The complicated legacy of Hall of Fame baseball commissioner Bud Selig
MLB grew exponentially during Selig's tenure
Sunday afternoon, former MLB commissioner Bud Selig will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Selig was voted in by the 16-person Today's Game committee back in December. He needed 12 votes for induction and received 15. Selig joins John Schuerholz, Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines in the 2017 Hall of Fame class.
Selig, now 83, purchased the old Seattle Pilots franchise out of bankruptcy court in 1970 and moved the team to Milwaukee, his hometown, where they became the Brewers. He took over as MLB's acting commissioner in 1992, after Fay Vincent was let go by the owners, and he became the permanent commissioner in 1998. Selig held the post until retiring following the 2014 season.
As with most major sports commissioners, Selig's tenure was littered with positives and negatives. His 22 years at the helm featured some noteworthy black marks but also massive growth. In the end Selig's stint as MLB commissioner had many more hits than misses. Here is a breakdown of his legacy.
Under Selig, MLB has grown into a $10 billion industry with record attendance and television ratings, and launched the digital media juggernaut MLB Advanced Media. A whopping 18 of the 30 current ballparks were built after Selig took over, and his Initiative on Sustainable Ballpark Operations has become the standard for environmental care for sports leagues around the world. The league also added four franchises (Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Rays) during his tenure. The game was grown exponentially.
Why has the game grown? Several reasons. For starters, Selig helped introduce the wild card system, which allowed more teams to contend and created another postseason round. The single wild card system was put in place in 1995 and the two wild card system was put in place in 2012. More teams are in the race each year and that means more fans are tuning in to see their club contend. Fan interest is as high as it's ever been.
Interleague play, which purists still decry, has been tremendously popular among casual fans. Those annual Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, Royals-Cardinals, Giants-Athletics, and Dodgers-Angels geographic rivalry series draw very well each season. The league consolidated into one entity -- the AL and NL acted separately for nearly a century before Selig -- which allowed for rapid growth and easier rule changes.
Baseball has also made major strides with diversity under Selig -- the "Selig Rule" requires teams to interview minority candidates for coaching and front office positions -- and universally retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 in 1997. MLB has the toughest performance-enhancing testing program among the major North American sports and it continues to get tougher thanks to several improvements, which Selig helped broker with the MLBPA.
MLB and the MLBPA have enjoyed enjoyed labor peace for 22 years now, an unprecedented stretch in history. The game is far too healthy financially to endure another work stoppage and both MLB and the MLBPA know that. Selig has turned baseball into a money printing machine with immense fan interest. As far as growing the game globally, the World Baseball Classic has been a smashing success. It may not be popular in the United States, but it is a huge draw overseas, and that's the entire point.
At the end of the day, baseball is a business, and the business has boomed under Selig's leadership. Never before has baseball been this popular or profitable.
These days, perhaps more so than anything else, Selig gets dinged for baseball's so-called Steroid Era, which is widely recognized as the late-1990s and early-2000s. The league's PED testing program wasn't put in place until after home run records were destroyed, after a bottle of Androstenedione (legal in MLB at the time but banned by other sports) in Mark McGwire's locker in 1998, and after Ken Caminiti admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his 1996 NL MVP season.
It should be noted that Selig first pushed for a PED testing program in 1994, during labor talks with the union, but plans for the testing program were shelved following the player's strike. PEDs were part of baseball long before Selig became commissioner and they'll be part of baseball long after we're all gone. As long as there are professional sports, players will cheat. That's life. The bottom line though, Selig reacted too late to the league's PED problem, and it a black mark on his tenure as commissioner.
Without question, the low point of Selig's tenure was the 1994 strike, which led to him becoming the first (and so far only, thankfully) commissioner to cancel the World Series. It took years for MLB to recover and some franchises, most notably the Expos, never fully recovered. The strike lasted nearly eight full months, from August 1994 to April 1995. The work stoppage was a massive blow to MLB's popularity across the country.
The Steroid Era and 1994 work stoppage diminish Selig's legacy. Overall though, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The league survived the 1994 strike and has thrived since thanks to huge revenues, big time popularity, and an unprecedented stretch of labor peace. Baseball has grown globally and more teams have a chance to contend these days than every before. Selig was far from perfect. Right now though, MLB is in a much better place than it was were when he took over. Baseball has never been better.
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