Has Bud Selig Been Bad for Baseball?

Bud-Selig-all-earsToday on Baseball Nation, SBNation’s baseball haven, Grant Brisbee published a piece entitled, “The Four Least Beloved Figures in Baseball,” inspired by Alex Rodriguez’s recent headline-grabbing villainy.  Rodriguez, of course, headed the list.  Joining him were Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria, the man who dismantled not one but two franchises while bilking the city of Miami out of billions of dollars, and super-agent Scott Boras, the disdain of whom derives from his being very good at a very unpopular job.  But alongside Rodriguez, Loria, and Boras, Mr. Brisbee reserved a spot on the list for longtime Commissioner Allen H. Selig.  Brisbee, argues that Selig is a baseball villain of A-Rod’s caliber, saying this:

Get the easy ones out of the way first. A-Rod, obviously. Bud Selig is obvious, too, even if he doesn’t always get credit for baseball currently being a financial juggernaut. No one really likes the guy. And unless you’re busy laughing at a picture of him with his mouth open, your initial reaction to his name is probably mild disgust and/or general loathing.

And Brisbee isn’t wrong.  People just don’t like the guy.  Selig announcement of his retirement after the 2014 season was largely met with cheers.  When he mentioned that he would be visiting all 30 parks in 2014 — a Mariano Rivera-like farewell tour — it spawned a Twitter hashtag, #SeligFarewellTourGifts, in which people higlighted Selig’s less positive moments:

It seems fans of every team, and fans of baseball in general, have legitimate reasons to hate Commissioner Bud.  The way he came into power in 1992, organizing a band of friendly owners against previous commissioner Fay Vincent, could best be described as a coup d’état.  While the 1994 strike can hardly be laid at the feet of just one person, the collusion against free against by owners like Selig laid the groundwork for the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years.  Under Selig’s reign, the Minnesota Twins came within an eyelash of contraction.  The Expos, who resided in Montreal for 35 years, have moved away.  Untenable stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay have remained unresolved.  And then, of course, there is the dark cloud that hangs over baseball right now in the form of the steroid problem, which Selig seemingly failed to admit was a problem until he was forced to do so, then used steroids as an excuse to expand his own power.  There seem to be a lot of reasons to hate Bud Selig.

But it hasn’t been all bad — in fact, far from it.  Under Selig’s watch, baseball’s profits have soared.  In 1995, the MLB recorded $1.4 billion in revenue.  In 2013, that number exceeded $8 billion, and it is still on the rise.   So purely fiscally, baseball healthier than it has ever been.  And in many other objective measures, baseball has not only survived under Selig, but thrived.  The top ten yearly MLB attendance marks have all been posted during Selig’s tenure, including the sixth-highest mark in 2013 — 74,026,895 people came to watch MLB games last year, an average of 30,514 a game.  And this prosperity has allowed Selig to overcome his rocky start with the union.  Selig has presided over 19 consecutive years of labor peace, the longest such stretch since the MLBPA was founded.  The new collective bargaining agreement, signed in 2011, runs through the 2016 season.  With skyrocketing revenues leading to skyrocketing salaries (the average MLB salary has increased from under $1 million in 1991 to $3.39 million in 2013) the relationship between the players and ownership has never been better.

Selig can also be credited with bringing baseball into the 21st century.  This year, Selig (after years of dragging his feet) implemented a sweeping instant replay system, one which finally allows umpires to utilize the vast technology at their disposal and get (nearly) every call right.  More importantly, under Selig, baseball jumped to the forefront of internet media; MLB Advanced Media, founded in 2000, is unparalleled among all major sports, and is valued at $3.3 billion.  Despite the common image of Selig as decrepit and out of touch, he has managed to modernize his sport better than the commissioners of any other sport.

In many baseball circles, the mere mention of Bud Selig engenders a sort of visceral rage, and often for good reason.  The man has made a great many errors during his reign as commissioner.  Many of his actions (including, of course, his role in the A-Rod embroglio) have bordered on outright despicable.  But it seems to me that, after all the minutia of his tenure are forgot, history will look kindly on Commissioner Bud.

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