Bud Selig Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame
The Veteran’s Committee, which has been re-branded as the Today’s Game Era Committee, somehow elected former commissioner Bud Selig into the Baseball Hall of Fame. With that, Selig becomes one of the worst choices for the Hall of Fame in baseball history.
Sure, his proponents will point to his achievements. Under Selig, we got the Wild Card and Interleague play, which arguably helped baseball achieve higher ratings and revenues. Furthermore, Selig was in charge when MLB Advanced Media (MLB AM) was established. The establishment of the internet media company was visionary and has provided a huge boost to MLB. Under Selig’s stewardship, we have seen labor peace for the first time and incrementally improving steroid testing. These are all achievements to be sure, but they overshadow what has been a largely negative tenure in baseball for Selig.
Selig first became an owner in 1970 when he purchased the Seattle Pilots, and he moved them to Milwaukee after the Pilots inaugural season. Selig was then one of the owners who colluded in the 1980s to suppress players salary and movement between teams. At this time, future Hall of Famers like Carlton Fisk, Phil Niekro, and Andre Dawson were having a difficult time just getting a free agent offer. This was a pattern that continued throughout the decade, and eventually, it led to union filing grievances against the owners. Eventually, this led to owners having to agree to a $280 million settlement to the MLBPA.
It has been alleged Selig was one of the leaders of the owner’s collusion to improperly restrict player movement and to suppress player salaries. It just so happens that a small market team like the Brewers were beneficiaries of the policy with the team being able to hold onto future Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount for much longer than they probably would have had the system not been improperly rigged. This collusion set the stage for the disastrous 1994 player strike.
Ascension to Power
As Commissioner, Fay Vincent would make two “mistakes” that would lead to the end of his tenure. The first was he treated players like an equal part in the business of baseball. The second was he chastised the owners for collusion saying, “The single biggest reality you guys have to face up to is collusion. You stole $280 million from the players, and the players are unified to a man around that issue, because you got caught and many of you are still involved.” (metsmerizedonline.com).
This along with many other reasons designed to help his franchise, the Milwaukee Brewers, was a catalyst for Selig organizing the owners to remove Vincent from power. Ultimately, the owners made an 18-9 no confidence vote, and a humiliated Vincent would resign from his office. This led to Selig’s rise to power.
Cancellation of the 1994 World Series
One of the singular owners responsible for collusion and the deep distrust between the players and owners was now in charge of baseball. With his newfound power, he wanted to usher in a complete change in economics and relationship with the players. In effect, he wanted to normalize the collusion practices of the 1980s by trying to impose a hard cap on the players. He and the owners tried this despite having full knowledge this was a non-starter for a union the owners never broke in negotiations.
The method Selig sought to try to break the union was to wrongfully withhold a payment to the players’ pension and benefits plan. This singular action was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and it all but forced the union to set a strike date. After the strike was in effect, and after mediation proved ineffective, Selig, as acting commissioner, set forth a deadline of September 9th. If there was no deal in place, the baseball season would be over.
On September 8th, the players set forth a deal with some concessions. However it should be noted those concessions fell far short of all the demands of the owners, including but not limited to a salary cap. The owners never presented a counter-offer. Rather, on September 14th, the World Series was officially cancelled despite there presumably being sufficient time left on the calendar to get a deal done and have a postseason.
Unfair Labor Practices
With the strike dragging on and there being no hopes of new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the owners, led by their acting commissioner, Selig, enacted the salary cap they wanted in the first place. Undaunted, the owners announced a plan to go forward with the 1995 season using replacement players if the major league players on strike could not capitulate to the new labor rules the owners were trying to force upon them. Like with owner’s collusion attempts, this would have near disastrous consequences.
First, the issue of the owners colluding once again went before an arbitrator. The arbitrator found in favor of the players to the tune of $10 million. Next, Congress nearly revoked baseball’s anti-trust exemption. Lastly, the owners were found to have committed unfair labor practices. As a result, future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction against the owner’s improper salary cap, and ordered that the players could return to work under the guise of the recently expired collective bargaining agreement.
In effect, the owner’s action, under the guidance of Acting Commissioner Bud Selig, led to the loss of the World Series and $10 million dollars. Moreover, it led to fan anger, and it deeply hurt some franchises. For all of that, the owners accomplished nothing.
Death of Baseball in Montreal and Municipally Funded Ballparks
At the time of the strike, the Expos were the best team in baseball with a 74-40 record. It looked like the beginning of a promising run for the Expos because not only did they have the lowest payroll in the majors, they had some exciting young stars in Cliff Floyd, Moises Alou, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, and John Wetteland. For a Canadian franchise that just saw its fellow Canadian franchise, the Toronto Blue Jays, win back-to-back World Series, it appeared as if it was finally the Expos turn.
It would never happen.
After the costly strike, the Expos were forced to trade away almost all of its players. As the Expos owners at the time put it, they could not afford to keep the team together, especially without the revenues that could’ve been generated by a long postseason run. Between the anger with the strike and with the Expos getting rid of all their best players, there simply was no reason for fans to come to the ballpark anymore. Ultimately, the Expos attendance figures would continuously decline until they actually drew under one million people in 1998.
The declining attendance figures helped Selig come up with his next ploy that would not only help the Brewers, but would also anger fans in other cities – contraction. In the 2001 offseason, the owners voted to have the ability to contract as many as two major league franchises. The teams cited for contraction were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Florida Marlins, Montreal Expos, and Minnesota Twins. Effectively, this created a game of musical chairs and the ability to help coerce cities to fund ballparks.
First, the Marlins owners were part of a group of owners that purchased the Boston Red Sox. With the Marlins needing ownership, the Jeffrey Loria, a man who had claimed almost full ownership of the Expos, was then approved as the purchaser of the Florida Marlins. With an ownership void, baseball took the unprecedented act of purchasing the Expos.
It should be noted smaller market clubs like the Pirates and the Brewers were not among those mentioned in contraction talks despite their claims of their operating in the red. The main reason is those cities had already agreed to build those teams a new ballpark. Eventually, the cities of Minneapolis and Miami would agree to financially support owners to build a new ballpark. With the hopes of building a new ballpark in Montreal dashed, baseball eventually moved the Expos to Washington, D.C. who had agreed to take on the funding of a new ballpark for the team.
Between the strike and contraction threats, Selig helped kill baseball in Montreal. He did it as part of his mission to get municipalities to fund and build ballparks for teams. Overall, he has been largely successful on that front, but there are still issues in Tampa (lease) and Oakland.
As an aside, it should be noted that the Expos were one of the few teams to lose a superstar during the collusion practices of the 1980s. Basically, the practices Selig either led or helped promote had an enduring effect of harming baseball in Montreal.
The Oakland Athletics Limbo
O.co Coliseum is largely seen as an antiquated ballpark. Moreover, it is widely assumed the Athletics need to build a new ballpark to help create new revenue streams in order to be able to compete financially. Many assume the Athletics need to move out of Oakland in order to get the type of ballpark and market needed to compete. On both fronts, the Athletics found a willing partner with the City of San Jose.
There is just on problem – the San Francisco Giants have the rights to that city. Under somewhat antiquated rules, the San Francisco Giants have the rights to San Jose meaning only the Giants have the right to move there. This decision was in place despite the cities of San Francisco and Oakland being part of the larger metropolitan area known as the Bay Area. Notably, San Jose is also part of that area.
To put things in perspective, the distance between the two ballparks is 15.3 miles. Citi Field and Yankee Stadium are similarly apart in that the two ballparks are 9.7 miles apart. Similar to Oakland and San Francisco, you need either use public transportation or cross a bridge to get to the other ballpark. Keeping those distances in mind, the Giants having control over San Jose would be like the Yankees having control over Northern New Jersey, thereby preventing the Mets from building a ballpark in the Meadowlands next to Metropolitan Stadium even though the team is moving within the same metropolitan area.
Note, this could never happen because the Mets and Yankees do not have separate territorial rights. Yet, somehow the Giants and Athletics do, and with baseball’s anti-trust exemption, the Athletics franchise has been in limbo.
Despite the limbo, the declining revenues, and attendance, Selig refused to help address the issue despite San Jose’s pleas. Selig had an opportunity to show leadership, and help all of the major league franchises. Instead, he demurred while bemoaning how the Athletics current situation is irreconcilable. With Selig’s retirement, he has left the mess for the new commissioner, Bob Manfred.
The Steroids Era
To say baseball didn’t benefit from the Steroids Era would be a lie. Back in 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing down Roger Maris‘ single season home run record, and fans angered at the strike were coming back to the game. At the time, Selig would say, “This is a renaissance.” (Howard Bryant, ESPN.com).
However, to hear Selig tell it now, he tried to get to the bottom of what was happening. As he recently told Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, “They gave me a whole bunch of reasons. And I kept asking about steroids.” Selig would go on to say in the interview, “You know, I’ve thought about it a hundred times, because I’m pretty tough on myself. And I honestly don’t know what else I could have done. That’s my answer.”
Now, to be fair to Selig, as the commissioner, he could not unilaterally impose sanctions on players who used steroids. Additionally, he could not impose testing. It should also be noted Selig did have broad discretion to do this with the minor leagues, and he did in fact do it. To that end, he does deserve some credit.
With that said, it is noticeable Selig did not use his pulpit as commissioner to try to impose steroids testing or suspensions. As seen above, when it came to the financial aspect of baseball, Selig tried to obtain unprecedented power. In the wake of the costly collusion lawsuit, he helped oust a sitting commissioner to become an acting commissioner. During the 1994 strike, he led the owners in the implementation of a salary cap. When it came to helping owners and getting new ballparks, he got the approval from the owners to contract two major league franchises. However, suddenly, with steroids, Selig was not only silent, he has also acted as someone who had little power to address the issue.
Fact is Selig didn’t address the issue because there were growing attendance and revenues stemming from the Steroids Era. It helped heal some of the wounds of the strike, and it led to larger and larger television contracts. At best, Selig turned a blind eye to steroids use because it was helping the game. At worst, he was a willing participant who cared not for the sanctity of baseball’s sacred records.
Whatever you believe, the Steroids Era is an indelible part of his history. And yet, with his induction into the Hall of Fame, he now appears to be the only person untainted by the era.
Yes, it is a different panel of voters that voted for Selig than had the opportunity to vote for players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. However, it should be noted that this same panel had the opportunity to elect McGwire into the Hall of Fame as the same time as Selig, and yet, McGwire fell far short of the votes needed for induction to the Hall of Fame. This seems odd, especially when you consider the Mitchell Report, which was commissioned by Selig, found Selig partially culpable for the Steroids Era:
Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades – Commissioners, club officials, the Players
Association, and players – shares to some extent in the responsibility for the steroids era. There
was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on. As a
result, an environment developed in which illegal use became widespread.
Mitchell Report, p. SR-36.
Despite the Mitchell Report, the Hall of Fame has decided to take two very separate and distinct stances on McGwire. With respect to the steroids usage, the Hall of Fame is now asserting that any player who benefited from the use of steroids should be barred from the Hall of Fame. However, any executive or owner who not only shared the benefits of McGwire’s steroids use, but also helped promote a culture of steroids use across baseball could reap the benefits thereof. Overall, the Hall of Fame has decided that Selig can benefit from the wrong actions of players he did little to nothing to stop. It is really difficult to make sense of two very different positions.
No matter how you look at it, Selig’s enduring legacy is going to be: (1) he was the commissioner who cancelled a World Series; (2) he was the commissioner that presided over the Steroids Era; and (3) he is the commissioner that introduce Interleague Play and the Wild Card.
As seen above, Selig’s is a complicated legacy, and that is before you get into relatively minor decisions like not letting the New York Mets wear the first responder’s caps on 9/11 to honor those people who died during the most devastating terror attack on U.S. soil, forcing the McCourts to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers, or his empowering the Wilpons to continue ownership of the Mets despite their financial difficulties resulting from the Madoff Scandal.
Maybe it is too soon to judge Selig’s overall legacy. On the positive, he has grown the sport financially, and he has introduced some aspects to the game that are currently seen as positives. No one should overlook those accomplishments.
However, Selig was an owner who helped build distrust between the owners and players than helped create the 1994 strike and the cancellation of the World Series. His actions and inactions as commissioner caused him to be called before a Congress who continuously threatened to revoke baseball’s antitrust exemption. Selig presided over the end of baseball in Montreal, and he also has helped put the Athletics in limbo. He has twice been a part of the sport being embarrassed with the owners twice being found to have committed unfair labor practices. The actions cost the owners nearly $300 million not including whatever revenues were lost during the 1994 season.
Overall, it is fair to say Selig’s has damaged baseball as both an owner and a commissioner. At a minimum, his negatives should have called for more time to judge his legacy. Instead, we now have someone in the Hall of Fame who:
- Helped collude to restrict player movement and salaries;
- Helped facilitate the 1994 strike;
- Cancelled the World Series;
- Was part of a collection of owners twice found to have committed unfair labor practices;
- Oversaw the end of baseball in Montreal; and
- Was partially culpable for the Steroids Era.
It is hard to find a person in baseball who has had as negative an effect upon the game of baseball. However, all of this was overlooked, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame presumably because he made a lot of decision makers a lot of money.