BUD SELIG: THE MAN FANS LOVE TO HATE

“No one will argue about who baseball’s greatest Commissioner is. It is the ninth Commissioner, Bud Selig. Nine is obviously a magic number for baseball the number of players on the field, the number of innings in a game, and the ninth Commissioner symbolizes the magic fo baseball himself The office of Commissioner of Baseball is today and will ever be the lengthening shadow of Bud Selig. And when people ask, When was baseballs Golden Age? those of us who have been privileged to be involved in it in this age will be able to answer unequivocally, We have lived through it. Baseballs golden age coincides with Bud Selig’s commissionership in no small measure because of the service he has rendered to the sport. – George Will

When Bud Selig’s name echoes over the public address system at any Major League ballpark, a resounding hum of boos fill the air. Simply put, baseball fans don’t like him.

There is a stigma attached to the title Major League Baseball Commissioner. It comes with the territory. Fans always have, and probably always will, rebel against the commissioner of the game. The rain of boos and jeers will never end as long as Selig remains commissioner. The reaction is an embarrassing public display of ignorance on the part of baseball fans.

Selig is the fall guy for baseballs past and present problems. Albeit, Selig’s name is attached to baseballs darkest hour, the season-ending strike of 1994, he has endured and excelled despite the pressure of media and public opinion.

Rocky Start

Selig took over as interim commissioner in September 1992, a position that no one wanted, given the state of affairs baseball was in. Attendance, revenue and interest in the game were waning. The MLB marketing model was archaic. Competitively, the game was in trouble. Slow to change, the NBA, NFL and the NHL were deploying exciting, cutting edge strategic marketing plans, making baseball appear tired and dated.

The 1993 season closed with total attendance exceeding 70 million. Average attendance was up from 26,529 to 30,964. Baseball was showing signs of revival, a good start for Selig and the entire industry in his first full year on the job.

As the 1994 season played out like a dream, disaster loomed. While Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 and flirting with the elusive .400, Ken Griffey Jr. and Matt Williams on a torrid home run pace and making a serious run at Roger Maris single season home run record, Frank Thomas and Albert Belle battling to win a Triple Crown for the first time since 1967 and a new, expanded playoff format breathing post-season life into a handful of otherwise also-ran teams, owners and players were playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette off-the-field.

On August 1, MLB owners, frustrated and stubborn, decided to postpone payment on the $7.8 million player pension fund. The players union continued to bargain with team owners in hopes of a quick resolution. To no avail, the players went on strike on August 12, 1994.

Negotiations were going nowhere, fast. As the shutdown continued into September, Selig was faced with making a decision: canceling the season. On the 34th day of the work stoppage, the worst case scenario became reality when Selig called a press conference to announced the season, including the post-season and World Series, were officially cancelled.

This is a sad day, Selig said. Nobody wanted this to happen we have reached the point where it is no longer practical to complete the remainder of the season or to preserve the integrity of post-season play.

With that, Selig officially became the face of baseball’s worst moment.

For the first time in the history of the baseball, since 1871 when baseball played an organized schedule of games, there would be no World Series. Selig was now mired in a strike that would eventually last 234 days. In all, 921 games were cancelled and more than $800 million in losses were accumulated.

Selig’s name was branded to the strike, there was no way out. The 1994 strike damaged Selig’s public image. Baseball fans, media and advertisers pointed fingers. Players were labeled greedy and the owners were labeled selfish and Selig was responsible for both.

Back in the Saddle

I said back on September 9, 1992 that I told my wife, when I got off the plane, she asked how long this would be, I said it would be two-to-four months, said Selig. It’s gonna be the longest two-to-four months in history.

Last week, by unanimous vote, Selig was given a three-year contract extension to lead MLB through 2009. It certainly has been a very eventful period, it’s had a great series of ups-and-downs, but in everything that’s been done, there was not only a reason, but a long-term goal, Selig said.

And while one is never done and certainly we are not with much to be done the sport as it exists today is far different that it was in 1992 and I believe much to the better, Selig continued.

Selig, a baseball fan first, an owner second and a commissioner third, has put the game of baseball in perspective when it comes to decision-making. He has made changes in the best interest of the game, he thinks as a fan, knows the competitive challenge as a marketer and business and he’s embraced change.

The 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement is and will be Selig’s greatest mark on today’s game and the future of baseball. The CBA announced a revised revenue sharing plan that has been developing under-the-radar during Selig’s tenure. In 1992, revenue sharing stood at $20 million and the new agreement has MLB clubs sharing in excess of $300 million, a 1400 percent increase.

The agreement has created a competitive balance never seen before in Major League Baseball. Owners, players and fans are watching as teams who would have otherwise raised the white flag in August, are now pushing harder than ever to squeeze their way through a crowded division of Wild Card contenders, enhancing attendance and fan interest.

The series of changes are now paying dividends for Selig and more importantly the game of baseball. Don’t believe it? Look at the numbers: MLB revenues have increased dramatically, from $1.6 billion to $4.1 billion in 2004. It wouldn’t have been possible without the bold, strategic moves Selig has made over his 12-year reign as commissioner.

The addition of interleague play, league and division realignment, the Wild Card and a second round of playoffs and a flurry of new ballparks, featuring state-of-the-art technology to accommodate fans, are populated MLB cities rapidly (15 new parks in all since 1992 Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Colorado, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle and Texas), have all contributed to modern day baseball and its success.

This sport has never been more popular, Selig told the media. It has a great future ahead of it but we should never be afraid to change, when change is necessary.

A New Agenda

As Selig breezes through the media press conference, in the back of his mind he is thinking of baseballs latest problems: the future of the Montreal Expos, steroids and drug testing. Make no mistake, Selig is pushing for resolution on all fronts. But, for a moment, he appears to be enjoying his most recent success for a moment.

As Selig opens the floor for questions and answers, the media offers Selig a reality check. What is taking so long with the Expos?

The topic hits Selig like a stiff cup of high-octane coffee. Why is it taking so long? Well, it depends on who thinks its taking to long, Selig bubbles, his left arm rising, sometimes wagging a finger in the direction at the reporter, other times clenching into a fist, Now, would you have liked to have done it faster? Yes. But youre moving a franchise into markets where stadiums don’t exist, where there’s much work to be done, where the areas competing for it themselves have a lot of work to do.

So, while we’d like to get it done, obviously it would be a good thing for all of us to get it done, the fact of the matter is it’s important that we get it done right, Selig bristles. As to where were going, that’s for another day.

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