George Will Likens Bud Selig to James Madison - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
George Will Likens Bud Selig to James Madison

I have just read George Will’s tribute to Bud Selig who retired as MLB Commissioner last week after serving in that position since 1992. In his piece, Will argues that Selig is to baseball what James Madison was to America during the Constitutional Convention. No, I’m not kidding:

Now, as baseball’s Madison, Commissioner Bud Selig, retires, consider how he steered baseball through its worst crisis. Twenty years ago, baseball was in a trough more dangerous than the one into which it tumbled during the Black Sox scandal, when some White Sox players colluded with gamblers to lose the 1919 World Series. Baseball’s solution was a prodigy who had come to baseball from a Baltimore orphanage — George Herman Ruth.

In January 1995, baseball was prostrate. What began Aug. 12, 1994, lasted until April 2, 1995. The 232-day strike and lockout — the eighth work stoppage in Major League Baseball history and the third in-season stoppage in 22 years — canceled the remainder of the 1994 season and the World Series.

The Madison-Selig comparison simply doesn’t hold water. Madison was a Founding Father. Selig is no Founding Father. He came into the picture when he bought the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970, 101 years after MLB was founded. Bud Selig didn’t steer baseball out of the work stoppage of 1994-1995. Hell, he was the cause of it. Selig, like his predecessors, tried to break the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). After all, Selig was an owner and his appointment as interim commissioner in 1992 finally showed that the position was simply a representative of the owners, not an impartial figure that his predecessors pretended they were.

By the ’90’s, the clash between MLB and MLBPA was the classic case of an irresistable force against an immovable object. Bud Selig showed not a trace of flexibility nor imagination. He did not negotiate an end to the work stoppage, a federal court did. To be precise, it was Sonia Sotomayor who imposed an agreement on the two parties. When Selig announced his retirement in October 2013 I wrote,”In retrospect, Sotomayor might have been better suited to being Commissioner of Major League Baseball than Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.”

None of which stops Will from heaping effusive praise upon Selig:

Since 1992, baseball has created four new teams, opened 21 new ballparks, adopted interleague play, instant replay and drug testing, expanded the postseason with two wild cards in each league, gone 20 years without labor troubles interrupting play and has vastly expanded revenue-sharing and has implemented a “competitive balance tax” on team payrolls above a certain threshold. And on Sept. 1, 2014, in the last season of the Selig era, 17 of the 30 teams were within 5½ games of a playoff spot.

Well, while the new ballparks are better than the cookie-cutter, multi-purpose stadiums of the ’70s, many of those 21 new ballparks were built with the taxpayers footing the bill. As for drug testing, Selig (and MLBPA) were essentially shamed into doing it. Interleague play was long a pet cause of Selig’s. While I enjoy watching NL teams visit Fenway Park, it does take away some of the mystery out of it. For me, the AL and NL should be two separate universes that only converge during the All-Star Game and the World Series. If interleague were done away with, I would shed no tears.

While it’s true that the Wild Cards do make for good pennant races and it ensures that teams that win 100 games don’t miss the post-season as the 1980 Orioles and 1993 Giants (who won 100 and 103 games, respectively) did, it also waters things down. As it stands, 10 of the 30 MLB teams now reach the post-season. When Selig became commissioner, a team had a 1 in 7 chance of making the post-season. Now it’s a 1 in 3 chance.

Even so, I believe MLB’s competitive balance hasn’t changed much during the Selig years. Between 1970 and 1991 (when Selig owned the Brewers), 12 different teams won World Series titles. During Selig’s tenure as Commissioner, 11 different teams have won World Series titles. While it’s true the New York Yankees won five World Series titles during this period that pales in comparison to the 10 World Series titles they won between 1947 and 1962.

Will concludes that Selig is one of the four most important people in the history of MLB. He lists the other three as Alexander Cartwright, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. Ruth and Robinson are no-brainers and Cartwright certainly has a better claim than Abner Doubleday as the father of baseball. But who wants to move the Baseball Hall of Fame to Hoboken, New Jersey?

Yet I can think of several people who are far more important to baseball than Selig. If Will considers Jackie Robinson important then why not Branch Rickey? Robinson would never have broken the color barrier if Rickey wasn’t prepared to grant him the opportunity. Rickey also established the minor leagues and brought batting helmets to baseball. Or how about John Montgomery Ward who was the first to organize a players’ union? Then there is Marvin Miller who turned the MLBPA from a company union into arguably one of the most successful unions in American history? Curt Flood gave up what could have been a Hall of Fame career to challenge the reserve clause. In 50 years from now, Bud Selig will be but a footnote in the history of Major League Baseball. Bud Selig isn’t the Madison of baseball; he’s its Millard Fillmore.

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