Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Selig Era comes to an end.

Bud Selig
Editors Note:  Normally this space is reserved for Detroit Tigers specific information, but Bud Selig deserves some special comment. 

So here we are, nearing the start of the 2015 baseball season, the first in 22 years that Major League Baseball will start a season without Bud Selig as commissioner. There are those who feel that Selig is the greatest of all commissioners and those who do not. Count me in the latter. 

My friends will tell you that my disdain for Albert H. “Bud” Selig is irrational and probably irritating, possibly to the point of how you would feel after having your knuckles run over a cheese-grater, repeatedly.  That being said, I will concede that Bud Selig did his job well, he worked for the MLB owners after all, and not the players, or the fans. 

I mean, seriously, the guy helped baseball get to the point where industry revenues were up to over the $9 billion mark in 2014.  Oh, by the way, that is up 13% from 2013, and up 321% over 1995.  Bud Selig leaves the game hemorrhaging cash- making those millionaire owners even richer.   

They aren’t the only ones either- the average MLB salary by the end of 2014 was $3,818,923.  That figure is up over $2M from 1992, when it was just a little over $1M a year at $1,084,408.

So, Bud did his job well, and made LOTS of money for the guys he needed to report to.  But before you run right out and bust open the doors of Cooperstown, and get that bronze plaque ready-   there are a few details that we might want to remember about Selig’s time in office. 

Baseball Hall of Fame
SI’s Jay Jaffe will remind you that while Bud Selig will, more than likely, get enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame, there are compelling reasons why he shouldn’t be a “shoo-in”

I agree, here's why: 

Something to remember about Selig’s time in charge; the 1900’s were a time of major conflict after all, between all the wars and civil unrest.  I mean, first there was the “War to end all wars”– aka World War I.   A while later came World War II, followed by The “Cold War”, which opened up with the Korean War, and after that came the war in Vietnam.  Eventually, that was even followed up by Gulf War 1, and then “Gulf War II” – also known as Iraq/Afghanistan.  We also can’t forget the race riots of the 1960’s, I mean surely with all this protesting and violence across the globe and in the United States, something as simple as baseball would have to stop, right?

Since 1905, and baseball as we came to know it, started in 1903, the World Series has taken place every season, including 1916-18, 1939-1945, the early 1950’s and so on, all the way up to 1994, when- for the very first time, there was no post-season- no World Series! There was a players strike instead.

By mere chance, this strike didn’t just cost baseball its championship, but the 1994 stoppage was also the longest in baseball history- lasting 232 days, and costing over 900 games to be cancelled.  Who was “in charge” you ask?  Well, it was none other than Bud Selig.

OK, so there’s a bit of a black-mark on the leger sheet, but it’s not a big deal, right?

Baseball needed to rebound and get fans back, not only did the strike “cost” in revenue, but attendance figures dipped drastically after the strike ended, to the point that eventually, one team was moved to a different country within the next decade. 

What came next is still being evaluated and discussed, but it became known as the “steroid era”, as a run-scoring barrage took over the game- to wreak havoc on baseballs record books and taint the careers of numerous players. 

Arguments have been made that Bud Selig (and others) turned a blind-eye to steroids, in order to recapture attention (and attendance) of fans. 

A positive result of that 1994 strike– and to Selig’s credit- he worked relentlessly and tirelessly, to ensure that another work stoppage would not come about.  Thus, there is been no stoppage of baseball games in the years following, and for the first time since the early 1970’s Labor disputes have become a thing of the past. 

Doesn't that offset the 1994 strike?  

The cost, however of the steroid era is still being felt today, most notably-and debatably- in January each year, when the Hall of Fame ballots are revealed by the BBWAA.  Why should Bud Selig enter the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, when baseball’s all-time Home Run king can’t get elected? Barry Bonds - he of the 7 MVP awards and 14 All-Star game appearances has yet to get more than 206 votes out of the over 500 that are cast each year. Roger Clemens has 1 MVP award, 7 CY Young awards, is 3rd all-time in strikeouts, and 9th all-time in Wins, and arguably the most dominating pitcher of his time.  Clemens hasn’t gotten more than 214 votes in the 3 years that he (like Bonds) has been on the Hall of Fame Ballot.  Both have been stained by steroids.  

If they can’t (and won’t?) get elected why should the person most responsible for not doing anything about “performance enhancers” until it was too late? 

Bud Selig –in 1994- was only “acting commissioner” and wasn’t named as the actual commissioner till 1998, but it wasn’t until after Congress got involved in baseballs “steroid mess” by calling baseball leaders to testify in a formal hearing on the matter, that Selig, and the game, started working on a serious drug-testing program. 

Another of Selig’s questionable decisions was to coerce the owners into expanding the playoffs by adding a “wild-card” team and moving franchises from one league to another to get to our current format of 3 divisions for the 1995 season.  Furthermore, Selig then also added a 2nd wild-card team in 2012, which added to the lengthening of the post season, numerous time into November. 

Selig, embarrassed after the 1993 All-Star game, played in his hometown of Milwaukee, ended in a tie, made the unilateral decision to give the game more “meaning” by declaring that the winner of the game between the American and National league teams would get home-field advantage in the forthcoming World Series.  A farcical decision at best, yet Selig gets a “pass” on this blunder as well.

When baseball hired its first commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, back in 1920, Landis refused to take the job unless the position- he- had almost limitless power to rule “in the best interests of baseball”. 

Selig, upon taking over as “acting” commissioner in 1992, after helping oversee the removal of Fay Vincent, still held ownership of the Milwaukee Brewers. How could someone with an ownership stake, make decisions “in the best interests of baseball” when he himself would hold a conflicting interest?  

Selig eventually transferred his ownership stake in the Brewers to his daughter, but the Selig name was involved in ownership till Mark Attanasio purchased the Brewers in 2004. Meanwhile, Selig was “acting” as or commissioner of baseball since 1992. As fair and impartial as any one person might be, when you are owner of a franchise and have the job of being impartial as commissioner, when making decisions that could impact a billion-dollar business, how is it that these so-called smart businessmen let one of their own hold such a title?   The only explanation I can come up with, is that Selig’s skill as a negotiator put the other owners at ease.

Selig was also behind the strong-armed contraction plan of the early 2000’s that would eliminate 2 of 4 existing MLB teams- The Montreal Expos, Minnesota Twins, Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays.  A court order kept the Minnesota Twins on the field, and eventually the Expos were relocated – to Washington D.C. - via Puerto Rico.  The result of baseball trying to pressure new stadiums for each of the teams- to be done through public funding- the result of which would be more money in the pockets of the owners/investors. Remember, that Selig at the time still held a financial interest in the Milwaukee Brewers, do you suppose by removing one of his team’s geographical rivals, that Selig might have some sort of monetary gain as a result of the Twins removal? 

Getting back to Fay Vincent’s removal, Selig- among other owners, was accused of collusion from 1985-1987, which resulted in Major League Baseball having to pay out a settlement of $280M to the players, but also set back relations with the head of the Players Union, Donald Fehr.  Relations with the players union had reached an all-time low in the early to mid-1990. Selig became a key-part of the group of owners that in 1992 gave an 18-9 vote of “no confidence” in Vincent resulting in his resignation. 

At the time of Vincent’s removal, Selig had worked himself up to the position of chairman of MLB’s Executive Council, and as such became the de facto commissioner.  With no permanent commissioner in place after Vincent’s ouster, numerous owners were willing to sacrifice the entire 1995 season. Selig once again playing a key role in not only Vincent’s demise, but the willingness of owners to forgo baseball for an entire season – in part to seek revenge from the collusion judgment from 1985-87.

Despite my dislike of Bud Selig, I will admit he has done some admirable things, not the least of which is getting more minorities involved in ownership/management opportunities as well as honoring Jackie Robinson with the league-wide retiring of his number and the April 15-  Jackie Robinson day events that occur across Major League Baseball.  

He also has presided over a time in which all but two teams- more on that in a minute-  have had more modern and very unique stadiums built to improve both revenue and the “fan experience”.

Do his good points out weigh his bad?  I guess it depends on how long your memory is, and even where you live.  I’m positive that the people in Montreal, Quebec- franchise relocated, Minnesota- nearly contracted, and the Tampa Bay- nearly contracted, AND without a profitable stadium deal, and Oakland – without a profitable stadium, have a different memory of Selig than fans in San Francisco. 

Where the Giants won the World Series, in three of the past 6 seasons, the last coming as a wild-card team in 2014, joining the 1997 and 2007 Florida Marlins, 2002 Anaheim Angels, 2004 Boston Red Sox and 2011 St. Louis Cardinals as wild-card teams to capture a World Series title under Selig’s time as commissioner, who of course, instituted the wild-card system.

Personally I’m of the belief that a commissioner shouldn’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame, his job is to monitor the growth and well-being of the game, in other words, doing his job. Marvin Miller, among others, should be in the Hall for his efforts in the game of baseball, not anyone who held the title of commissioner, and certainly not Bud Selig. 

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