Saturday, September 6, 2014

The End of an Era: Bud Selig's Retirement Tour

The office of baseball commissioner was created out of necessity.  As the Major Leagues tried to get a handle on what would result from the Black Sox gambling scandal they realized they needed to find a way to show the public that they were working to clean up the sport.  The fear was that the public would think the games they were watching were pre-determined or could be thrown at any time with no consequence and no one would want to go watch.

Both leagues already had League Presidents, however, petty personal arguments between individual owners and the League Presidents had led to embarrassing situations.  The leagues needed a higher authority that would bring all of the teams under one command.  The man they chose to do so was Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis.  Landis was tough. He would accept no nonsense in his court and his say was final.  Landis changed baseball for the better in many ways.  He was dedicated to weed out the corrupt, although, some have felt that he went too far in some cases.  He suspended players like Mickey Owens of the Dodgers who went to play in the Mexican Leagues.  He told the public that there was no rules on the books saying that African Americans could not be signed to play in the majors but made sure the owners knew (as if most of them wanted to anyway) that it was not a good idea.  Landis served until 1944.

The role and the reception of the commissioner since Landis's term has changed.  Some commissioners have made major changes.  Some have fought to make sure there was no change.  Some made decisions that angered many people.  Ford Frick was the commissioner who decided to put the * next to Roger Maris's Home Run record.  Bowie Kuhn was the commissioner who allowed the American League to create the Designated Hitter while the National League refused.

The true path to Bud Selig's term in office began in 1989.  A. Bartlett Giamatti took over as Commissioner in April of that year and was immediately faced with the Pete Rose betting scandal.  This led to the unfortunate (but correct) decision of banning Pete Rose from baseball and the stress of the situation led to Giamatti having a heart attack.  His replacement, Fay Vincent, was a purist.  As the NFL, NHL and NBA gained in popularity, Vincent believed MLB could win fans by simply providing the same product that had always been provided.  No improvements, no changes, no pandering to less than traditional fans.

The owners saw the popularity of the sport diminishing and saw they needed to find a way to get back on top.  With a traditionalist like Vincent in office there was little chance of that happening.  They wanted someone who was open to change in situations where it would improve the game and not someone who would make change for change's sake.  While the league looked for someone to become that man, they placed H. Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, in place as the acting commissioner in 1992.

Bud Selig is truly a testament to what you can do if you work hard and persevere.  The Selig's lived in Milwaukee for years and when the Boston Braves came to town Selig couldn't wait.  He ran a successful car dealership in Milwaukee and bought as much public stock in the Braves as he could.  He became very close friends with many of the players including Hank Aaron and when the team moved  to Atlanta he was devastated.  He was determined to prove that the city was worthy of a Major League Baseball team.

The league expanded in 1969 creating the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots.  The Royals were not a contending organization in their first year but they were run so that they could stay afloat.  The Pilots, on the other hand, were not run efficiently. In Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four" he describes the fear of being part of an expansion team when he prays that they don't end up worse than the 1962 Mets.  In terms of play and  overall record his prayers were answered.  In terms of legacy, they are worse in some ways.  The ownership group was so ineffective that they lasted only one year.  At the 1969 World Series, while the Mets were shedding their reputation as lovable losers, the Seattle Pilots, only one year old, were being sold to Bud Selig of Milwaukee.  The Pilots were moved to Milwaukee and named the Milwaukee Brewers.

The team had their ups and downs through the years.  They struggled to find an identity at first but they drafted smart and built a core of young players with Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner and Teddy Higuera.

Selig's tenure as acting commissioner started out rough.  Within two years of taking office he was faced with the crisis of the players' strike/lockout that ended the 1994 season without a World Series.  What is lost in the darkness of the strike is the progress that was made in the league in just the few short years that Selig took over.  The league expanded and added the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins to the league in 1993.  In 1994, although it did not get past the theoretical stage because of the work stoppage, the Wild Card berth was put in place as the league moved to the three division format.

Selig has guided the baseball ship through a time of rough waters in sports.  Selig took over at a time when sports figures like Charles Barkley were demanding that they not be treated as role models as they got into bar fights, got arrested for DUI's and spit on fans.  The NBA was in what could arguably be called the golden age with the rivalries of Bird, Magic, Jordan, Barkley, Drexel and Olajuwon.  The NFL was starting to see the rebirth of the Cowboys and 49'ers rivalry as well as a resurgence of classic champions in Pittsburgh and Green Bay.  Football started to dominate the airwaves in television and radio.  The NHL was even making strides with a national television contract with FOX network and the reign of Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Hasek and Roy.  Baseball was in danger of becoming the fourth major sport.

I will never claim to agree with every decision that Selig has ever made.  The biggest one I disagree with is the changes to the All Star Game, however, the game is clearly better off than it was when Selig took over.  He is the exact opposite of Faye Vincent.  I have nothing against Vincent.  I believe that Vincent had the best interest of baseball in mind when he was in charge, however, I also feel that he was a bit too much of a conservative.

Selig has been a bit of a cautionary visionary.  He has made the changes with what he has believed to be the best interest of the game in mind.  He has done it intelligently, logically and (for the most part) ethically.  Instead of just seemingly making snap decisions he has floated ideas to the public, listened to fan reaction and implemented a fair balance between what the fans wanted and what was best for the game.  Here are just some of the changes that have gone into effect during Selig's tenure:

  • National television contracts, Major League Baseball Network, Sirius/XM Satellite radio, and MLB Deportes allowing everyone access to baseball at all times of the day.  There is literally not one second of your life that you cannot find baseball somewhere.
  • An improved MLB Video department that now (my personal opinion) has surpassed the legendary NFL Films.  Baseball now offers home video collections of full World Series, highlight packages and special documentaries.  They also produce tremendous documentaries exclusively for MLB Network.
  • Interleague Play.  I personally struggle with this at times as I think it sometimes takes away from the special match up of the World Series, however, Interleague Play has plenty of advantages as well.  Before Interleague Play, the only chance a fan in Seattle, as an example, would have had to watch a player like Albert Pujols or Tony Gwynn would have been on TV.  With Interleague Play every fan in every city has a chance to see every team at some point.  
  • Wild Card rounds. Until Selig took over the playoffs were the division winners.  As the league continued to grow it also became more and more competitive. Teams just entering the league were beginning to compete almost immediately.  As teams in one division were finishing second or third, they were still finishing with a better record than teams at the top of other divisions.  The Wild Card allowed additional worthy teams to continue their successful seasons.  It also allows cities that were out of the division race long before the end of the season the chance to stay in the playoff race and continue to generate excitement for the team.
  • Meaningful All Star Games.  Baseball has always been the sport that understood the point of the All Star Game.  It is an exhibition that  allows the sport to showcase the best and the brightest against each other.  It allows the country as a whole to see the best players in that season and to see what they can do.  While the NHL, who normally has scores of 3-2 in regular season games has an All Star Game with each team scoring double digits.  The NBA turns their All Star Game into a dunk contest and the NFL might as well take their defenses off the field for the Pro Bowl, MLB has always had an exciting, competitive and fun All Star celebration.  In 2002 the game was tied and all players had been used from both sides.  Selig had to make a decision and , in the situation, made the right one. He declared the game a tie.  Obviously, the fact that people were upset that neither side won proves that the league gets their All Star game right. If it was the Pro Bowl called a tie would anyone notice? The fact that Selig took into account the greater good of the long second half of the season and how extending the game could effect the teams in a pennant race shows that he understood the meaning of the game.  To avoid having this issue again, he decided to ratchet up the intensity of the All Star Game by giving home field advantage in the World Series to the representative of the winning team.
  •  42 retirement.  Baseball has always been the best league at celebrating the history of their sport.  Selig knew that it was impossible to ignore that the legacy of Jackie Robinson was one of the most important legacies in history (not just in sports).  Working with a number of groups, Selig paid tribute to Jackie and his impact on the sport as a whole, not just the Dodger organization,by retiring the number 42 league wide.
  • Steroid testing.  There were (and are) a lot of road blocks to having drug testing and a penalty system for violators.  It took too long to get this into place ( I will not argue that) but Selig is not the only one to blame for the delay.  The Player's Union refused to cooperate for a very long time.  The fans also play a big part in the delay as there was no outrage from the fans as the Home Run numbers started to climb.  In fact, it increased attendance.  Now that the league has been able to put the system in place they are able to strengthen the penalties as they go along.
  • Longest stretch of uninterrupted labor peace.  As mentioned before, the start of Selig's tenure was rocky with the 1994 strike.  Since then the NHL has had two strikes (and almost lost two full seasons), the NBA has had two strikes and lost a significant portion of several seasons and the NFL has had a strike which has caused many fans to lose interest in the sport.  The NFL strike has even opened more wounds between the players, league and fans that could lead to even bigger problems when the next CBA comes around.  Since 1994, however, despite the issues faced by the sport, the league has been able to find compromise between the owners, league and player's union and avoid lockouts and strikes.  That also does not mean that there are issues that could cause serious issues when the next CBA comes up but for now there is labor peace.
  • World Baseball Classic:  Some love the WBC.  Others (Dodgers fans were not thrilled when Hanley Ramirez got injured in the 2013 WBC) hate it.  Regardless, it is a great idea.  The point of the WBC is to celebrate the game of baseball worldwide.  While football is strictly an American sport, America's true national past time, baseball is an international sport that has branched far beyond the small town beginnings of America.
  • Instant Replay:  This is still an ongoing, growing process.  It started with plays like the Wild Card Playoff game between the Padres and Rockies in 2007 and the near perfect game by Armando Galaraga of Detroit.  The league first implemented a dispute system late in the 2008 season which has evolved into the new system put into place this year.  There are still significant flaws in the system that will be corrected as the process grows,
  • Community Outreach:  The league has obviously given back to the community long before Bud Selig took office as commissioner.  The scope of the league's involvement has dramatically increased under Selig.  The league now sponsors special events like the Breast Cancer Awareness week around Mother's Day where players use pink hats, shoes, wrist bands, etc.  Stand Up to Cancer campaigns.  Youth Baseball programs.  The construction of parks and ball fields around the country.  Environmental awareness campaigns.And many other.
  • Revenue Sharing:  It is not a perfect system, but when the league threatened to become the Yankees-Red Sox-Braves league smaller teams like the Twins, Brewers, Royals, Expos and Tigers came near to being obsolete.  There was threat of contraction with the Twins being the main focus of being left out of the league.  Revenue sharing has allowed for teams to more evenly compete for free agents and has allowed teams like The Nationals, Orioles, Reds, Brewers, Royals, Pirates, Rangers and even the Twins to build a successful team that could compete with the big money.
Not every move that Selig has made has worked out.  I don't agree with all of the decisions he has made.  You can dispute whether making the All Star Game count was right.  You can dispute whether Instant Replay will succeed.  You can debate whether suspending the final game of the 2008 World Series mid-game was the right decision.  What cannot be debated is that the league has changed for the better under Selig's watch because of Selig's ethical and well planned changes to the league with the best interest of the sport in mind.

Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis was the first baseball commissioner.  Who were the league presidents when he was appointed commissioner?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Congratulations to TJD for answering correctly.
Bob Gibson won 7 World Series games tying him with Allie Reynolds and Red Ruffing (both Yankees) for second most all time.  Just behind them with six wins are Chief Bender of the A's, Waite Hoyt of the Yankees and Lefty Gomez of the Yankees.
But ahead of all of them with 10 World Series wins as a pitcher was Whitey Ford.  In 11 different World Series Ford went 10-8.


  1. Great article. Judge Landis always looks like he is a mean SOB. Like that teacher in school who never let you smile.
    I think Giamatti could have been a good commissioner.
    No matter what you think of Bud Selig you had to admire his love of the game of baseball. His decisions were always for the best of baseball.
    I want to comment on some of the items Selig was responsible for.
    I am a traditionalist.
    I like the idea of listening to games on Sirius XM radio. It takes the place of me listening to the games on the radio when I was a kid.
    Being a traditionalist I am so-so with inter league play. It is nice to go to Philly to see the tigers. I am getting use to inter league play, but don't think I will ever fully accept it. With 15 teams in each league it is a must.
    I don't like the wild card. I would have no divisions, play each team in your league 10 times. The first 4 teams make the playoffs. First round best of 3. Second round best of 5. World Series best of 7. In 2015 the 7th game of the WS will be November 6th.
    The new format for the All star game has not gotten me to watch the game. To have home field advantage for the WS effected by a player who had to be on the team because every team needs to be represented is just plain stupid. Have home field advantage to the league with the best record in inter league play. If tied, last years league holds advantage.
    World Baseball Classic- get rid of it. Good for other countries of the world.
    DH. Ugh!!!. Will never like it. It takes away a lot of the strategy that I grew up with. I know the idea is to score runs, but not at the cost of the Strategy.
    Instant Replay is a good idea but they have to speed up the process. It doesn't make sense when I have seen the replay 5 times that clearly shows the results and the umps still have their head sets on.
    Steroid testing. Excellent work by MLB. People will always try to find a way to beat the system. MLB is working hard to defeat the cheaters.
    Baseball got it right when they retired # 42. They have done a great job in Community outreach and Revenue sharing.
    I will be anxious to see what the next labor negations brings.
    I have no idea on the trivia question.


  2. Really good article this week. I just assumed these things were already there. I didn't realize that most of these were relatively new.


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