Commissioner Selig’s ability to rule by consensus brought about these other dramatic changes to baseball, which for the most part, I view as enhancing the game in the long run, although I do have some arguments with some of these perceived successes:
- Three-division formats in the American and National Leagues
- Enhanced revenues through TV, the internet and MLBAM
- An extra tier of playoffs and the wild card, and, now a second wild card
- Placement of administrative functions of the AL and NL under the auspices of the Commissioner’s office.
- New stadiums opened for twenty-two teams.
- A lasting labor peace that has resulted in no work stoppages since 2002
- Revenue Sharing
- A Competitive Balance Tax on big spending teams
- The World Baseball Classic
- Instant replay
- Interleague play, now permanent with Houston being moved from the NL to the AL.
- And two rounds of expansion (1993 and 1998) plus the return of MLB to Washington, DC
As I have mentioned these changes are not all perceived as good, and some have admitted drawbacks, and some were not expressly from Selig’s brain, but the fact was he presided over them all and MLB is now where it presently is, a profitable multibillion dollar enterprise.
Could anybody had filled the commissioner’s office and had the same achievements as Selig? Could anyone have overseen the financial advancements baseball has enjoyed and the turn of fate that the union has endured regarding PED usage and t osome extent its overall power? Could anyone have instituted the changes that, for the most part, have advanced the competitive nature of the game and made the game more appealing to the fans? There were three commissioners before Selig’s current time as the commissioner of baseball: Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti and Fay Vincent.
Peter Ueberroth was a successful amateur athlete and a president and former chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Olympic Committee responsible for organizing the 1984 Games before he became commissioner of baseball. Ueberroth’s management of the 1984 Olympics led to a surplus of funds, which were used to support youth sporting activities on a national level. In 1984, the umpires were about to strike Major League Baseball’s post-season and it was at that time Ueberroth was elected commissioner by a unanimous vote of the then twenty-six franchise owners. Ueberroth was able to arbitrate the disagreement between MLB, and the umpires and the umpires were back at work overseeing the League Championship Series. Ueberroth was also instrumental in limiting a player’s strike to only one day before a new labor agreement was signed with the union.
When Ueberroth took office in 1984 baseball was at an economic crisis, much like the same economic situation that existed in 2001 during Selig’s tenure. Twenty-one of the twenty-six baseball teams were losing money. When Ueberroth left the office in 1988, every team had broke even or had made a profit.
During his time as the commissioner of baseball Ueberroth was able to establish greater awareness of crowd control and alcohol management within the ballparks, oversee an ever-increasing attendance record and MLB’s first profitable year since 1973. His last task as commissioner was the negotiation and signing of a four-year, $1.1 billion contract with CBS, and a four-year, $400 million national cable contract with ESPN.
Ueberroth worked hard and diligently to establish a successful and vigilant anti-drug campaign but it was an event surrounding that goal which, I believe, eventually leads him to decide to leave the game in 1987. In 1985, a Pittsburgh grand jury summoned thirteen players and confronted them with the fact that they had purchased drugs from a former clubhouse caterer and six others who were known drug dealers and sold drugs to professional athletes. These men were part of a network that originated in South America and Afghanistan and smuggled illicit so-called recreational drugs into the U.S. to be sold to American clientele.
The grand jury offered immunity to these players if they testified against the caterer and his six associates. The players complied with the grand jury and all seven dealers were convicted.
In 1986 Peter Ueberroth suspended Lonnie Smith, Joaquin Andujar, Dale Berra, Enos Cabell, Keith Hernandez, Jeff Leonard and Dave Parker for one year from the game of baseball. Ueberroth, however, said that his aim was to get drugs out of baseball and not necessarily rid the game of players that brought and used drugs. He also realized that these players would need to suffer certain consequences for their misconduct towards the game of baseball. Ueberroth offered to waive the one-year suspensions if the players would donate ten percent of their salaries to community drug programs, submit to random testing and perform one-hundred hours of community service. Ueberroth also offered to waive sixty-day suspensions for four other players if they offered to pay five percent of their salaries to community programs along with the testing and community service.
All eleven players accepted the deal willingly and were prepared to give up the money from their respective paychecks. Ueberroth had thought he had arrived at a penultimate achievement in baseball’s war against drugs and thus keeping baseball clean of that insidious specter. However, he was to learn that — no matter how good his intentions were, no matter how fair his offered proposals to the players were, and no matter how readily the players were to accept the fair-minded deal he was offering — no good deed goes unpunished. Instead of walking away with the crowning achievement of establishing a positive and comprehensive drug-testing deal and penalties that punished the players who violated the rules against drugs in baseball, the MLBPA intervened.
Led by then neophyte executive director Donald Fehr, the union came away from the bargaining table with no drug testing at all. Instead of baseball confronting the abusers and users of drugs, the exact opposite had happened due to the actions of the union. I believe this failure to establish, successfully and rationally, a drug-testing procedure was the driving force behind Ueberroth making the decision to leave the commissioner’s office. The fact is, Ueberroth was able to do some of the same details for the game of baseball that Selig was able to do, but that another side of the drug issue, this time the non-enhancing recreational drugs, was to drive away probably one of the better men to ever have been in the office of commissioner in the game’s history. The union had won that battle at that time much to the detriment of the game just as they continued to forestall drug testing in the steroid era much to the detriment of the game. The foundation in 1986 had been established for the arguments that the union would use against drug testing until only relatively recently.
Largely, through his own support, Bart Giamatti was elected to replace the ironically well-liked and popular Ueberroth. Giamatti was responsible for reorganizing the administrative roles and duties in Major League Baseball. The most famous issue handled by Giamatti in his short career was the agreement with the Cincinnati Reds manager and baseball’s all-time hit leader Pete Rose to a lifetime suspension. Giamatti’s legacy, and thus any real influence he was to have on the game of baseball, was cut short after he died of a heart attack in 1989. Bart Giamatti was in office less than six months before he passed away and during that time, he disdained interleague play, had not very effective negotiations with the player’s union and banned a superstar from the game and essentially from enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. The union leader at the time was Marvin Miller, who categorically did not like Giamatti and wrote in his autobiography in 1991: “Like a Pope who died after just a few weeks in office, Giamatti has almost taken on the aura of sainthood; a philosophic scholar who descended on baseball from some higher level — or at least a higher level than most of the newspaper and magazine writers who quoted his pretentious, overripe prose with awe, without bothering to figure out the content of his precious emissions.”
Fay Vincent was selected to replace the fallen Commissioner. The choice was more or less a done deed as it was Giamatti who had appointed Vincent to the newly Giamatti created office of deputy commissioner. The owners decided Vincent would be the best solution to complete the now vacant five-year term, which Giamatti had begun on April 1, 1989.Vincent’s first crisis after he ascended to the office of commissioner was the massive earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay area, disabled the City of San Francisco, and postponed the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. Amidst mass confusion and media frenzy, he was able to preside over meetings with city officials and announce that the World Series would continue on October 27 and concluded successfully.
Vincent’s term as commissioner was highlighted by multiple labor disputes and acrid negotiations between Major
League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. In 1990, MLB locked the players out of spring training facilities. Eventually a settlement was reached thirty-two days into the spring training schedule. The regular season was delayed but the settlement ensured that a full season would be convened. Vincent also over saw the establishment of two new National League teams bringing the number of Major League Baseball franchises to twenty-eight.
In 1992, due to increased ineffectual negotiations with the players union and the owners, eighteen team owners voted “no confidence” against Vincent. Vincent was until that point adamant that he would not resign his post. However, within a week of the “no confidence” vote and due to being very disgruntled with the constant stress of the labor disputes and dealing with the owners, Fay Vincent submitted his resignation on September 7, 1992. It was Selig, as the chairman of the Executive Council of Major League Baseball, who built up the argument and owner support against Vincent that led to his resignation.
The truth, then, is that these three commissioners before Selig, one whom I believe may have been the best suited to be the commissioner, were either directly, or indirectly due to tragic life events, made to leave the office because of their relationship with the union leadership. Selig changed that situation in a very dramatic though very subtle manner. He simply has accomplished and done more than any preceding commissioner had ever done to enhance the position of baseball as the, arguably, leading sport in the fans’ minds and as a multi-billion dollar corpration.
He positioned baseball as an economic force in the sports world. He reinvigorated the fans’ desire to attend the games and spend their money on the product of baseball. He secured a large portion of baseball’s economic future and made millions for his constituents, the owners, by leveraging very advantageous broadcast and cable TV contracts, by enhancing the product of baseball over the internet and by creating and developing MBLAM (which is delivering millions a year into the pockets of each owner and will continue to steadily grow and improve that distribution). Selig arguably “saved” baseball from economic catastrophe.
Now, he is visibly in the forefront of, albeit a tad late, and will be mentioned as one who was involved in, saving baseball from the stain and the curse of steroids. He essentially has accomplished the one major task that no other commissioner had ever been able to do, i.e., achieve real and effective drug testing in baseball. In my opinion the work is still not completely done and the final establishment of a complete, comprehensive and continually developing drug program on the level of Olympic/International testing is hopefully still to come. But, with the complete fallout of the Biogenesis drug situation yet to be full resolved, and with potential outside law enforcement and government involvement still to probably come, I believe that level of testing, or one close to it, will be inevitable … and that will be the crowning achievement of Selig’s tenure as the commissioner of baseball. The union will be forced to reinvent itself as a vehicle for the good of all the players, the way it was intended from the day of its institution, and not just as a vehicle for some overzealous lawyers to make a date with destiny to ensure their fame as “leaders” in the annals of labor and social law.The irony of the situation is that is that the full fruition of the finalization of any Olympic level drug program will be when he is gone from his post and in all likelihood he will never get the full credit for the achievement.
Selig, like it or not, may have actually saved baseball in ways that could have never been imagined and he did it despite being so dreadfully wrong and ineffective on some very important matters at various times. Some of the issues he got wrong were through his direct negligence to adhere to an ethical and moral compass, and some were because he was just wrong in his intent or his methods. Overall, however, he has done more good for the game than he has done bad. Without Selig in power, I believe baseball never comes close to achieving its present economic rank or its present popularity with the everyday fan. Despite the obvious conflict of interest he entertains as a former owner who is now the commissioner of Major League Baseball … he should be representing the entire entity of baseball, the corporation of baseball, though in fact it is obvious he is the owners’ shill … Selig has improved the state of Major League Baseball for all concerned.
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