Bumgarner dominated over nine shutout innings and Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam as San Francisco cruised to an easy 8-0 victory over the host Pirates on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Oct 1, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
The Dodgers’ workout Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles was closed off to the media, so we’ll have to trust the club’s own reporting on injured left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu …
Oct 1, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT
The Giants are out to a 4-0 lead in the National League Wild Card Game at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park courtesy of a fourth-inning grand slam by shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Oct 1, 2014, 9:08 PM EDT
Marlins ace Jose Fernandez picked up a baseball on Wednesday for the first time since undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery on May 16.
Oct 1, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
The procedure went as planned and d’Arnaud is expected to be fully recovered by the start of spring training next February.
Oct 1, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Punto hit just .207 with two homers and a .589 OPS in 73 games.
- Playoff Reset: Both AL Division Series Get Underway 31
- Madison Bumgarner delivers a shutout as Giants roll past Pirates in NL Wild Card Game 22
- Angels announce ALDS rotation: Jered Weaver in Game 1, Matt Shoemaker for Game 2 2
- The beauty of belief 52
- MLB to test new pace-of-play rules in the Arizona Fall League — including a pitch clock 44
- Playoff Reset: The National League Wild Card Game 15
- Video: Salvador Perez walks off Royals in Wild Card Game 3
- Small ball prevails … in a 9-8 game 25
- Hunter Pence dropped a bunch of F-bombs in his postgame speech. Good. (116)
- Barry Bonds discovered to be “glassing” — it’s just as bad as you think (90)
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights (85)
- Ned Yost on the sixth inning and his bullpen usage: “its just one of those things” (83)
- Previewing the 2014 Playoffs (80)