Let me state my bias up front: I detest Bud Selig.
He became Major League Baseball’s first non-Commissioner Commissioner when baseball’s owners decided that Fay Vincent was doing the job of independent, uncorrupted overseer of the game’s welfare and integrity too literally for their tastes, fired him, and installed one of their own. That was Selig, a wealthy auto sales impresario who owned the Milwaukee Brewers and never saw a dollar he wouldn’t debase himself for.
The owners suspected that Vincent, a smart and decent man, might use his power to block the looming baseball labor-management impasse, benefiting the players. They dumped him just in time to give the job to an “independent overseer” who had the Mother of All Conflicts of Interest in the upcoming war: he was management. . Sure enough, under Bud’s fair and balanced leadership, the most devastating work stoppage in baseball history arrived in 1994. It stopped the season late and wiped out the World Series. It killed the Montreal Expos, for all intents and purposes, crushed the baseball card and memorabilia industry (it still hasn’t completely recovered), and nearly sent the sport itself into a death spiral. Baseball was saved, not by Selig, but by a combination of luck, the inherent greatness of the game, and Cal Ripken, who broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak (I was there to see it!) in the season after the strike to remind fans and the nation of baseball’s glorious past and why they cared about it.
From that point, Selig oversaw explosive growth in the game’s revenues, exposure, merchandising, player salaries and popularity, He shattered a lot of traditions to do it: the elimination of any real distinction between the leagues, expanded play-offs, wild card teams (which I hate, since they allow second place teams to become champions over the teams that defeated them during the season, but then there was the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox…) inter-league play, instant replay, penalties for big-spending teams, baseball in November, and more. If you are an ends justifies the means fan, Selig’s your man. He ended his more than two decades as the sport’s top executive with the game stronger and richer than ever.
He did this, however, despite and in part because he quietly enabled the scourge of steroid use among players, permitted cheating to go on right under his nose, and was shocked…shocked! to discover that all those players who began topping their previous best seasons at advanced ages when virtually all athletes go into decline, and all those players who turned up at spring training 25 pounds heavier and looking like Lou Ferrigno, and a few of those players breaking career and season records that hadn’t been approached in decades, were using illegal and banned performance enhancing drugs. When this dawned on him, two steroid users, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, had shattered Roger Maris’s record for home runs in a season in the same year—what a coinkydink!—and another, the grotesquely inflated Barry Bonds, had not only broken the new record but was on the road to surpass Hank Aaron’s career homer record.
Faced with the unpleasant reality that the steroid-fueled scoring explosion that was making his pals money might end up costing them their riches and reputations as criticism of baseball’s corruption increased, did Bud do anything about Bonds? No. He commissioned (he wasn’t called Commissioner for nothing!) an investigation of steroids in the game and appointed a former U.S. Senator (and a member of the Red Sox board of directors, for Bud is comfortable with conflicts) to run it. In 2007, after buying Bud time to practice his shocked face, Mitchell’s report came out, named names, and was a public relations half-victory for baseball, the other half being that it confirmed that the game was infested by cheaters, and had been for many years.
It also said,
“Obviously, the players who illegally used performance enhancing substances are responsible for their actions. But they did not act in a vacuum . . . [t]here was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on. As a result, an environment developed in which illegal use became widespread…”
Mitchell elaborated in the press conference announcing the publication of the study:
“Everyone involved in baseball shares responsibility. Commissioners, club officials, the Players Association and players. I can’t be any clearer than that.”
If it is so clear, why was Selig just elected to the Hall of Fame? Baseball’s Hall, based on the having the only character requirement for admission among all the major sports halls of fame, has denied admission to statistically-deserving players who not only used PEDs (Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro) but even those whose PED use is disputed (Roger Clemens) and those whose use of the drugs was just rumored or suspected, like Jeff Bagwell. How to treat the steroid users facilitated by Bud’s wilful ignorance has become a permanent and divisive controversy, as well as the dilemma of how to regard the records, team victories and championships that their cheating assisted. George Mitchell was right: Selig was and is responsible.
“Bud Selig has been credited with and has eagerly taken responsibility for every positive development in baseball under his watch. But he has never taken an ounce of responsibility for the “environment which developed” with respect to PEDs in baseball. Indeed, he has actively shirked it.”
True. He should not be in the Hall of Fame. Selig belongs outside looking in, and required to buy a ticket for admission along with Barry Bonds and the other cheats he allowed to defile the sport. The position of Commissioner was established to ensure baseball’s integrity after the 1919 World Series scandal shook the public’s faith in its National Pastime. It is, to use Craig’s word, disgraceful that baseball would now enshrine a commissioner who intentionally permitted that next greatest scar on the game’s integrity to be inflicted.
Pointer and Sources: NBC Sports