Selig’s Impact Is Unquestionable
Whether or not MLB commissioner Bud Selig retires following the 2014 season, as he recently announced, whoever follows will have a challenging role – taking over for the most transformational and, perhaps, most controversial commissioner in baseball history.
Eight Men Out introduced Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the stern authoritarian who took serious his role as Major League Baseball’s moral and competitive compass. While the simplistic view of baseball’s first commissioner isn’t complete -
Landis was a firm and active supporter of segregation – Selig has had a bigger impact. Under his rule, baseball has seen tremendous growth and become the poster organization for the exploding salaries that have helped price games beyond the reach of many families.
He introduced the wild-card, inter-league play, the World Baseball Classic and ignored the rampant use of steroids, which defined a decade.
He granted preferential treatment to favored owners (Mets’ Fred Wilpon) over those he didn’t like (Dodgers’ Frank McCourt), solidified his power by eliminating the offices of the American and National league presidents, turned the game’s oversight office into a puppet regime of the owners, and has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century with the slow adaptation of instant replay.
The good news for the new guy is that he’ll take over an office that has morphed into a lobbying firm representing the owners. The era of the independent commissioner died in 1992 when the owners voted no confidence by an 18-9 vote of then commissioner Fay Vincent.
Vincent fell out of favor after the owners blamed him for being too favorable to the players during the 1990 lockout. He resigned at the end of the season.
In his place, Selig was named chairman of the executive council of Major League Baseball, the de-facto commissioner, effectively replacing the guy he helped push out of office.
After six years as the wizard behind the curtain, the Brewers’ owner, who had turned over control of the team to his sister, took over the official title of commissioner.
In a 2005 interview with The Biz of Baseball, Vincent discussed the situation that upset owners and gave creation to the nepotistic office.
“The union basically doesn’t trust the ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by Selig and (Chicago White Sox owner Jerry) Reinsdorf of that money from the players,” said Vincent. “I mean, they rigged the signing of free agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the players. And I think that’s polluted labor relations in baseball ever since it happened. I think it’s the reason (players union boss Donald) Fehr has no trust in Selig.”
Being MLB commissioner is not an easy job no matter the employment clauses, but thanks to Selig, his replacement will have no question about which master he serves.
That is if Selig leaves and moves on to his stated post-baseball career teaching history. He currently is an adjunct professor of sports law and policy at Marquette University.
If not, Selig will finish his tenure as the longest serving commissioner in history.