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.
Dec 24, 2014, 10:00 PM EST
A good way to finish off our Christmas Eve coverage on HardballTalk …
Dec 24, 2014, 8:04 PM EST
The sought-after 26-year-old right-hander has now officially re-signed with the Hiroshima Carp for the 2015 season, according to the Japan Times.
Dec 24, 2014, 6:17 PM EST
Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that the Rockies have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with outfielder Roger Bernadina.
Dec 24, 2014, 4:21 PM EST
A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town. Well, except for Mr. Potter. That guy is LOADED.
Dec 24, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
No, really. The news broke on line at a Honeybaked Ham store.
Dec 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Based on these results, no, we will not stick to baseball. Because you clearly don’t want us to.
Dec 24, 2014, 12:02 PM EST
Buck Showalter found a way to get value out of Young in a part-time role.
Dec 24, 2014, 11:16 AM EST
Zobrist has been a regular for the Rays since 2008.
Dec 24, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Money don’t get everything it’s true. But what it don’t get, I can’t use
Dec 24, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
San Diego has outfielders to spare.
Dec 24, 2014, 9:14 AM EST
Dirty secret: baseball isn’t always about winning. Even when the Yankees are involved.
Dec 23, 2014, 10:59 PM EST
“NHL Live” on NBC Sports Network ended a segment Tuesday night with this time-lapse video of Nationals Park being converted from a baseball field into an ice rink for next week’s 2015 NHL Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and visiting Chicago Blackhawks …
Dec 23, 2014, 9:44 PM EST
As first reported by Matt Eddy of Baseball America, the Padres have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with first baseman Brett Wallace. The deal comes with an invitation to …
Dec 23, 2014, 8:31 PM EST
From FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal comes word that the Braves have signed 38-year-old right-handed reliever Jason Grilli to a two-year, $8 million contract with a club option for 2017 …
Dec 23, 2014, 7:58 PM EST
19-year-old infield prospect Yoan Moncada defected from his native Cuba over the summer and was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball back in mid-November, but he is still waiting for official clearance from the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) …
Dec 23, 2014, 6:23 PM EST
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was first to report that a deal was in place between the Cubs and veteran catcher David Ross, and now that agreement has been made official …
Dec 23, 2014, 5:17 PM EST
Minnesota adds a right-handed reliever.
Dec 23, 2014, 4:42 PM EST
Yasiel Puig is slipping, man.
Dec 23, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
It was his second positive test for a “drug of abuse.”
Dec 23, 2014, 3:15 PM EST
Claiborne has held his own as a big leaguer with a 3.79 ERA and 58/24 K/BB ratio in 71 career innings through age 26.
- THE YEAR IN REVIEW: HBT’s most commented-upon stories of the year 64
- The Yankees are treating Alex Rodriguez differently than they treated Derek Jeter. So what? 32
- Braves sign setup man Jason Grilli to two-year contract 13
- My Imaginary Hall of Fame Ballot 119
- Phil Hughes signs a three-year extension with the Twins 27
- The Padres have talked to the Phillies about Cole Hamels 23
- Why is John Smoltz a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame? 63
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” 85
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. (145)
- My Imaginary Hall of Fame Ballot (119)
- Today’s specious anti-Mike Piazza-for-the-Hall-Fame argument (93)
- St. Petersburg City Council votes down deal to allow Rays to look for new stadium site (90)
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” (85)