Bud Selig’s two-decade reign as Commissioner of Major League Baseball comes to an end Sunday. How will he be remembered?
On Sunday, Rob Manfred will take over as Commissioner of the MLB. He will be succeeding Bud Selig, who has held the position for over 20 years. During that time, Major League Baseball has overcome some problems and taken major strides to close the gap that football has created from a financial standpoint. While the sport’s ratings don’t match up as well, attendance still remains high at over 30,000 per game thanks to the new parks that have been built.
Selig was the acting commissioner from 1992-1998 taking over for Fay Vincent, who resigned after MLB managers gave an 18-9 vote of no confidence. Vincent had a rough history with the owners, especially given his involvement in the 1990 lockout. Once Vincent had left the office, the owners felt like they needed someone who would look out for their interests as well; Selig, who was the president of the Milwaukee Brewers, was voted to fill in until a permanent one could be decided. In 1998, the acting label was taken off, making him the full-time commissioner. Selig didn’t have to wait long before dealing with his own lockout problems.
On August 12, 1994 the players went on strike. One of the major points in the strike was the players’ refusal of a salary cap, even though the sport was suffering financially at the time. The strike lasted 232 days and resulted in the first canceled postseason in American sports. The World Series was canceled for the first time since 1908. Luckily, Selig has worked well with the owners since, and there hasn’t been any real threat of a lockout for the past 20 years.
Two aspects of Major League Baseball that Selig will leave his mark on are the All-Star Game and the postseason. It started in 1994, when the league was reformatted into three divisions and the wild card was introduced. The wild card helped increase the number of teams that make it to the playoffs. The wild card teams have helped make for better matchups in the postseason (mainly Red Sox/Yankees) and six wild card teams have won the World Series. In 2012, Selig introduced a second wild card. The two wild cards will play a one game playoff to determine who will move on; this season both wild card teams made it to the World Series.
The other change had to do with the All-Star Game following a 2002 tie, which outraged many fans and led to Selig being booed in his home town of Milwaukee. In an effort to make sure this never happens again, Selig instituted a policy that the winning league of the All-Star game gets home-field for the World Series. This has received mix reviews; while some people like that the games mean something, baseball is the only sport that ties their All-Star game to something as critical as home field advantage. The ratings of the game have increased since the 1990s, but it is still not to the level that they would like it to be.
Bud Selig has played a big part of growing the sport of baseball outside of the United States. He has worked in support of the Israeli Baseball League, but the crown jewel has been the construction of the World Baseball Classic. This way, 16 national teams play in a tournament which has helped the sport since its removal from the Summer Olympics. During Selig’s reign, there has been an influx of players from Japan and Cuba that has helped the sport grow across the world.
The biggest black eye from the Selig administration is the steroid era. The steroid problem in baseball seemed to become more of a problem at the end of the 1990s, and the game still hasn’t quite recovered. Selig has done a great job of enforcing the punishments and handing out even more severe punishments for those that have lied. Selig increased the suspension for offenders; now, a first time offense earns a 50 game suspension, second time would be 100, and the third would be a lifetime suspension. It seemed fitting that the sport was given a “Three strikes and you’re out” policy. This also included the minor leagues, which is not a part of the MLBPA.
Selig has had to deal with a couple of big names that have been pushing the rules. There was the 2003 BALCO case that involved Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi allegedly trying to get their hands on drugs that would not come up in testing. There has also been the Mitchell Report, which listed players like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Eric Gagne and others. Finally, there was the Florida Biogenesis scandal, in which players like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz were found guilty. Players were given the choice of accepting a 50 game suspension or worse if they fought it. Ryan Braun agreed to a 65 game ban, but Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 season. Selig has done a good job of trying to clean up the sport, and it will be important for Manfred to continue the fight.
Perhaps one of the biggest additions to the game under Selig’s tenure has been instant replay, which brought the sport into the 21st century. At first it was only to be used for home run calls, making sure the ball cleared the wall or was fair and foul. Replay seemed to go over well, but there was some talk about how to expand it. Before the 2014 season, it was agreed that the managers would be given a set of challenges that they could use to make sure a player was tagged, confirm a catch, and a number of other opportunities. Each manager can challenge a play one time from the first to the sixth inning and two times over the last three innings. This way, it doesn’t slow the game down too much while making sure the umpires got the crucial calls right.
Bud Selig may go down as one of the better commissioners any sport has ever had. He has done so much to change the game for players and fans alike, and the vast majority of the changes have been good. He did a great job of bringing the game into the future, while also making a point of remembering the past, with the league-wide retiring of Jackie Robinson’s number 42. He was able to balance the divisions, with the addition of teams in Arizona and Tampa Bay, who have had periods of success over their tenure. While the steroid scandal will certainly cast a shadow on his tenure, the good Selig did for the game cannot be ignored. It will be interesting to see what Manfred does during his time, but he has some big shoes to fill.