Bud Selig, the long-time baseball commissioner, does not need me to toot his horn or defend him; his achievements in two decades as commissioner, speak loudly in his behalf. Anyway, any defense I offer of him would very likely prompt critics to accuse me of being his personal p.r. man. Of course, anyone who has read my columns about some of Selig’s follies would find me a strange kind of p.r. man.
But I have a unique view of the commissioner. I have probably known him longer and have covered him longer than any other reporter or columnist. We go back four decades, more than half of our lifetimes, to the time he owned the Milwaukee Brewers and I covered the New York Yankees for The New York Times.
We have had our differences over the years, still do, but we have remained amicable and completely understand each other’s job. The biggest difference in our jobs is money. Bud makes about $25 million more a year than I do. But what’s a few dollars between friends?
I write all of this as a preface to the point I want to make. Despite my view of the things I disagree with that Selig has done as commissioner, I believe he has done a terrific job in his job. You can’t argue with the numbers. You can’t ignore them either.
It was the latest number that caught my attention and prompted me to write this column. According to Forbes magazine, which tracks baseball economics, the average value of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams has risen 23 percent to $744 million. That increase is in addition to the increase in a lot of MLB’s financial and attendance figures. Baseball, in brief, is booming, and Selig is the head boomer.
Unlike the other major professional sports, baseball is also enjoying a lengthy strife-free period of labor peace. Unlike the other commissioners, Selig has learned the value of labor peace, deciding it was more beneficial to the game than unsuccessfully fighting in every negotiation for a salary cap. The other sports continue to have labor wars. One sport, hockey, has a commissioner who apparently has come to like his reputation as the lockout commissioner much to the detriment of the fans, the players and the sport.
In spite of the success Selig and baseball have had, they don’t get credit for it. Baseball has always been held to a higher standard than the other sports and Selig has been more ridiculed than lauded.
Here is a recent example that appeared on NBCSports.com about a scheduling conflict for Sept. 5 between Baltimore’s Orioles and Ravens. It was supposed to be the National Football League’s season-opening game featuring the Super Bowl champion Ravens. The writer, Craig Calcaterra, crafted an excellent criticism of Yahoo!’s Michael Silver:
There are those who speak truth to power. Then there are those who cover the powerful and revel in that power as if it is some extension of their own power. Man, those folks are truly pathetic:
When it comes to being a sheriff – or, at least, playing one on TV – Roger Goodell has few peers in professional sports …And with all due (dis)respect to the displaced national pastime, it’s time for the Sheriff of Park Avenue to walk all over Selig, his MLB counterpart.
That’s Yahoo!’s football writer Michael Silver, whose argument for solving the Orioles/Ravens scheduling conflict mentioned earlier today is basically thus:
* The NFL is strong and popular.
* Major League Baseball is weak and unpopular.
* The powerful and popular NFL should do whatever the hell it wants to and ignore the puny MLB. * When it does so, no courtesy should be extended MLB. Rather, Roger Goodell should flex his popular and powerful muscles.
I’m not even exaggerating. Check this out:
Does Selig seriously think he’s going to win this battle against the NFL, a league which dwarfs his in popularity and which has conspicuously refrained from flaunting its superiority? …The NFL could easily bully baseball, but for the most part, that doesn’t happen.
He ultimately tells Bud Selig that he should “take some money from Uncle Roger’s slush fund” move the game and come watch the Ravens game himself because that’s what God and Nature intended. And that the NFL should make no accommodations to baseball because, well, why should it?
Know what? In this instance I imagine something like that actually will happen. I bet the O’s-White Sox game gets moved and money is exchanged. But that’s sort of beside the point.
Because at the moment I’m mostly amazed at how many jollies this apparently professional journalist is getting by being on the same side of an issue as the Great and Mighty Roger Goodell, and I’m wondering how being enthralled with that power translates to his critical analysis of whatever else the NFL chooses to do.
A week later, the “powerful and popular NFL” did not do what it wanted and did not “ignore the puny MLB.” Instead it issued a statement, saying:
“While we are disappointed for the fans in Baltimore, we appreciate the efforts of the Ravens, Orioles and Major League Baseball and understand the logistical problems in trying to schedule the teams on the same day. The Ravens will open the season on the road on Thursday night, September 5, in our annual NFL Kickoff Game on NBC.”
Another example that stands out, a Web headline (are they called headlines when they appear on Web sites?) from 2010:
I think such headlines and blogs say more about the people who write them than they do about Selig. Yes, in his two decades as commissioner, Selig has done things that I have criticized.
The link between the outcome of the All-Star game and home field advantage for the World Series is probably the silliest thing he has done. Allowing the Angels to hijack another team’s city for marketing purpose might be next. I could probably mention a few others.
But he’s the commissioner, and the position gives him the right to make mistakes. And despite the mistakes, baseball has flourished in recent years.
Industry revenue has risen steadily. It was generally reported to be $7.7 billion in 2011, and baseball officials have said it reached $8 billion or higher last year. MLB Advanced Media, which includes baseball’s cable network and its Web site, has become a huge revenue producer. Valued at $6 billion by Forbes, the MLB subsidiary brings in more than $600 million in revenue a year, the magazine says.
The Forbes report also credited MLB with doing well financially off the field, disclosing that its $450 million investment in hedge funds from the 2006 sale of the Montreal Expos is now worth more than $1 billion.
Did Selig himself choose the hedge funds so that he can get credit for the remarkable growth? Not that I know of, but again the financial activity has come under his auspices, just as you would receive credit for selecting the broker who made a few million in the stock market for you.
Yet Selig has continued to have his critics. This ignorant piece was written three years ago, but I chose it because it was written by Jay Mariotti, a former Chicago sports columnist, who once asked an American League manager if he might start the game without a designated hitter in the lineup but bring in a player as the d.h. during the course of the game. At the time, the d.h. had been around for 25 years or so.
But when it came to commissioners, this writer knew everything about them. Mariotti wrote:
“In the same productive week when the NFL improved its silly overtime format, voiced optimism that a labor stoppage will be avoided, took more steps to protect players’ brains, expressed concerns about a marijuana problem among draftees-to-be and passed other rules that will enhance the sport’s popularity and safety, guess what Bud Selig and the boys did?
“They slept. As usual, Major League Baseball ignored the alarm clock, pushed the snooze button and rolled over, all zonked out and oblivious to the needs of fans and the game’s ultimate well-being.”
“If you ever wondered why football is the American passion and baseball is gradually sliding into old-man oblivion, your answers came with razor clarity the last few days. Bravo to Roger Goodell, the best commissioner in sports, for listening to public outcry about the NFL’s ridiculous overtime system and lobbying the league’s notoriously stubborn owners to accept a more sensible solution. Instead of placing too much emphasis on a coin flip, allowing a team to win with an easy sudden-death field goal and not giving an opponent a chance to retaliate, the format mercifully was modified.”
If Goodell and the NFL were so good, they would have foreseen the folly of the overtime format and wouldn’t have implemented it in the first place.
If Goodell and the NFL were so good, they would not have had to have been dragged screaming and kicking into 21st Century concussion treatment and not have denied their sport’s responsibility for concussions, brain damage, suicides and premature deaths.
And about that work stoppage Mariotti was so certain Goodell and the NFL would avoid, in case the writer slept through it, the NFL staged a 4 ½-month lockout in 2011.
Despite his and his league’s failures, Goodell was ranked No. 1 in Sports Illustrated’s recent ranking of the 50 most powerful people in sports. Two other commissioners made the top 5 – the NBA’s David Stern No. 2 and Selig No. 5. It’s a silly exercise that other publications pursue, but it creates controversy and debate and sells magazines so publications do it.
In my opinion, I don’t know who should be No. 1, but I would rank Selig ahead of Goodell and Stern.
I have long felt that as good a job as Stern has done, he had huge hands of assistance from Michael, Magic and Larry. Without the confluence of those three superstars, the NBA might have remained a minor league and not have become a global attraction.
Since Jordan, Johnson and Bird retired, the NBA hasn’t replaced them. The Sports Illustrated rankings note that the league’s revenue is expected to grow to $5 billion this season. MLB passed that level several years ago.
Goodell had a running start when he became NFL commissioner in 2006; his predecessors Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue had paved the path to his success. Yet he almost squandered it by initially refusing to acknowledge that playing NFL football could be hazardous to the health of players’ brains.
Selig might have been slow to react to the presence of steroids in baseball, but he was dealing with the strongest union in sports, and the players initially opposed steroids testing. Now baseball not only tests for steroids and other performance-enhancing substances but is the first professional sport to use blood testing for human growth hormone.
I am not suggesting that Selig should be viewed as the best current commissioner, but the time is overdue when the news media and fans should stop being critical of him in knee-jerk fashion. There are reasons to criticize Selig, just as there are reasons to criticize any commissioner past or present.
Criticism is inherent in the job; let’s stop doing it where Selig is concerned and give him credit for overseeing the game in its lushest time. That $8 billion in revenue, which produces record earnings and record salaries regularly, is not an accident.