Commissioner of MLB Bud Selig recently announced his formal resignation and departure from that post as of January 24, 2015. The following analysis and opinion on Selig’s MLB legacy was originally presented on the now defunct website Informative Sports as “The Jekyll and Hyde of Bud Selig”. I have revised and updated the material to be more representative of his history due to the time and events that have transpired since it was first published but what I wrote then is essentially still true now.
Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, has many critics. I count myself among them, and he deserves the criticism, since he has done things wrong, and, at times, in my view, unethical. He was at the forefront, by virtue of his position, of those perpetrating the lie that steroid and other PED use was not an issue when the great home run chase was being foisted upon the public just so baseball could once again reign as king in the minds of sports-going America.
Thus, while he had every reason not to search for the truth, ethically, he had every reason to turn over every stone in a massive investigation of any hint of a link of illegal PED usage or trafficking in baseball. Selig, as MLB’s commissioner, knew by waging that honorable war against PEDs he would be chopping off the heads of the geese, McGwire and Sosa (1998), and, later Bonds (2001) that were laying the golden eggs which proved to be the foundation of the new economy of baseball.
Selig was a leader, if not the leader, in the vanguard of selling baseball to the masses through the media. He was, and is still, a master at promoting the game, whether anyone realizes it or not. Under his watch, MLB has gained the largest and most extravagant contracts with TV, both network and cable, that have ever been realized since the advent of televised sport. And, under his watch, he has expanded the sport’s marketability and entry into new and growing areas of heretofore untapped revenues such as the international arena and the interenet. But, to accomplish selling MLB to the media, and thus the masses, he sacrificed a bit of baseball’s soul. The day game is an event that is rarely seen and all but relegated to the past and no longer do we see regularly scheduled Sunday double headers. The days of sitting in the stands on a sunny afternoon, drinking a cold brew (or pop) as accompaniment for a hot dog slathered with mustard, juggling a flimsy pamphlet that has a scorecard to enter our notations of the history of the day’s game are far and few between … because TV demands an evening audience. It’s all about ratings and commercials, and, of course, it’s all about the money, the profit margins.
No longer can our children stay up on a school night to see the end of their favorite team’s latest battle with a hated rival. No longer can these children see their heroes… and make no mistake about it, whether for good or for bad, these men that play the game are these children’s heroes… slap the winning hit down the line or take one deep downtown to win the game in the bottom of the ninth or extra innings. No longer can we go see a World Series game on a warm Indian summer October afternoon because these games, more than any other games, have to be on at night for maximum exposure for ratings. Ratings are the measure that determines how much TV can charge sponsors, the corporations which create a large part of the revenue that pays MLB for the right to air the games. And it is fast becoming an anachronism to see a game on free TV these days since the dollars which come from cable and regional sports networks are so much bigger. For a fistful of dollars, Selig sold this reality and a part of the soul of the game.
Selig as commissioner also has confirmed what had been an open secret regarding the running of baseball, specifically, that the office of the commissioner of baseball is supposed to be a titular head that is to rule over baseball with the power to make decisions for the good of baseball in its entirety, was in error. In reality, the commissioner’s office makes decisions that more often than not are for the good of the owners and not baseball as a whole. Selig, more than anyone, before his present reign in the office of commissioner, epitomizes this fact. He was, in fact, an owner not that long ago and while he may at times make decisions that affect baseball as a whole he decidedly makes decisions that favors the owners of the thirty franchises in MLB. He is often pitted, in actuality, versus the leaders of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), initially, against executive director Donald Fehr, and, now, against executive director Michael Weiner. Selig is the lead negotiator in all things financial when it comes down to the union and its dealings with MLB. Yes, there are underlings and minions who do the negotiations and leg work but make no mistake Selig authorizes and signs off on it all.
It is presented that he barters for how the office of baseball will oversee the dichotomy of distribution and management of financial issues between the owners and the players but he really is a powerful figurehead for how the owners deal with the players in all things economic. In a court of law, if a judge had such a vested interest due to previous ties in a case before him … if even the thought of any possible impropriety were possible because of those ties, or often even if those ties were benign … he would recuse himself from having to render a decision affecting the parties involved. These aforementioned reasons are but a few of the reasonable claims for the outcry that has resounded for many years, and through the present, for Selig to either resign from his post or, conversely, to be ordered to leave from his post.
However, one small problem inhibited the resignation or firing of Selig from becoming reality. The problem was simply that the man made too damn much money for everyone in the game.
You can believe the numbers from 2001, when he stood before Congress and “opened’ the books for all to see that baseball was on the brink of a cataclysmic economic failure. That twenty-five of the thirty MLB teams were bleeding money. And, that the “industry” as a whole was predicted to lose about $232 million and that number would rise to about $519 million when debt and depreciation were added. You can believe Selig spoke the truth that only five teams were even making money or close to making money back in that time. You can believe baseball was close to sacrificing two teams from its franchise ranks due to their inability to sustain economic growth and thus profitability. (That possibility was very real, because the union had already conceded the point. The reason it did not happen was due to litigation threatened by the cities that would have lost their MLB team.) And, whether you do believe any of these iterations or not, the fact is that the picture Selig exposed on that day before Congress was not a good economic reality for baseball.
Now, a little more than ten years down the road, baseball is a multi-billion dollar business. And when contrasted with the situation Selig presented in 2001, MLB has, maybe, only two or three teams losing money on the books at this time. The facts are that the owners are swimming in a sea of black ink instead of red.
Again, in 2001 Selig said that the majority of teams were losing money. And, in 2009, Selig again claimed some teams had lost money and that since the so-called Great Depression of 2008 everyone was living in hard times and that baseball was not isolated, or immune, from that reality. Interestingly, when Selig made that 2009 pronouncement uber-agent Scott Boras disputed that notion of “some” teams losing money when he told the Boston Globe that “some” teams were collecting $80 million to $90 million from Major League Baseball just in revenue sharing and central-fund welfare and then stashing it in their private bank accounts instead of using it for the enhancement of their teams’ operations.
Jayson Stark (ESPN.com) mulled this thought over and then did a little research and found, that although Boras overstated his initial hypothesis, the fact was that each team received from the MLB Central Fund (which includes national TV, radio, Internet, licensing, merchandising, marketing and MLB International money) the same payout. And that check came to slightly over $40 million per team or, $30 million per team after MLB’s deduction for $10 million in pension and operations fees. And, that while it was true that only the “income-challenged” teams got a revenue-sharing check. In 2009, MLB shared $400 million in revenue. The five, on paper, most income challenged teams got an average of $35 million in revenue-sharing handouts per team. This left over $200 million, more than $20 million a club, to be divided by the teams that had to pay. Then Stark said, that although exact figures for team’s local TV/radio/cable were hard to come by, that twenty-nine of the thirty teams made at least $15 million a year in local broadcast money, and no team took under $12 million. So, add together $30 million, plus $35 million, plus $15 million, and that would total $80 million per team before even one ticket was sold to any paying customers. So, Stark “proved” that although Boras was wrong about where the $80 million came from, the fact was he was right about the $8o million being there for each ball club.
So Stark then asked the question: “OK, now let’s head back to the payroll list. We count a minimum of a dozen teams, depending on how you define ‘total payroll’, that aren’t spending that … $80 million… on their major league payroll. So, it isn’t just Scott Boras who has the right to ask: What’s up with that?”
Add to this discourse, a Forbes report that said in 2010 only three teams, the Red Sox, Tigers and the Mets lost money.
And, recent various media sources reported that in 2014, ESPN’s payment for the right to air MLB games would jump from $306 million a year to about $700 million a year with each team’s piece of the pie going from about $10 million to about $23 million. Just from ESPN. Other venues, such as Fox, TBS, etc… could add another $25 million per team to the total so that each team would receive about $40 million yearly just from national TV rights. That, alone, would cover the present payrolls for teams like the Houston Astros or Miami Marlins.
And, the facts are that the players enjoy better contracts percentage-wise than ever before in MLB. The players have better training conditions and facilities than ever before, better medical benefits than anyone could ever imagine and retirement benefits that for the most part are better than some major businesses could ever offer their employees. The minimum salary for a player in 2012 was $480,000, compared to $150,000 in 2001.
Yes, the union, as fronted by Don Fehr, had a lot to do with that reality for the players, but, if it were not for Selig’s leadership role in bringing the riches to baseball that the game now enjoys, then the union might not never had the chance to wrest from the group of thirty owners a thin dime of the players’ present salaries and benefits. Because, while the union had a very strong and logical case for the players benefiting more from the fruits of their labors that begat the owners’ revenues, logic also dictates that, in 2001, if the owners didn’t begin to make money and show on-the-book profits soon, then the money well would eventually go dry. It is because of Selig that, when all is said and done, baseball became “solvent” and became a major player in the hearts and minds of America once again.
It is because of Selig that baseball is reaping the benefits of the public, both nationally and internationally, rushing to purchase all things baseball. It is through Selig, by strong-arming cities with the threat of losing franchises unless better baseball showcases were built for the respective team of that city, that the booming reality of new baseball stadiums has burgeoned forth throughout America. It is because of Selig that baseball is an economic success with a capital “S’. Therefore, my mission is not to come to bury Selig but instead to deliver credit where credit is due, regardless of how tainted the process to achieve the results and the resulting credit may have been.
I believe Selig is not the nutty professor that some have painted him to be. I do think, however, he is as guilty as sin and a part of the reason the issue of PEDs in baseball was, and in many ways still is, such a dirt stain upon the game. He had no reason, or desire, to acknowledge the media and the public suspicions being voiced that PEDs induced the “breaking of the single season home run record” by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. And, MLB, at least initially, largely ignored the fact that Barry Bond’s individual assault, first on the single season home run record, and, then on Hank Aaron’s career mark of 755 home runs was largely perceived as drug assisted.
Because, the publicity of those circumstances promoted attendance at the turnstiles to greatly rise. And, the resultant improved attendance, once inside the various stadiums, both the old and the very new, brought the spending of huge amounts of dollars to contribute to the enhancement of the owner’s wallets.
But, the bottom line is that Selig is the reason baseball has proven to be a huge economic success story. Without Selig, I don’t know if this booming business of baseball would exist at its present revenue levels. Selig, contrary to popular opinion, came armed with business acumen that few people before him, in his position, were blessed. Not that he was the greatest business mind in the game, though he does have his place within that discussion; rather, he came to the office of commissioner with the unique position of having been an owner and was therefore privy to the ways and thought processes of these often different, difficult and contrary men and sometimes women. He knew how their minds worked and how to placate them when necessary and how to stand up to them when it was needed. He understood the workings of baseball with a very different, unique opinion and vision than any other commissioner that baseball had ever had before. He was one of the thirty owners at one time and therefore was one of the in-crowd, so to speak. He truly represented the owners and he was going to create an office of the commissioner of baseball that was going to run baseball as a very successful and profitable business.
Baseball can be envisioned as sport on the field of play; but, in actuality, it is a business that was to come into the 21st century rising from the ashes of mediocrity to transform itself not into the proverbial phoenix but as a golden eagle with wings furled displaying its grandeur and with thousand-dollar bills within its talons’ grasp.
Selig is a person who wears many hats, but the best hat this chameleon wears is that of the dingy old glasses-wearing journeyman bookkeeper or, as some are wont to personify him, as a tatty schoolteacher or professor or even as the used car salesman he once was. However, behind that visage is a man of steady and calculating severity who is not above wading into the dirty business of making money by doing whatever is necessary to create revenues for his business and raise the profit margins for that same business.
Make no error here, baseball is and always was a business from the first day that teams began charging people to view the game within erected grandstands. Men do not own these teams to lose money and very few, if any, actually do lose money. It is because of Selig that this has, more than ever before, become a distinct reality. Selig has also done one other thing that few if any ever thought would ever be possible. He wrested the power, and the edge, from the former dynamic duo of the MLBPA, Don Fehr and Gene Orza, and positioned the owners very well as they advanced towards future rounds of contract talks.
The team of Fehr and Orza had made the very grievous and erroneous stand for the union (i.e., the players) as being against testing for PEDs in baseball because they inanely continued to say that testing is a violation of the privacy of the individual player. They argued that this constitutional right to privacy must be protected at all costs, even if it meant protecting lawbreakers and disparaging the reputations of the innocent players. Selig mostly avoided confronting the two union lawyers on this issue and instead allowed the media to challenge and debate the issue with the union leadership within the pages of their various newspapers, magazines, TV and radio venues and online websites. The fact that the union leadership was so intractable on this point of the issue and was willing to fight so stubbornly to maintain their self-righteous, and eventual untenable, position was perfect for Selig’s purposes. Selig would eventually be looked upon as the good guy and the people he represented, the owners, would come off looking better than they had in a very long time.
The perfect example of this strategy was when Barry Bonds first broke the single season record and then chased Hank Aaron’s career home run record of 755. While, I believe Selig was a part of the great complicity that avoided any talk regarding PEDs when McGwire and Sosa attacked the single season home run record home run record it is with Bonds that Selig employed and perfected his strategy to counteract the union’s power. The poorest kept “secret” was that Bonds was associated with the PEDs. In fact, Bonds’ alleged drug use since 1998 was eventually revealed in the book Game of Shadows, which was written by two investigative reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle and excerpted in the March 13, 2006 issue of Sports Illustrated that carried this headline: “The Truth”.
All Selig had to do was say “Of course, we want to have testing so that we know the game is being played cleanly and above board.” No more and no less.
Essentially, the chain of events that led to the beginning of the capitulation of Fehr’s stance that the sanctity of the individual player’s constitutional right to privacy as far as drug testing in the workplace occurred as follows:
In 2001, MLB unilaterally implements its first random drug-testing program in the Minor Leagues. All players outside the 40-man roster of each Major League club are subject to random testing for steroid-based, performance enhancing drugs, plus drugs of abuse (marijuana, cocaine).
On June 18, 2002, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., Senators Byron Dorgan and John McCain tell Selig and Fehr that a strict drug testing program at the Major League level must be negotiated during next collective bargaining for a new Basic Agreement. Up to this point, no MLB player could be tested for drug use without probable cause.
On July 8, 2002, Fehr and members of the MLBPA meet in Chicago before the All-Star Game which was to be held in Milwaukee. After the meeting, Fehr holds a press conference that becomes a lengthy lecture to reporters about where the union stands on a number of issues, including privacy concerns regarding random drug testing.
On August 30, 2002, MLB and the MLBPA unveil MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program as an addendum to the new Basic Agreement, which came at the 11th hour of collective bargaining between MLB and the MLBPA. The new policy calls for “Survey Testing” in 2003 to gauge the use of steroids among players on the 40-man rosters of each Major League club. The tests will be anonymous and no one will be punished.
Selig has now established a weak point.
On March 1, 2003, testing begins in Spring Training camps. Eventually, during the course of the year, all MLB players on the 40-man rosters are subjected to a random drug test. In addition, MLB had the right to retest up to 240 players a second time by the end of the season. It is not clear how many players were actually tested a second time, if any.
In November 2003, MLB announced that 5-to-7 percent of 1,438 tests were positive during the 2003 season, and above theagrred upon threshold, thereby setting in motion mandatory testing for performance-enhancing drugs with punishments for the first time in Major League history.
In December 2003, ten players, including Barry Bonds of the Giants, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield of the Yankees, are called to testify in front of a San Francisco grand jury investigating the machinations of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO).
In March 2004, the Senate Commerce Committee holds a hearing, primarily precipitated by the perception there is an escalating use of PEDs in baseball, and Selig and Fehr are called to present MLB’s and MLBPA’s side of the drug policy issues. The committee says that MLB’s current drug policy is weak and ineffectual. Senator McCain says: “Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies.”
In April 2004, the grand jury presiding over the BALCO investigation issues a subpoena to obtain the results of all the drug tests collected from Major League players during the 2003 season. After negotiations by the union, which argued that the subpoena violated privacy rights specifically afforded to the players in the Joint Drug Agreement, the drug tests are eventually turned over.
In October, 2004, then President Bush signed into law the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 that the U.S. Congress had passed earlier that month. The bill added hundreds of steroid-based drugs and precursors such as androstenedione to the list of anabolic steroids that were classified as Schedule III controlled substances, which are banned from over-the-counter sales without a prescription. By virtue of MLB’s own agreement with the union, all of these drugs that are now banned by the US government are now on MLB’s own banned list.
In November 2004, The San Francisco Chronicle prints portions of leaked grand jury testimony given the in 2003 wherein Barry Bonds reportedly testified that he unwittingly may have allowed had a cream to be rubbed on his legs by his trainer that had a steroid base and Jason Giambi reportedly testified that he had injected himself with steroids.
On December 3, 2004, Commissioner Selig urges the MLBPA to work with MLB to establish a tougher drug-testing policy terms in MLB’s current drug policy. Negotiations had been ongoing since May, but MLB and MLBPA had come to no agreement on a testing policy. Selig says for the first time that in light of the BALCO grand jury testimony revelations that he would welcome government intervention into the drug testing situation if the sides cannot reach an agreement through the collective bargaining process.
On December 4, 2004, The Washington Post reported that Senator John McCain said that he wanted quick action by Selig and Fehr to address the drug testing issue. In McCain’s words: “To restore the integrity of baseball, Commissioner Selig and Don Fehr must meet immediately … and agree to implement a drug-testing policy that is at least as stringent as the one observed by the (MLB’s) minor league program.” McCain also added that he would “give them until January, and then … introduce legislation” to bring about stricter anti-doping rules to the sport if significant progress (through collective bargaining) had not occurred.
On December 5, 2004, Fehr said he planned to discuss PEDs when the union’s executive board convened later that week. Fehr told the New York Times, “We have had and are continuing to have those discussions.”
On December 7, 2004, Fehr announces that the Executive Board of the union has authorized its representatives to move forward “to attempt to conclude” a tougher drug policy with the Commissioner’s office.
Selig has now strengthened MLB’s stand on the drug policy situation.
In January 2005, at a quarterly meeting the owners voted unanimously to accept recently concluded negotiations between MLB and the union strengthening the drug program. The program is separated from the Basic Agreement, which was to expire
On February 14, 2005, Jose Canseco’s new “tell all” book about his life in baseball using steroids and sharing them with some of his former teammates, hits the stores.
In March 2005, The House Government Reform Committee calls a hearing in Washington and invited MLB executives, plus current and former players, to testify about steroid use in MLB. Due to a poor response, The Committee issued subpoenas, which MLB tied to fight. In the end, all agree to answer the subpoenas and attend.
On March 17, 2005, during a contentious 11-hour hearing, Congress through the House Committee, once again, warns MLB and the MLBPA leadership to make MLB’s drug policy tougher or “… it will be done for MLB”. A committee member tells baseball officials that “… you don’t want that.”
In April 2005, MLB announces that thirty-eight Minor Leaguers tested positive for steroid use. By the end of the month, more than fifty Minor Leaguers have been suspended.
In April 2005, Selig steps up MLB’s positioning on establishing a tougher the drug policy by sending a letter to Fehr stating that the recently strengthened drug policy needs to be having stronger penalties and more testing.
In May 2005, Fehr responds to Selig by letter, saying the matter is open to discussion. After various meetings with MLB officials, Fehr says he must begin the long process of going club-to-club to gauge the sentiment of all the players.
Essentially, Selig has struck with public opinion, as well as government, in his corner and Fehr is in the beginning of the process of capitulating his previouly hard line stance on testing.
In May 2005, at a quarterly meeting in New York, the owners voted unanimously to support Selig’s drug proposal put forth in his April letter to Fehr.
On May 16, 2005, Selig says in an open letter to baseball fans that he would support government intervention and the Olympic rules if MLB can’t collectively bargain an enhanced drug policy with the union.
Selig has now fully established MLB’s positioning on the issue of PEDs in the game.
On November 15, 2005, it was announced that MLB and MLBPA reached agreement on on a plan that significantly strengthened penalties for steroid and other illegal drug use. Penalties for steroid use will be 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third. The plan also includes testing and suspensions for amphetamine use.
On December 8, 2005, the union formally approves by a unanimous vote the drug policy it agreed to with MLB (aka Selig) in November.
On March 7, 2006, a book written by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters and excerpted in Sports Illustrated alleged Barry Bonds began using steroids after the 1998 baseball season and came to rely on a wide variety of performance-enhancing drugs over the next several years.
Then in 2006, after Game of Shadows came out about alleged extensive use of PEDS by some of MLB’s stars, several influential members of the Congress made negative comments about the effectiveness, as well as the honesty, of MLB’s drug policy and Selig took the calculated chance to set in motion his final parry and thrust, and ultimately his coup de grâce tactic, versus union leadership (aka Fehr) when he appointed George Mitchell to investigate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in MLB.
On December 12, 2007, the day before the Mitchell Report was to be released, Bud Selig said, regarding his decision to commission the report, “I haven’t seen the report yet, but I’m proud I did it.”
The end result of the entire chain of events was that now, instead of the public looking at the greedy owners who used the player’s greed, and therefore their own selves, as unwitting pawns in a crucial and deadly game of allowing PEDs to go unchallenged and surreptitiously allow the most hallowed and the most noticeable home run records to be shattered, they viewed the union (the players) as being unresponsive to the outcry against steroids and that they were willing to validate the continued use of drugs so they could continue to wrongfully and artificially assault previously attained records by players of bygone eras with so-called natural abilities.
Selig had turned the tables. The owners were now “better” than the players. Forget the fact that the owners made millions more, and still do, than any player could ever make and they made it off the players’ performances on the field of play. The fact was that the public was seeing the players as being greedier than the owners. And, all Selig had to do to maintain this new status was to provide lip service to the stance that MLB is all for the testing of all drugs to maintain a clean and honest sport. He let the now dumb and dumber act of the union’s leadership, Fehr and Orza, provide the rope to hang themselves upon their own petard of a stubborn, self-righteous belief that they are the protectors of a inalienable right of the players privacy and of not having any player be forced to testify against himself by submitting to drug testing. It appears as if it meant nothing to Fehr and Orza that players, like Roy Oswalt (and now with Biogenesis in the forefront of the MLB drug issue, many more MLBPA members) who was adamant about the fact that he faced a cheating Alex Rodriguez while he played by the rules, wanted an improved and critical drug testing program.
The union leadership failed in its responsibility to the memebership because there were players who wanted the playing field leveled. They wanted to face other players who also were guaranteed to not use PEDs, because they themselves were not using PEDs. They wanted testing implemented across the board so that would be no question that baseball was PED free. The reality became that the union ignored players like Oswalt, ignored the voice of the overall union membership, in favor of protecting the “rights” of players who were users of illegal drugs and in turn detrimental to the union as an organization.
Selig probably, very quietly, laughed all the way to a bigger payday for his constituents, the owners.
And, now, with the hardliners, Fehr and Orza, gone as leaders of the MLBPA, and, with the more middle of the road Michael Weiner and Dave Prouty ensconced as the titular heads of that organization, MLB and MLBPA have joined together to create a much more serious testing drug screening/testing process, which is ostensibly called the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA). And, the JDA has been described as the toughest in the US among the major professional sports.
Selig had done the impossible. He had wrested the advantage that the union once had over the owners back to the owners. That advantage is the court of public opinion. The fact was that as long as Selig could keep the issue off the owners and on the union in this battle, then the more the union looked like the bad guys and MLB, aka the owners, would be the good guys.
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