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Where have you gone, Bud Selig?

A critic turns his lonely eyes to you

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2014 World Series Game 4: Kansas City Royals v. San Francisco Giants

Though the name “Selig” is spelled with five letters, it may as well have been a four-letter word to my younger baseball-loving self. I blamed Selig for the contraction scheme, the Steroid Era, the 2002 All-Star Game tie, competitive balance issues, and pretty much everything wrong—perceived or real—with the sport during his commissionership.

Today, I’m going to say something I never thought I would utter: I wish Allan H. “Bud” Selig was still Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

If there exists some alternate universe where Selig remains at the helm, I truly believe its denizens are watching baseball right now (or at very least awaiting a July 4th weekend “opening day”). The reason? For all his foibles and missteps, Bud truly cared about the sport of baseball, appreciating its rich history and legacy in American culture.

Not too long ago, I read Selig’s autobiography For The Good of The Game. Though such tomes are always a bit self-serving, one thing that stuck out was how devastated a young Selig was when his beloved hometown Milwaukee Braves departed for Atlanta in 1965. This was an enormous factor towards Selig ultimately purchasing the Seattle Pilots in 1970 and moving them to Milwaukee to become the Brewers. Throughout the book, Selig talks about his deep love for baseball and how he was fascinated by the long history of the sport. The title of the book alone indicates that Selig always tried to do what he felt was in the best interests of the sport.

Of course, Selig wasn’t perfect in the MLB catbird seat. Far from it, in fact. As owner of the Brewers, he was involved in a mid-1980s collusion scandal. He presided over the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series for the first time since 1904. The use of performance-enhancing drugs ballooned to an enormous problem under his watch. Closer to home, he advocated a contraction plan that included the Twins as a potential team to be dismantled.

The 2002 All-Star Game fiasco.
Photo credit should read JOHN ZICH/AFP via Getty Images

Yet, for all those failings, Selig also instituted many positives (either in the short-term or long-term) into MLB, some of which included:

-The introduction of first one wild card team (1993), and then another (2012).

-Interleague play (starting in 1997), allowing fans to see/visit teams they have previously never been privy to save for the Fall Classic.

-A ’98 expansion that added the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks.

-Making the All-Star Game determine home-field advantage in the World Series. Say what you want about the long-term viability of that tactic, but at the time it may have saved the Midsummer Classic altogether.

-Introducing replay reviews into the sport.

-Inaugurating the World Baseball Classic and generally helping to expand MLB’s international presence.

-Instituting stricter drug-testing than perhaps any other major league sport.

Most importantly, however, Selig just had that love for baseball that is so important at its highest echelon. He realize that unilateral or bullying tactics were not the best way to proceed over the long-term.

Contrast that with Selig’s successor in the commissioner’s chair, Rob Manfred. He seems to have little love or passion for the sport, only caring about its ruthless expansion or making shrewd business deals. While I don’t know him personally, of course, I simply don’t get the vibe that he is imbued with the historical or heartfelt nature of the sport like Selig was.

MLB, MLBPA Announce New Labor Agreement Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Consider the breaking development of the owners voting to impose a 60 game season for 2020. Sure, it may ultimately bring baseball back to major league diamonds soon, but that is the bare minimum it will have accomplished in terms of resolving the acrimony between the players and owners. It’s the equivalent of when you’d fight with your siblings and a parent—who cared little about the argument—would step in and force something to happen just to stop the fighting.

Bottom line: it looks like at least some baseball will be played in 2020. That’s a good thing. Sadly, though, it’s also tough to have much confidence in baseball to “do the right thing” going forward with Manfred at the helm. Sorry 12-year old me, but of the two commissioners that have presided over my baseball-watching lifetime thus far, Bud Selig has been the better option.