As you’ve undoubtedly read elsewhere, Bud Selig’s appearance before Congress this week was followed by the announcement Major League Baseball had extended his contract as commissioner for an additional 3 years to 2012. “When the Lords of Baseball ousted Fay Vincent as their commissioner in September of 1992, and declared in unison ‘This Bud’s for us!'”, writes the New York Daily News’ Bill Madden, “they left unsaid ‘until death do us part,’ for Bud Selig apparently can remain in power as long as he wants.”
It is easy to see why Selig has been accorded such unanimous and lifetime support from the owners – and not just because he was once one of them. He’s made them millions in increased franchise values, plus TV, radio, Internet and marketing revenues. And, unlike Vincent, who got himself into trouble with the owners by too often asserting his will on them, Selig has proven himself to be a skilled politician, arm-twisting them into embracing such principles as revenue sharing.
About the only area in which Selig has failed to keep the owners in step has been salaries – and heaven knows he’s tried. A given at almost every owners’ meeting he’s chaired since 1992 has been the Selig rant in which he directs his wrath at those responsible for the latest dumb contracts.
Say what you will about Selig, but he’s been the most proactive commissioner in history – sometimes a little too much so. His idea to put more stock in the All-Star Game by giving the winner home-field advantage for the World Series is still a bad gimmick. While interleague play may have initially had some merit if it was confined to a couple of midseason series between geographic rivals, it’s been a victim of overkill and a needless interruption of the pennant races.
But much as I once hated the wild card – especially in regard to teams that didn’t finish first over the 162-game season winning the World Series – I grudgingly will concede that it’s been a boon to baseball in maintaining fan interest in September when most of the division races are all but decided. Partly because of the wild card, however, there has not been a legitimate win-the-division-or-go-home Yankees-Red Sox pennant race since the 1970s.
Which brings me to the one issue I believe Selig really needs to rethink: contraction. If there is one overriding reason for owners continuing to dole out dumb contracts – particularly for pitchers – it is supply and demand. Under Selig’s watch, baseball over-expanded by at least two teams, primarily because of owner greed for those exorbitant expansion fees. There are too many teams in baseball, too many divisions and not enough good players to go around.
This is why the Red Sox felt compelled to commit, sight-unseen, $51 million in posting fees for Daisuke Matsuzaka. It is also why the Giants, out of desperation, made Barry Zito a $126 million pitcher, and why, this winter, the White Sox raised the salary bar for setup relievers with an industry-rattling three-year, $19 million contract for the mediocre Scott Linebrink. In the case of Linebrink, this is what you get when you combine “Creeping LaRussa-ism” with over-expansion.
While I doubt the New York Times’ George Vecsey would challenge the assertion Selig has presided over an unprecedented era of prosperity — commercial if not artistic — Poison Pete’s brother can’t quite excuse the Commissioner having turned a blind eye to the very scourge that brought him to Washington last Tuesday. “There is a human cautionary tale in the way all of us failed to address the epidemic of performance-enhancing drugs” insists Vecsey, though I hope he’s including the paying customers in that indictment, too.
Sometimes, our instincts are more right than we know ” or want to admit. I giggled when Lenny Dykstra reported to camp in 1989 wearing King Kong™s neck, but I didn™t take the subject seriously for nearly a decade. So, mea culpa. Then again, what about the owners and the union?
œThis scandal happened under your watch, Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said in œField of Dreams gravity to Commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr of the players union during the Congressional hearing last Tuesday. œI want that to sink in. It did.
The owners are obviously not embarrassed, because they just extended Selig™s tenure through 2012, even as two stars of the past generation, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, face inquiries.
Just last week, we learned that the number of players claiming to have attention deficit disorder leapt to 103, from 28, in one year. Do you think the veritable plague has anything to do with the stimulants prescribed for that condition?
At the very least, Selig has done an abysmal job of waging a public fight against drugs as a moral and health issue. There is no point in saying he should resign, because the owners obviously love him. He makes money for them ” at least until the recession takes its cuts. (How many naming-rights sponsors will go down?) Bud cannot control a recession. But as Elijah, the righteous prophet, suggested Tuesday, Selig could have done better noticing Lenny Dykstra™s neck.