Friday, March 14, 2008

Selig the best ever?

The Sporting News' Richard Justice believes that Bud Selig is the best baseball commissioner of all time:
He brilliantly steered the sport from the dark days of the 1994 World Series cancellation to record-setting growth. He is the biggest reason baseball has labor peace, parity and attendance that has increased for four years in a row. A new generation of ballparks has been built under his watch, and he expertly guided baseball into the Internet age.

His only fault is that he failed to quickly understand the impact steroids were having on the game. The same, too, is true of owners, general managers, trainers and doctors.

Of course not all of those things are as clear-cut as Justice would have you believe, and there are just as many things you can criticize Selig about as praise him.

While Justice sees Selig "steering baseball away" from the dark days of 1994-95, surely he has to acknowledge that 1994-95 happened because the owners, under Selig's direction for two years at that point, decided it was in baseball's best interest to refuse to negotiate and later lock out the players. When I was 16 I ran over a bunch of mailboxes in a 1984 Buick Skyhawk. Technically speaking, yes, I steered away from that as well. I'll note for the record that neither my father nor the owners of the mailboxes agreed with me about my greatness that day.

The new stadiums Justice credits Selig for have, for the most part, been built with public money more or less extorted by owners and MLB, which have threatened city after city with relocation or contraction. Is that good for baseball? Sure, I suppose it is in a narrow sense. It doesn't, in my mind, give Bud a claim to "greatness," however.

Is there more parity and financial health these days? Certainly more than a few short years ago, but Selig has still presided over a system in which teams are allowed to spend less on player salaries than they receive in revenue sharing money (at least a couple of which actually do) creating a welfare culture and reducing the parity the system is supposedly intended to create.

Did Selig "expertly guide baseball into the Internet age?" Well, he hired Bob Bowman, and Bowman has done so. I suppose hiring the right people can be seen as a sign of greatness, but MLBAM's rise is really more an instance of Selig and the owners getting the hell out of the way.

While Justice says Selig "failed to quickly understand" the prevalence and impact of steroids, most observers are less sanguine. In any event, if Bud is to get credit for the good things that just so happened to have occurred on his watch, he has to take the blame for the bad things as well.

So where does that leave Selig? On the whole, I think Selig has been a good commissioner. Despite my criticisms, he has presided over an era of extreme popularity and financial health for the game. As I said, a lot of this is a function of him simply getting out of the way, but getting out of the way is a skill far too few executives ever manage to master.

Greatness, though? Like we do with players, let's have that conversation about five years after he retires so some perspective can be applied. As it stands now, however, that's a bit much for me.

1 comment:

Chadillac said...

He's average at best. My gripes: he eliminated the positions of AL and NL president, helping to extinguish the differences between the two leagues. He introduced interleague play. He introduced a one player per team minimum representation at the All-Star game. He ended an All-Star game in a tie instead of letting the teams play it out!
When he does (eventually) step down, he will be remembered for the positive changes he made (or were made during his watch by others), but let's not forget his less than memorable changes either.