In case you missed it, it was announced this week that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has finally announced his date for retirement—January of 2015. Undoubtedly, this has many baseball fans rejoicing in hopes that a new commissioner will behave like, well, a commissioner of a major American sports organization (what a concept) instead of a puppet for the sport’s thirty owners.
Some will argue that there was more good than bad with Selig, and other will contend the exact opposite.
In my opinion, one of the positives that came out of the “Selig Administration” was interleague play. This allowed for the exposure of more teams to fans that they previously may not have given a second thought to. Fans are tribal as they are interested primarily in their own teams. Interleague play is a huge positive of Selig’s legacy.
Another one is the implementation of the Wild Card to baseball. This, of course allowed more teams to stay in playoff races into August or September when they otherwise would’ve already been planning for their winter vacations. The Wild Card, which has since expanded to two Wild Cards per league following the historic playoff races of 2011, has had a domino effect on other aspects of baseball such as the July 31st Trade Deadline.
Teams that would’ve previously been sellers became buyers thanks to the Wild Card. Baseball is now in a scenario where two-thirds of its teams can maintain a reasonable shot at the playoffs into the latter portions of the season. The 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins teams that won the World Series clinched playoff berths via the Wild Card. So did the 2004 Boston Red Sox who finally hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy after 86 years.
Also, believe it or not, it’s safe to say that we’re living in a period of increasing parity in the game. Ever since the year 2001, the Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants have won multiple World Series. The rub is that all of those teams won only two. In fact, the New York Yankees have only won one Fall Classic ever since 2001, and that was the year they opened up their new Yankee Stadium.
Now, if that’s not parity, someone please tell me what is.
Another positive of the Selig tenure is the increased internationalization of the sport. Baseball is increasingly a global game adapting to a global society. A good portion of Major League Baseball’s premier players are not from the United States. They’re from Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Australia, and Japan.
These are a few of the good things that came out of Bud Selig’s time as Commissioner of Major League Baseball. But, many fans of the sport will perhaps allow more time to be spent on the negatives when analyzing Selig’s legacy—and for good reason, because there was just as much bad with Bud as there was good—if not moreso.
The biggest stain on the shirt of the Selig legacy is undoubtedly the 1994 strike that canceled the World Series that year. Major League Baseball had its share of labor strife prior to 1994, but it had never escalated to the point where the apex of the baseball campaign—the Fall Classic did not take place.
Fans were angry and left the game in droves. It took Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record as well as the PED-induced home run chase of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to return the butts to the seats of baseball stadia.
The sad part about the 1994 strike is that MLB came within a hair’s breadth of doing the same song and dance again in 2002—a fact forgotten among most fans today.
The 1994 strike leads to the next negative on Selig’s resume—the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, DC. Ask any baseball fan in Quebec about the Atlanta Braves’ streak of 14 consecutive division championships from 1991 to 2005, and you are likely to have cuss words thrown in your direction—in either Francophone or Anglophone.
The Expos were the best team in baseball in 1994 and looked like the odds on favorites to win the World Series that year. Instead, because of the labor strike, there was no World Series and the Expos never had a chance to shine in the playoffs. The franchise never recovered, including having to play a portion of their games in their final years as the Expos—in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 2004 was their last year at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium before relocating to DC and becoming the Washington Nationals.
Earlier, I mentioned the internationalization of baseball as a positive, but one negative resulted from that as well—the World Baseball Classic. MLB knows that if it wanted to stage an international tournament that it would be much better served by returning the sport to the Olympics than by staging a round-robin international contest that runs concurrent to Spring Training.
Baseball was recently bidding to return to the Olympics in a joint bid with softball, but Selig (undoubtedly $peaking on behalf of the wallet$ of the 30 owner$) refused to halt the baseball season during Olympic years to accommodate players being able to play for their respective countries. Selig’s support for the joint baseball/softball bid was tepid at best, and the International Olympic Committee did not take too kindly to it as it lost out to wrestling.
The Summer Olympics and the baseball All-Star Game run very close to each other. Baseball’s Midsummer Classic has also turned into a blemish on Selig’s resume. After the 2002 7-7 tie debacle, ironically when the game emanated from Selig’s hometown of Milwaukee, MLB decided to make the All-Star Game “count” towards home-field advantage in the World Series.
Such a thing was only done to benefit their TV partners in crime at Fox for ratings purposes and defies all logic to fans. One exhibition game in mid-July should not decide home-field in the World Series. That should simply be decided based on the regular season records of the teams playing in the Series with Interleague and divisional records as tiebreakers. But, tell Selig that.
Pete Rose played in a few All-Star Games during his career. During Selig’s time as Commissioner, he has mismanaged the Pete Rose Hall of Fame issue completely. In 2004 in an interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News, Pete Rose was promoting a book titled “My Prison Without Bars” in which he admitted that he gambled on baseball games while he was a manager.
The reinstatement of Charlie Hustle to baseball should have started immediately after that interview. Instead, Rose was further blacklisted in baseball circles and is still not considered for the Hall of Fame by the powers that be in MLB, the BBWA, and Cooperstown—all of whom are playing a treacherous game of God with Rose’s legacy.
Pete Rose can’t be in the Hall of Fame, but Ty Cobb, who was an unapologetic racist and tried to intentionally cram his cleats into infielders’ legs when sliding into second or third base, can be in the Hall. Ex-commissioner Bowie Kuhn who purposely tried to ban female sports reporters from baseball locker rooms can be in the Hall of Fame, but Pete Rose can’t for gambling on the game.
Baseball logic at work.
One cannot mention Selig’s legacy in the game without mentioning that he was the commissioner who presided over the “steroid era” in baseball. It began with the “Bash Brothers”—former Oakland Athletics Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. It then extended into the late 90s with the aforementioned home run chase of McGwire and Sosa.
It reached its seminal moment in 2007 when Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home record. Even though Selig has tried to address this issue with methods such as year-round testing and the Mitchell Report, the issue of steroids in baseball is a problem that continues to this day as evidenced by the recent stories involving Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun.
And with everything going on, Selig did very little to address a not-often talked about problem with baseball—its appeal to youth culture. The NFL and NBA cream America’s Pastime in this category because they appeal to youth culture. The average age of a baseball fan is in the mid-50s, well out of the realm of the money demo coveted by prospective advertisers. You are much likelier to see a rapper or pop star at a concert at an NBA or NFL event than you will at a baseball game.
Selig once recently admitted that he never sent email ever. Perhaps, that’s part of the reason why he never could relate to anyone under the age of 30 as if they didn’t exist. Or why he wasn’t as embracing of implementing instant replay elements to baseball as he was. Instant replay is just now being slowly but surely added to games to make sure correct calls are made.
We now know for sure after years of speculation (and hope) among baseball fans that the tenure of Selig would be coming to an end soon. January 2015 is that date. Most likely, baseball fans across the country are setting their calendars accordingly.
We have no idea who the new commissioner will be, but given the laundry list of issues left behind by Mr. Selig, the new Commish’s (home) plate is certain to be full.
For now, is it ok if the new boss is simply referred to as the “Commissioner-To-Be-Named-Later”? Just an idea.
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