Sep 26, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
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.
Mar 6, 2015, 11:31 AM EST
See, now that’s good sportsmanship in 2015!
Mar 6, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
The pitchers are starting to drop. Here’s hoping we don’t get a rash of these like we did last year.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:47 AM EST
Barry Zito took the mound Thursday for his first game action since 2013.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:30 AM EST
Reconnecting with old friends is always nice.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Campana signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox in November.
Mar 6, 2015, 9:34 AM EST
Please make a note of it in whatever log or journal you happen to be keeping.
Mar 6, 2015, 8:45 AM EST
Votto explains his approach to one of his biggest detractors.
Mar 6, 2015, 8:08 AM EST
The two-time Tommy John veteran reunites with the Braves.
Mar 6, 2015, 6:41 AM EST
Barry Bonds’ Instagram page is the gift that keeps on giving.
Mar 5, 2015, 11:01 PM EST
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is understandably confident about his team’s chances, but Zack Wheeler thinks the Mets can make things interesting.
Mar 5, 2015, 9:45 PM EST
Richards is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Saturday for the first time since knee surgery.
Mar 5, 2015, 8:29 PM EST
It was his first game action since last July 31.
Mar 5, 2015, 7:33 PM EST
Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan hears that Cuban infielder Hector Olivera could have UCL damage in his elbow, but Olivera’s camp has strongly denied the report.
Mar 5, 2015, 7:07 PM EST
The Giants will likely be without Pence for the first month of the season.
Mar 5, 2015, 6:13 PM EST
He would then return to Korea, where the 28-year-old was a former MVP.
Mar 5, 2015, 5:20 PM EST
Tony Clark adds that the leaks “are cowardly, undermine the integrity of our collectively bargained agreements and in some instances have been wholly inaccurate.”
Mar 5, 2015, 5:12 PM EST
He was bigger a few years ago, but he’s still a pretty big deal.
Mar 5, 2015, 4:46 PM EST
He may be a nice man, but no one likes to pay a visit to Dr. Andrews.
Mar 5, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
Darvish spent the final six weeks of last season on the disabled list.
Mar 5, 2015, 3:25 PM EST
It’s a minor-league deal with major-league money attached.
- Hector Olivera’s camp denies any damage to ulnar collateral ligament 3
- UPDATE: Hunter Pence out 6-8 weeks with fracture in left forearm 28
- MLBPA: leaks are from people “who want to see Josh Hamilton hurt personally and professionally” 32
- Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene 146
- Report: MLB panel split on rehab for Josh Hamilton; one-year suspension is in play 45
- Joc Pederson goes 2-for-2 in Cactus League debut 6
- Braves scratch Mike Minor from start with more shoulder problems 6
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” 376
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” (376)
- Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene (146)
- Curt Schilling lowers the boom on some men tweeting threats against his daughter (137)
- That facts of Josh Hamilton’s case should not be a matter of public record (94)
- Billy Bean responds to Daniel Murphy’s comments (90)