At this point, it is all about the legacy of one man, little else.
Bud Selig has been the Commissioner of Baseball since 1992, first on an acting basis, but officially so since 1998. During that time period, major league baseball has enjoyed a period of unrivaled financial growth and success.
That is the official version, anyway, the one Selig wants to appear on the plaque that will unquestionably be on display one day in Cooperstown. That is also unintentionally appropriate, for the just as Cooperstown’s claim to have a role in the history of baseball is entirely spurious, so too, will be those words on that plaque.
Measured only by the dollar, Selig’s tenure has been a success. However, by almost any other method, it has been a failure, for during his tenure whatever special place baseball still held in American society and culture has irreparably eroded. More than that however, baseball used to matter. Now, despite its financial health, the game is in many ways like an invalid living on an old fortune, wealthy but sequestered, important only to those who still need to keep the old boy alive to live off the crumbs that drop from his lap.
No one really argues that baseball is still “the National Pastime.” If there ever was such a title, it probably belongs to football now (although if I were a betting man with a long view, I’d put my money on soccer taking that crown in another decade or two). In its lust for the almighty dollar, baseball under Selig, rather than to keep its base as wide as possible to insure future growth, chose instead to squeeze a shrinking market ever harder. The return was higher, to be sure, but at the same it helped turn a game that was once played almost everywhere by everybody into a specialty sport, a niche activity whose future growth opportunities are limited. This lust to squeeze an industry dry just so a handful of executives can earn a bonus, get rich and then cash out is the same limited thinking that has brought down any number of American industries over the last decade or more. Baseball may well be next,
So there’s that.
At the same time, under Selig, the credibility of the game has been shredded. Under his limited sense of leadership, the game chose not just to ignore PEDs, but to revel in their impact, to juice the game artificially after a period of labor strife. Did they plan this? No. Did they see it happen and get all goose-bumpy, and start drooling at the financial rewards? Absolutely. As long as the checks cleared it mattered not that a host of records essentially became meaningless, that history was devalued, or that fully two decades of seasonal results are suspect (including Boston’s long awaited world championships in 2004 and 2007). All in the name of short-term gain, baseball under Selig chose to insult the intelligence of several generations of fans in favor of those who came to the game, not as fans, but as corporate guests.
Baseball has always been a business, but for years its success depended, at least in part, on the ease with which it was easy to forget that. All pretense of that is gone now. Baseball is only business, and business is the only measure that matters. Witness the changes to the All-Star game, the playoffs, the escalating cost of watching the game, in person, on TV, or the Internet. If there is a National Pastime anymore, it is the ATM.
And let’s not forget drug testing.
Baseball doesn’t have a policy, it has a PR policy, now that the horse is long gone and the barn burned, that is hustling to clean up the stall to hoodwink future historians into thinking they ever really cared. Despite all this, players keep getting caught, certain players are allowed to skate (why, who could I ever be thinking of?), but Selig touts his policy, falsely and knowingly, as the toughest in sports. If it’s so tough, how come so many guys keep using?
What it is, including the suspensions being handed out now, is the most cynical CYA move ever imagined, designed to make it look like he was doing something while his larger policies and philosophies, from top to bottom, helped create, perpetuate and then celebrate the very climate he now seeks, belatedly, to control. And all to make sure his vaunted legacy, one that now pays him around $30 million annually – equal if not greater than any player – remains unstained, his bronze plaque untarnished.
If I really cared anymore, I’d say the sooner Bud Selig is in Cooperstown, and out of the game, the better. The problem is, I’m not sure I do.
Glenn Stout is author of the award-winning Fenway 1912, and is currently leading the longform journalism page for SB Nation, sbnation.com./longform. For more, see www.glennstout.com. You can follow Glenn on Twitter at @GlennStout.