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Bud Selig: Hall of Fame Phony

July 30, 2017

"The Hall of Fame's mission is to preserve the sport's history, honor excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball." - National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York

 

Today Bud Selig is being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. An historical farce that besmirches the Hall on a number of levels.  Selig is a symbol of the owner's greed and has been rewarded with what owners care about most: Ca$h.  In 2007 Selig's salary was $18 million and was making around $25 million a year when he left the position in 2015. He should not be celebrated for hijacking the office of the commissioner for 2 decades.

Let's back up a step for a moment, shall we?  A century ago, the Black Sox scandal rocked Major League Baseball with allegations that the Chicago White Sox had thrown the 1919 World Series in exchange for money. Embroiled in controversy, the existence of Baseball itself was in doubt. The owners begrudgingly set up the office of the commissioner with nearly unlimited authority to act in the "best interests of baseball."

 

The first commissioner was Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Appointed in 1920, Landis swiftly acted on the Black Sox scandal, then established the office of the commissioner. Landis' stern hand guided baseball through the end of the second World War. Landis' contributions to baseball were such that he was elected to the Hall of Fame one month after his death in 1944. The biggest stain on his record was upholding the color line in baseball.  The color line prohibited African-Americans and some Latinos from playing in the majors.  Landis' excuse was to protect the integrity of the Negro Leagues, but multiple historians have imposed todays social norms onto Landis saying he didn't do enough to promote equality between the races, especially when Bill Veeck attempted to force integration in baseball in the early 40's.  We will circle back around to this point later.

 

After Landis' death, Happy Chandler became baseball's second commissioner and was known for integration and establishing a pension for the players. After fighting those two battles, the owners rewarded him by not renewing his contract in 1951. Chandler was later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.  When asked about Chandler, Bowie Kuhn said “(Chandler) was very much known as the players' commissioner, probably the last one who was thought of in that way," - Baseball Hall of Fame

 

3rd Commissioner Ford Frick - Hall of Famer

4th Commissioner William Eckert - Not Inducted

5th Commissioner Bowie Kuhn - Hall of Famer

6th Commissioner Peter Ueberroth - Not Inducted

7th Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti - Not Inducted

8th Commissioner Fay Vincent - Not Inducted

9th Commissioner Bud Selig - Inducted today

 

The line of demarcation for the Hall is clearly time, right? If you survive the wrath of the owners, you're as good as gold.  I have yet to find a case where a commissioner was forced out by the players.

All commissioners 5 or less years - OUT.

All commissioners 6 years or more - IN.

 

Every commissioner in history has butted heads with certain owners, but Fay Vincent was given a vote of no confidence in 1992 and resigned.  Five owners were instrumental in his ouster, Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf, Stanton Cook, Carl Pohlad, and Peter O'Malley. 

 

Vincent's fatal flaw as commissioner was his penchant for acting in the interests of fairness rather than the interests of his employers. He had the audacity to admit to collusion by the owners in the 1980s, in which they stole upwards of $280 million—the settled amount—through an agreement not to sign players to long, lucrative free-agent contracts. He helped broker a deal following the 1990 lockout in which the minimum salary was raised from $68,000 to $100,000. Worst of all, he treated the Major League Baseball Players Association as partners in the enterprise rather than an enemy to be broken. - Vice Sports 2015

 

Bud Selig took over as acting commissioner in 1992 and was named the Commissioner of baseball in 1998.  In 1994 Bud Selig oversaw the only cancellation of a World Series in the modern era while his team, the Milwaukee Brewers, were comfortably in last place. Don't forget, not only was the 1994 World Series cancelled, but the owners came into the 1995 season ready to use replacement players.  There was no entity looking out for the best interests of the game.  This event and this event alone should have disqualified Selig from the Hall of Fame like gambling disqualified Pete Rose.  What hurts the game more than no game? Not only did the owners collude, as determined by an independent arbitrator, but they rubbed the players' faces in it by naming one of the colluders as the commissioner. But it would only get worse under Selig....

 

After the strike, attendance numbers in MLB took a precipitous drop.  At the same time, more and more players were coming to spring training looking like they were auditioning for the WWE. I, as a fan, could only watch the games on TV.  Selig talked to the managers. Selig talked to the players, Selig was in the clubhouses. Despite owning the Brewers since 1970, somehow, someway, he didn't notice baseball players getting exponentially bigger in a short amount of time. The same year Bud Selig became the official commissioner in 1998, baseball was on the comeback trail with two players, the Cardinals' Mark McGwire and the Cubs' Sammy Sosa putting up softball-like numbers as McGwire eventually broke Roger Maris' season HR mark.  Unlike the strike, where the owners felt the urgency to fix their labor problems, they sat on their hands. Too much money to be made on cheaters breaking records. Whenever the subject of steroids came up, Selig punted and blamed the Players' Union for refusing testing.  Like he was an innocent bystander while the evil players were taking drugs.

 

From 1994 to 2004, offensive statistics in baseball spiked and have only recently returned to pre-strike numbers.  I'm sorry, could you remind me again who was commissioner from '94 to '04?  I remain steadfast now, as I was steadfast then, it didn't matter if baseball didn't test for steroids, THEY WERE AGAINST THE LAW. It wasn't a rule, like no spitballs, it was the law of the land. For defenders of Selig, they would argue "what did you want him to do?" Well, for starters, the IOC and the NFL both had drug testing, but Selig apologists would argue that his hands were tied.  I'm going to ask you, the reader, to familiarize yourself with the Festina Affair.  The 1998 Tour de France was marred by police raids and arrests throughout the race with authorities trying to close down organized doping rings. The French government decided that they were going clean up the mess that bicycling was unable to address.  In hindsight, it is estimated that 90% of the riders were on PEDs in that 1998 race.

 

The United States Congress, notoriously slow with legislation throughout history, passed the Anabolic Steroids Control Act. In 1990. In 1991, Fay Vincent clearly outlined baseball's policy toward steroids. Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Refael Palmeiro, and Manny Ramirez are all top 20 career leaders in home runs and yet none are in the Hall of Fame. Bonds is baseball's home run king. The team of cheaters who helped save the game in '98 are now the ones kept out of the Hall.  I'm not necessarily saying put them in the Hall, I'm saying Selig shouldn't be in if McGwire and Sosa are out.

Selig should have been disqualified from the Hall based on the '94 World Series Cancellation and the Steroid Era alone.  In case you think that some of Selig's "achievements" should override his shortcomings, let's go ahead and review those:

  • Re-allignment: That's funny.  When Fay Vincent pushed for re-alignment, the owners sued him to stop it. Selig promoted re-alignment, basically returning the Brewers to the NL, and then the owners called him a genius.

  • Introduction of limited Instant Replay in 2008: No credit for being 20 years behind the NFL. Replay happened in spite of Selig, not because of him.

  • Expansion: No credit for expansion, because Selig tried to contract 2 teams, the Expos and the Twins.  Contraction was attempted due to over-expansion. Selig seemingly wanted to randomly contract the Twins, but the Expos, let me tell you about the Montreal Expos and how Bud Selig screwed the pooch when dealing with that franchise. In 1994, the Expos were having the best season in their history, on their way to the World Series.  Season cancelled.  1995 came and the problems of the strike didn't solve the Expos woes and there was a huge fire sale. 94-95 basically killed baseball in Montreal.  Then the ownership group sold a minority stake to Jeffrey Loria, the worst owner in sports, in 1999 and Loria quickly parlayed the situation into selling the Expos back to MLB. You read that right. Not to someone else, back to the league, which created a whole 'nother set of problems. Jeffrey Loria got a sweetheart deal from the league to then buy the Florida Marlins.  Whoever from the league office that bent over backwards to accommodate Jeffrey Loria should be in jail.

  • Home field advantage in the World Series for the All-Star Game Winner:  An idiotic idea rumored to have been put into place after the commissioner heard the suggestion on a talk show on ESPN.

  • Termination of separate AL and NL league offices: Wow. We're going to give points for streamlining internal operations?

  • Interleague Play: Okay, I think that was a good idea. Ask the purists how they feel.

  • Instituted Jackie Robinson Day: One of the only universally agreed on good ideas from the commissioner's office.

  • Expanded Playoffs: No credit for being 20 years too late. Most leagues expanded their playoffs when they expanded their leagues. 

  • World Baseball Classic: A World Baseball tournament that generates interest in the sport of baseball. An idea that's in the best interest of the game. Very well done and in the spirit of what the commissioner's office should be working on.  (Selig's work with the WBC was not so prolific that it makes you forget about that other stuff.)

  • Franchise Values: Two teams in MLB are worth $2 billion, the Yankees and the Dodgers. When Selig took over baseball, it was doing just over a billion dollars in business, in 2015 they were doing close to $10 billion in business.  Pretty damn good....and he was compensated accordingly. 

I don't hate all commissioners.  I have a problem with commissioners not doing their jobs.  Owners are in it to make money and to win.  Players are in it to make money and to win.  Commissioners are supposed to be the gatekeepers for the integrity of the sport, not hand puppets of the owners.  

 

Let me give you an example.  Before David Stern asked Jim Rome if he still beats his wife, I used to enjoy their yearly chats.  Invariably Jim Rome would ask David Stern about the WNBA, and Stern would wax poetically about growing the game, then Rome would attack the WNBA as an unviable business venture.  And that's the point, Stern was about growing the game. Good ideas, bad ideas alike, how do we grow the game? Stern wasn't perfect, but after 20 years, the WNBA still exists, and it still doesn't make money. Ask the average Chinese citizen to name an American athlete and they'll say Shaq, Steph, or LeBron. They don't name Sidney Crosby, Tom Brady, or Albert Pujois. That's David Stern's doing, and the game grew because of, and not in spite of, him.  

 

Despite multiple lock-outs, David Stern understood the importance of not cancelling the NBA Finals, unlike his peers Bud Selig and Gary Bettman. David Stern got into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame almost immediately after retirement and many argue that he was the best commissioner in basketball history. Return to the top paragraph and re-read "honor excellence within the game" of baseball.  Now Jayson Stark, formerly of ESPN, proclaimed that "Selig has been, without any dispute, the greatest and most important commissioner in the history of his sport. Period." Back in 2014. I obviously don't agree, but let's take Stark at his word that he thinks Selig is the game's greatest Commissioner. My reply to his argument is startlingly simple. "Sorry." He should be banned from the Hall for the '94 strike and PED's.

 

Oh, that's not fair? Two of the greatest players in the history of the game aren't in the Hall due to the damage they did to the game, Pete Rose (gambling) and Barry Bonds (PED's). 4,256 record setting hits and 762 record setting home runs. Their contributions to the game are unquestionable and they defined excellence within the game, but they are both kind of jerks according to the sportswriters.  Everyone liked Bud, he formed consensuses and worked the room. I'm glad we're making exceptions for the nice guys (who happen to be in charge.)

What happened in 1992 was nothing less than a sports coup. If it wasn't a big deal that Bud Selig was an owner, then why wasn't Tony Clark named as his successor?  First an Owner Commissioner, then a Player Commissioner, that should have balanced things out for the integrity of the game. A former player as commissioner?  Owners would have massive heart attacks. I keep reading how many nice, shiny stadiums were built during Selig's tenure.  Guess what? You don't get points here at Beacon of Speech for strong arming cities into building you sports palaces with sweetheart deals

 

Many of Selig's defenders stress how much money MLB is making today, but are the cities that host MLB games sharing in that windfall?  Economists, who agree on nothing, agree that publicly financed stadiums are not the money makers for the host cities that baseball makes them out to be. “A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store.” 

 

At least you can still watch games on TV at a reasonable cost. Or not. 

"The costs of the increasing television revenues brought into the game were inevitably passed along to customers whose cable and satellite bills have skyrocketed, and yet odious, antiquated blackout rules prevent fans in some markets from watching as many as six teams in their general vicinity." - SI.com  

 

How many people in America are leaving cable and dish, right now, and going to streaming services with no sports at all?

I would be remiss if we didn't return to the 1930's. Article after article condemn baseball's first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, for not integrating baseball. Despite segregation being morally wrong, it must be noted that all legally enforced public segregation wasn't abolished until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Was Landis a racist? Oh, probably so, but as a judge he was interpreting the laws of the land at that time. To argue that Selig was a better commissioner for baseball than Landis based on the criteria of societal norms is only one piece of the puzzle. Despite taking office in 1992, when the percentage of African-Americans in MLB hovered around 17%, that number has plummeted to 6% today. Now you could argue that the Latino percentages account for all of those loses, going from 15% to 27% today, and you would have a solid argument. But if you compare MLB to other sports, they lag far, far behind the NFL, the NBA, and MLS when it comes to minority participation.

 

In 1933, the average MLB payroll as a Percentage of Total Team Revenues was 36%. When Selig took office, it was a 50-50 split between the owners and players. After peaking around the year 2004 at 56%, it has been reigned back in to 38% today, about the same as when Selig left office in 2014.

 

So, bottom line, 85 years later, minority participation is marginally better, player payrolls as a percentage of revenue are marginally better, and the owners's wealth is exponentially better...because you made an owner commissioner.

 

Why do I keep harping on money with Bud Selig? Because when he left the commissioner's office, was baseball better positioned for the future due to his tenure? The answer is no. "MLB viewers are the oldest of any sport, with 50 percent being over the age of 50. And for the first time ever there were no baseball players among ESPN’s 2015 list of favorite athletes. Perhaps most telling, is the fact that over the last 12 years the number of kids participating in Little League Baseball has dropped sharply, causing many towns to resort to multi-city teams and leagues." -Huffington Post

 

Every measure of success related to Selig comes down to dollars and cents. AGAIN, it is the owners job to make money, it is the players job to make money, it is the commissioner's job to protect the game. 

In the end, the threshold for the Baseball Hall of Fame should be:

 

Was Bud Selig so historically good for the game that you forget about his deficiencies?

 

Bud Selig absolutely did not meet that standard.

 

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