Jan 27, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Save your easy jokes. I know it’s fun to slam Bud Selig because he’s the boss, has been for a long time and thus every baseball complaint we’ve had for over 20 years is easy enough to lay at his feet. Plus he’s kinda funny in a lot of ways so that makes it even easier. Believe me, there is no Bud Selig punchline we haven’t heard.
But Jayson Stark lays out, at length, the case for Bud Selig’s legacy today. A legacy which Stark believes to be unparalleled in baseball history:
Bud Selig has been, without any dispute, the greatest and most important commissioner in the history of his sport. Period.
Again, save the jokes. And name a commissioner who has a better claim to that title. Or, at the very least, one whose legacy isn’t severely compromised by illegality, segregation, unfortunate early death or, in some cases, pure fecklessness. Happy Chandler integrated the game, but that legacy is far less his than Jackie Robinson’s and Branch Rickey’s. Really, among the nine guys who have held the title of Commissioner, Selig is pretty easily the top choice. Stark makes a good case for him. And he doesn’t let him off the hook for many of his stumbles either.
But I do feel a bit of a whitewash afoot, however unintentional it may have been on Stark’s part. And I suspect it was unintentional for the very reason Selig is such a fascinating Commissioner in the first place: his legacy and history in the game is extraordinarily complex, and thus almost impossible to capture while trying to keep things from spiraling out of control.
By way of example, Stark — while correctly noting that Selig and others in the game looked the other way on PEDs for years — lauds Selig for ultimately dealing with the PED problem more aggressively than any other sports commissioner. He also offers the defense for Selig’s past inaction that Selig has offered in the past: that he couldn’t do it alone. He had to have player cooperation. This is very true. But what’s left out of that is the reason why players were loathe to cooperate with ownership on PEDs or anything else for the great bulk of Selig’s term.
Put simply, there was zero trust between players and owners due to decades of owners doing absolutely everything they could to screw players over. The Collusion cases involved illegal conspiracies by the owners — with Selig and his ownership allies at the forefront — to hold down player salaries. To some of you it may seem like ancient history — most of the acts took place in the 1980s — but when Selig took office the Collusion cases were still very recent history. Indeed, the most recent expansion in 1998 which brought us the Rays and Diamondbacks was a direct result of those cases. The owners needed the money to pay the settlements and got it via expansion fees.
This distrust, on top of the owners still-ongoing aim of imposing a salary cap which led to the 1994-95 strike, meant that financial matters were first and foremost in every player-owner negotiation. Indeed, they could just barely deal with those (and in 1994 didn’t), meaning that there was no way they were going to get to any drug issues until at least after the last acrimonious CBA negotiation in 2002. Eliminating PEDs wasn’t a priority of ownership at all and even if ownership had pushed it, their treatment of players over the previous couple of decades would have made reaching some agreement next to impossible.
The same dynamic underlies labor peace as well, which is the primary thing Stark credits Selig for bringing. Which, yes, he did. Eventually.
While the labor battles of the 80s and 90s are often portrayed as player vs. owner, the reality is that for most of the post-free agency era, the biggest battles have been between small market owners and large market owners, and the complicated financial negotiations that led to labor strife were often a function of small market owners trying to tamp down salaries, both to help their own pocketbooks, but also to hamstring the richer, larger-market teams. Pushing back, of course, were the larger market teams who resent having to share the wealth they receive by virtue of a territorial monopoly system trying to screw the small market owners. It was only after they bruised each other for a while that proposals were put to players and even then there was a lot of owner-owner intrigue in the mix.
Selig was, unequivocally, the leader of the small-market owners in the late 80s and into the early 90s, and it was clear that their plan — to try to institute a salary cap — was the one that carried the day (what, you think Steinbrenner thought of that?). Selig led the charge to get rid of Commissioner Fay Vincent. Selig and his allies took the hard line that led to the 94-95 strike which caused the cancellation of the World Series. And of course, Selig was, by then, acting Commissioner.
So, yes, Selig brought about labor peace. But it was a peace attainable only because everyone knew how awful the alternative was. And they only knew that because Selig was the leader of the movement which led to that awful alternative in 1994.
There are other examples of this. Things which Selig is credited for doing now only because he had a hand in messing it up to begin with. We’re getting instant replay now because there have been a lot of high profile umpiring mistakes that wouldn’t have been possible but for baseball’s hesitance to get tough with umpires or adopt technology sooner. The financial success of MLBAM and local television are helping the game boom, but how much of that is because of, as opposed to in spite of Selig, is an open question (Frank McCourt cashed out of baseball a billionaire, after all; it doesn’t take a genius to make money in MLB these days).
Yet I am still inclined to agree with Stark about Selig’s primacy among baseball’s Commissioners. And not just because it’s a pretty weak field overall. I give Selig credit for many if not most of the good things baseball has done during his tenure because, hey, at least he didn’t stand in the way. And even for those items I mentioned above — the “victories” Selig claims even though they’d be impossible without his previous failures — because it speaks of a quality in leadership that is so often lacking: learning from mistakes.
Really, how many leaders actually think about, learn from and ultimately solve the problems they created? Not a ton. Most leaders declare victory no matter what happened and let their successors deal with the fallout. Maybe that wouldn’t have been as easy for Selig given how long he’s been around, but there is an undeniable humility on his part in actually trying to get things right after being wrong previously. It’s something we expect from normal people but hardly ever see and rarely even demand of leaders. The fact that Selig has learned on the job and the fact that he has grown is much to his credit.
None of that makes Selig perfect. None of it brings the 1994 World Series back or the Expos back or gets rid of Jeff Loria or keeps sewage out of the A’s clubhouse or equalizes the TV revenue the Brewers get with that the Dodgers get. But when you judge Selig you have to give him credit and blame where it is due. And on the whole, I believe Selig is running an accomplishment and leadership surplus. And, yes, compared to his predecessors, he is the greatest of all time.
Mar 9, 2014, 10:37 AM EDT
Evan Drellich has an in-depth feature in the Houston Chronicle about the Astros’ built-from-scratch private online database, which is now being used by the entire baseball operations department to improve scouting, communicating, and decision-making. It’s called “Ground Control,” a play on the Astros’ name. The Indians have a similar database called “DiamondView,” the Red Sox call…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Matt Kemp has begun running at full speed and participating in daily outfield drills in Dodgers camp, and he could soon be cleared to become a regular in the club’s Cactus League starting lineups. “We’re seeing him take fly balls, getting jumps,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick on Saturday. ”He’s swinging the bat good.…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT
Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu has just two hits in his first 13 Cactus League at-bats, but one was a double and the other was a home run, and he continues to draw rave reviews in White Sox camp for the patience he’s showing at the plate. Abreu has yet to strike out through five Cactus…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT
Over his 15-year career, Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano has logged time at five of the eight non-pitcher positions on the diamond. The only three positions he hasn’t played are catcher, first base and right field. He might make it six this season. ESPN’s Andrew Marchand reports that manager Joe Girardi has kicked around the idea…
Mar 8, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Outfielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla had miserable 2013 campaigns for the Braves, finishing with a .557 and .671 OPS, respectively. Both players finished with batting averages well under the Mendoza Line with 150-plus strikeouts. It was ugly. As the Braves flipped the calendar over to 2014, there was a sense of optimism…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:40 PM EDT
Yesterday, Brewers starter Kyle Lohse criticized the qualifying offer system. Lohse rejected a $13.3 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals after the 2012 season, hoping to get a lucrative deal in free agency. He ended up jobless well into march until the Brewers jumped in and signed him to a three-year, $33 million deal. This…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Many are anxious to see how the new instant replay system will affect the way baseball is played. They may have to wait a week. According to the Associated Press, replay won’t be available when the Dodgers and Diamondbacks open the regular season in Australia. Standard replay, for home run and boundary calls, will be…
Mar 8, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT
The Phillies had the fourth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball last season at 4.19, according to FanGraphs. Don’t tell that to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who thinks the Phillies will have a top-five bullpen in 2014. Via CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury: “I will be very, very surprised if this is not a much better bullpen this year,”…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Edwin Jackson gave up three runs on four hits in his start against the Indians on Friday, but that wasn’t the shocking part of what happened. Unbeknownst to manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Chris Bosio, Jackson threw all fastballs in his outing — 50 of them. Via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat: “I think maybe, as…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton has been sidelined for the past week and a half after straining his left calf during a baserunning drill, but he’s getting closer to making his spring debut. According to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, Hamilton is scheduled to take batting practice on the field tomorrow. If all goes well, Angels…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
You may recall that the Marlins were reportedly “outraged” at the Red Sox for sending a substandard lineup to Thursday’s Grapefruit League game at Roger Dean Stadium. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has since apologized for the incident, but owner John Henry thinks the Marlins should issue an apology of their own: They should…
Mar 8, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
UPDATE: While recent reports have indicated that Ervin Santana is looking to find a team as soon as possible, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reports that the free agent right-hander has not set a deadline and is prepared to wait “days” before signing with a club. The wait continues. 1:15 p.m. ET: More intrigue. Enrique Rojas…
Mar 8, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
Doug Fister gave the Nationals and their fans a bit of a scare yesterday when he was scratched from a Grapefruit League start due to a sore elbow, but an MRI showed that he’s only dealing with inflammation. Fister told Andrew Simon of MLB.com today that he’s not worried about the situation. “It’s typical inflammation,…
Mar 8, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
Zack Greinke has already been ruled out as an option to pitch against the Diamondbacks in Australia after straining his right calf last week, but he took an important step in the right direction today. According to J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group, Greinke threw 35 pitches in a simulated game against a…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
Shane Victorino gave up switch-hitting down the stretch last season and Red Sox manager John Farrell told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe today that the veteran outfielder is considering hitting exclusively from the right side of the plate this season. Nothing is official yet, but this would be a positive development for the Red…
Mar 8, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT
What does Josh Donaldson get after finishing fourth in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting last season? The major league minimum salary. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Athletics have renewed Donaldson’s contract at $500,000 for 2014. It’s a modest raise from the $492,500 he made last year, which was just above the…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT
The Royals gave Wade Davis a chance to win a rotation spot this spring even after he struggled as a starter last season, but Royals manager Ned Yost told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star this morning that the 28-year-old right-hander is out of the fifth starter competition and will pitch out of the…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
We heard yesterday that the Cardinals and infielder Matt Carpenter were in talks about a long-term contract extension and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports this morning that the deal is done. The Cardinals will hold a press conference later this morning to formally announce the agreement. Per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports,…
Mar 8, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT
Dogged by shoulder issues, Michael Pineda has yet to throw a regular season pitch for the Yankees since being acquired from the Mariners two offseasons ago, but he showed a glimpse of his old form last night. Making his spring debut, Pineda tossed two scoreless innings in a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers. Topping…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:08 AM EDT
The Ervin Santana saga is reaching its conclusion. According to Dionisio Soldevila of ESPN Deportes, Santana will sign a one-year, $14 million contract with an American League team. This report comes less than 24 hours after Soldevila passed along word that a frustrated Santana fired his agent, Bean Stringfellow, and could negotiate his own contract.…
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