Thursday, August 15, 2013
Time to reassess Bud Selig
By Chuck Todd
After many years of blaming Bud Selig, Chuck Todd sees the commissioner in a new light.
Buster Olney is on vacation this week, so guest columnists are writing the lead of his column in his absence. So far, D-backs reliever Brad Ziegler wrote about MLBPA head Michael Weiner; Oakland reliever Sean Doolittle discussed what it's like to play for the A's; ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. discussed his love of baseball; and super-agent Scott Boras offered up his opinions regarding how to fix the draft and free agency. Today, NBC News reporter and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd and NBC "Meet the Press" host David Gregory take over.
In the world of politics, how successful elected officials first present themselves in their initial run for office is usually the perception that sticks with them for most of their career. Either they are a maverick/outsider who likes to make trouble for the establishment or they are an insider power climber who wants to be the establishment. How they first run and succeed or fail is how they are perceived for their career, and it’s hard to get reporters and observers such as myself to ever see them in a different light.
Sometimes it takes the death of a politician before perceptions actually change in the media and the public. Just look at Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan.
After years of criticizing the commissioner of baseball from the cheap seats, I’ve found myself praising Bud Selig and even acknowledging that he's good for the game. Let me repeat, Bud Selig has been good for baseball. It's a sentence I never thought I would ever write. And I bet I'm not alone.
When it comes to baseball, I'm nothing more than a fan, well informed when it comes to the Dodgers, Nationals, Marlins and baseball cards but at my core just a fan. And like most fans, I’m as knee-jerk as they come. Essentially, when it comes to baseball, I'm just like the hard-left and hard-right folks who like to attack me on Twitter; I'm a tad irrational in my opinions when it comes to my favorite sports and sports teams.
Like every fanatical (sometimes irrational) baseball fan, I've rarely allowed myself to think positive thoughts about Selig. For years, I couldn't even write the word “commissioner” in front of Selig’s name without including the phrase “so-called” in front of it.
After all, in his first decade in office, Selig could do no right as far as many baseball fans were concerned: from allowing the 1994 season to be canceled to turning a blind eye to steroids during the great (now-debunked) '98 home run chase. (I saw Mark McGwire hit his 61st home run in person, and it's now a memory I wish I could erase.)
Selig was equally bad, it seemed to me, at picking new baseball owners. This was especially personal because of how badly I thought he managed the ownership changes to the three franchises I care the most about: the Dodgers, Marlins and Nationals. I grew up in Miami in the '70s and '80s, when all we had for baseball was the University of Miami (not a bad substitute actually, and the games were free after the third inning). So my dad raised me as a Dodgers fan. (He met Roy Campanella as a kid, and it simply stuck.) I've since moved to Washington and am watching my kids have an opportunity I never had: to root for a local major league team.
While I've never lived in Miami while the Marlins were there (I left for D.C. in 1990), the city is my hometown and I believed -- and still believe -- it can be a great baseball town. It just needs the right owner, and the fact remains the team has had lousy owners. I blame baseball for allowing this to happen. The league never should have allowed Wayne Huizenga to stiff the city of Miami by naming the team the Florida Marlins -- a huge Latin America marketing mistake that 20 years later is still hurting the franchise. Then the bizarre way Selig managed the transfer of ownership of the Marlins from John Henry to Jeffrey Loria was not done in a way that had the best interest of baseball in mind. The Marlins franchise has been used as a consolation prize while it appeared Selig cared more about other franchises. While it may have been good for Washington that Jeffrey Loria was not the owner sent here, it was terrible for Miami that he was sent down there. I’m still not sure how the finances worked for that transaction; did he ever have to put up real money to "buy" the Marlins?
Selig's handling of the McCourts' purchase of the Dodgers was not a high point in his tenure, writes Todd.
With the Dodgers, the ownership disaster that was the McCourts' tenure is well documented. Why Selig ever allowed this couple to buy the team is beyond comprehension for many Dodgers fans. But my personal anger on this topic has subsided because when the chips were down, Selig used his powers to right the wrong he committed.
With the Nationals, while Selig chose the Lerners over a more politically connected bipartisan ownership group with deeper pockets (that I think would have built a winner sooner), I can't fault the Lerners for the type of organization they've built. The jury is still out on how they plan to redevelop the area of the city they built the ballpark in and I don't understand why a parking garage blocks the view of the Capitol in left field, but I’m nitpicking. The Lerners are Washingtonians through and through, and that means, unlike the past two experiences Washington had with baseball, the Nationals should be here for a while.
But despite all these beefs I've had with Selig over the years, I think it’s clear he learns from his mistakes. And he has attempted to right some wrongs. Was he late to the game on performance-enhancing drugs? Of course he was. Baseball could have dealt with this 10 years ago. But for as poorly as he handled PEDs from 1997 to 2005, he has recovered admirably. Now baseball is light years ahead of the other sports in bringing integrity back to the game. The most telling moment when Selig showed that he was putting baseball above his own self-interests was when he punished the star player from his beloved Brewers, Ryan Braun. For some reason, I don't envision the Selig of the '90s doing this, but this iteration of Selig did.
The game is clearly better and cleaner. Any fan can see it with their own eyes, and we have Selig to thank for that. No longer are there hitters built like middle linebackers holding bats that look like toothpicks while they belt 500-foot home runs. Things such as stealing, bunting, sacrificing and pitching duels are back. I even like how Selig went over the top in trying to punish Alex Rodriguez. Will he likely lose on appeal? Yes. Did he send a message to everyone in baseball with that crazy 211-game penalty? Emphatically so.
It has been easy for fans like me to bash Selig for years. About a decade ago, a colleague and I wondered how we could start a grassroots campaign to make sure Selig never gets into the Hall of Fame, as his prior leadership of baseball made me (and others) that angry.
But it's time to judge Selig for his entire tenure. He's cleaning up the game, baseball has labor peace, and more franchises are competitive (though he still needs to fix the Miami situation; please let Mark Cuban or Micky Arison buy the team). Baseball is now the cleanest sport in the country, and interleague play and the wild card are gigantic successes -- though this one-game wild-card playoff has got to go; make it a best-of-three format and shorten the season to 156 games. The All-Star Game fix was dumb, but his heart was in the right place.
Overall, even the most cynical Selig basher can't deny that this man loves the game and is trying to leave it in a better state than he inherited it.
He has restored power and prestige to the commissioner's office in a way I never expected or thought was possible 20 years ago. Did he arguably cause some of the tumult that he fixed? Yes. But to me he has proved that he has some of the most important skills that many of our political leaders do not have: an ability to change and an ability to admit mistakes (even if Selig never uttered the admittance, his actions said it all).
Selig took baseball into the abyss, but he also brought it back. And for that, as a fan, I am relieved and am enjoying the game as much today as I did when I was complaining about Reggie Jackson cheating in the '78 World Series (that hip check should have been called an out …).