Jan 27, 2014, 1:28 PM EST
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.
Jan 26, 2015, 4:16 PM EST
Norris asked for $10.25 million and the Orioles countered at $7.5 million.
Jan 26, 2015, 3:49 PM EST
Buck joins Christian Bethancourt and A.J. Pierzynski on the Braves’ catching depth chart.
Jan 26, 2015, 3:35 PM EST
Now, if they’ll bring back the beer mug Bernie slides into, everything will be A-OK.
Jan 26, 2015, 2:42 PM EST
I’m sure you’ve been worried about whether he would.
Jan 26, 2015, 2:10 PM EST
Parmelee was dropped by the Twins last month.
Jan 26, 2015, 1:18 PM EST
Mesoraco is arbitration eligible for the first time at age 26 and filed for $3.6 million, while the Reds countered at $2.45 million.
Jan 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
Wade Boggs is . . . the World’s Most Interesting Man
Jan 26, 2015, 12:28 PM EST
If it was a human it would’ve almost made it to the first grade. But now it is dead, aged just short of six years.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:29 AM EST
If you made a trade with St. Louis in the 90s and 2000s, you likely got the bad end of that trade. Because of this guy.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:57 AM EST
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
“I don’t know if my metabolism is slowing down from getting older or what, but I feel good.”
Jan 26, 2015, 9:31 AM EST
Hey guys, if things break just right we may get another A-Rod lawsuit!
Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Short version: The man knows how to budget. Mets fans can’t dispute that.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:30 AM EST
A solution in search of a problem. Or, at the very least, a solution that would be worse than the problem.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:46 AM EST
We are approaching the day when a Hall of Famer with over 3,000 hits and a career .328 batting average will be best known for knocking back cold ones.
Jan 25, 2015, 11:15 PM EST
Corey Kluber won the AL Cy Young Award for his great 2014 season and now the Indians will have to consider whether or not they want to sign him to a contract extension.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:35 PM EST
With Yovani Gallardo out of the picture, Brewers GM Doug Melvin said he’s not looking to add a notable starting pitcher.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
Twins prospect Alex Meyer is open to contributing out of the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot in spring training.
Jan 25, 2015, 8:20 PM EST
The Mariners added some outfield depth, signing Endy Chavez to a minor league deal. They’re reportedly close to signing Franklin Gutierrez as well.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
With Jonathan Papelbon likely staying in Philadelphia, the Brewers are turning their attention back to Francisco Rodriguez.
- Reds sign four-year contract extension with Devin Mesoraco 10
- The Yankees are going to try to get out of paying A-Rod his contract incentives 61
- How Commissioner Rob Manfred Can Make Baseball More Appealing 58
- Blue Jays cut off talks for Orioles executive Dan Duquette 46
- Rob Manfred, new Major League Baseball commissioner, suggests ban on defensive shifts 118
- Yankees reject A-Rod’s apology attempt 47
- Joe Posnanski: Remembering ‘Mr. Cub,’ Ernie Banks 17
- What they’re saying about the passing of Cubs legend Ernie Banks 8
- Bud Selig: The Greatest Commissioner in the History of Baseball (144)
- Max Scherzer’s seven-year deal with Nationals worth $210 million (119)
- Rob Manfred, new Major League Baseball commissioner, suggests ban on defensive shifts (118)
- Comments of the Day: some of you guys aren’t big Bud Selig fans (77)
- The 2015 Braves have “gravitas” and “veteran leadership” and will have dirty uniforms. Just kill me now. (76)