Bud Selig: Baseball’s Best Commissioner

Columnist George Will writes a letter to the editor at Forbes, defending Bud Selig against claims that he was asleep at the switch as far as PEDs were concerned and that he has, overall, been a poor commissioner. Money quote:

Steve, serious baseball fans argue about everything–the best hitter, the best World Series, the best left-handed catcher from northeast South Dakota. But they do not argue about who has been the best commissioner. That title goes to the ninth commissioner–Selig.

Alrighty then.

It’s a long letter touching on many topics, so you should click through to read it.

For my part, I think Will is generally right in lauding the fact that MLB’s financial house has been put in order under Selig, even if it would be innaccurate to give sole credit to His Budship. It happened on his watch, he did many smart things, and he got the hell out of the way when it was wise to so, and that’s better than many executives can say.

Will is off base, however, in claiming that Selig would have put down PED use in baseball if that big bad union hadn’t stopped him. The truth of the matter is that both the union and ownership showed a profound lack of desire to tackle PED use in the Major Leagues prior to Jose Canseco’s book and the subsequent hoopla. While it is true that Selig put drug testing on the table in the 1994 CBA negotiations, it was, by most accounts, a throwaway proposal designed to give the union something to reject so that Selig could more effectively demand other things. The clear priority of the first decade of Selig’s tenure was to break or at the very least weaken the union and to do whatever he could to allow the smaller market teams to gain the financial upper hand over the Steinbrenners of the ownership group. If he had used a quarter of his energy and political capital to attack steroids that he used to achieve his financial goals, there is a good chance that something could have been done about PED much sooner, union opposition or no.

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  1. MooseinOhio said...

    Didn’t the use of PEDs by players aid in the economic recovery of baseball from the strike and loss of a WS?  If so, and I believe it was a major factor, then Selig’s lack of real action on PEDs was very intentional and had a direct relationship to the financial well-being of the sport that Will is giving him credit for.

  2. Jacob Rothberg said...

    It is articles like this that make the tragic loss of John Brattain all the more difficult to handle. If ever there was someone who could properly eviscerate these kind of asinine assumptions it was him. Godspeed John.

  3. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    I bash Selig as much as anyone, but he did get the Wildcard into the game and while it has only “slowed” the Yanks, there is revenue sharing and a luxury tax. 

    And over-expansion.  And the insipid All-star game “this one counts” horsesh*t.  At least the World Series game start at a sane hour…wait, nevermind.

  4. tadthebad said...


    Riding Moose’s coattails here, which would you consider the more important venture: earlier, legitimate attempts to lessen PEDs, or establishing revenue sharing for the benefit of the smaller market teams?  I think Moose makes a great point that PEDs helped build the financial strength of MLB after 1994, but I would also argue that the revenue sharing was more important than PED investigations.  And to be clear, I’m not a Selig supporter.  I just think that using the PED veil to get the revenue sharing was a good move.  Regardless, I think George Will is off-base in his praise for Selig.  The best commissioner ever?  Really?

  5. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Interesting question, Tad.

    I’d say that the revenue stuff was more important to figure out because I believe that financial instability is/was a far greater risk to the game than PEDs, and Selig’s first duty is to the game.

    I will still call Selig out on this, however, if he (or in this case, his surrogates) insist on claiming that he was truly interested in ridding the game of steroids long ago, only to meet with union opposition. 

    The honest answer—“hey, we had more important priorities than PEDs between 1994-2002, and I felt it necessary to focus on them”—would never cross his lips, I’m afraid.

  6. Ron said...

    John Hoffman.

    That would be the best left-handed catcher from northeast South Dakota.

    He’s from Aberdeen.

    Just in case anyone was wondering?

  7. tadthebad said...

    Craig, you’re right, that phrase will never cross Selig’s lips.  It’s too bad, though, because it’s true and establishes the fact that Selig at least had priorities.  However, given his ridiculous stance that he never even knew about PEDs way back in the day, such a statement would expose him as a fraud.  On top of that, the MSM would kill him for declaring the economics of MLB were more important than exposing PEDs.

    Yeah, he’s the best alright, George.  Yikes.

  8. Sean said...

    If George Will can crown Bud Selig our greatest commissioner based on the expansive profits made by Major League Baseball under his watch, we can only assume he also feels that Bill Clinton is our greatest president because of the great economic period he presided over. It only makes sense…

  9. Richard in Dallas said...

    In order to come to a definitive conclusion on the merits if King Bud, one must ask oneself the most important question of all:

    Is Baseball better off now than on the day Fay Vincent was fired?

  10. Jacob Rothberg said...

    The phrase that should cross Selig’s lips is simply: “On my watch there has been a serious betrayal of the trust that our fans place in the purity of our sport and its players. I am the Commissioner of Baseball, and as such, ultimately, all responsibility rests on my shoulders. I am sincerely sorry and I promise it won’t happen ever again.”
    Just an apology. That’s all that is necessary.

  11. Rob said...

    I’d just like to pose one silly little question to all of you Bud-bashers: Who was better, and why?

    If Bud is so terrible, wouldn’t someone would have mentioned a commissioner better than him by this point in the comments?

    Criticize Bud if you will, but maybe you should hold off until you can tell me who has/would do a better job.

    I’ll wait for your response.

  12. jason11 said...

    I dont know how to value the job that Selig did in regards to baseball’s finances….but I suspect that the praise being thrown at him is exactly the same as the praise being thrown at real estate and financial analysts up until mid 2008.

    How much credit should Selig get for being in charge during one of the longest bull markets in history and the huge real estate bubble?

    I suspect that given what was going on in the US and world economies over the last 15+ years a well dressed monkey could have led MLB to record revenues.

    How many super brilliant financial stars who made millions and millions for clients in previous years have lost millions and millions over the last 12 months.  We praised the individuals when the market was going up but we didn’t really blame them when the market tanked.

    Quite often, good timing is more important than actually being good.  Selig should thank the gods of good timing.

  13. Thomas J. Comer said...

    Bud Selig has done some good things, I’m not a Bud Basher.  Not sure if he’s the best commissioner ever, but who knows. 

    That said, anyone who claims they didn’t know or suspect about PED’s until 2002 is definitely incredibly ignorant or lying.  Thomas Boswell was writing about the steroid issue as early as 1988. 


  14. Pete Toms said...

    @ Alex.  I’m in the camp who think the color barrier was broken not because it was the “right thing” but because it helped MLB’s bottom line. I don’t think Chandler or Rickey were great civil rights activists, just pragmatists.

    Maury (amongst others probably) describes Selig as a CEO as opposed to a Commissioner.  I think this is apt (albeit, the merits of it are arguable).  Bart G and Vincent tried to act as Commissioners but couldn’t keep the players on field.  Noble guys but ineffective.

    I think it is telling that there is little response here to the question of who is the best Commissioner? 

    Having said all that, I disagree with Will on the steroids thing.

  15. Alex Remington said...

    Baseball hasn’t had a lot of wonderful Commissioners, but: for his role in breaking baseball’s color line, despite all his other buffoonery, Happy Chandler deserves a serious spot in the discussion.

    Bart Giamatti didn’t live long enough to do much, but he was a nice enough guy. Judge Landis was a self-aggrandizing racist jerk. Bowie Kuhn was a jerk who instituted the DH. Ford Frick didn’t rock the boat too much, other than the home run asterisk thing, and in the historical scheme of things that seems rather minor to me.

    Selig has presided over baseball’s tremendous financial growth, and he’s also presided over the steroid scandal.

    The only part of Will’s column that really rankles me is his contention that “serious baseball fans… do not argue about who has been the best commissioner.” Really? Does that mean that all of us, who are arguing about who was the best commissioner, are by definition not serious baseball fans?

  16. Rob said...

    Tad, Of course serious fans can argue about this. My only point is that when I look down Bud’s list of achievements, I don’t see another commish who comes close to that. Even with some of his negatives pulling him down, I still argue he’s the best. That said, I can see why someone would disagree (though no one has put forth an argument for any other commissioner yet…).

    Jason11, Want proof a monkey couldn’t lead a league to prosperity over the past 15 years? Three words: National Hockey League. Even the NBA suffered a bit during the .com boom 10 years ago because of their own labor strife. The two leagues that really prospered over the past 15 years: MLB and NFL. The two leagues without any significant labor issues over the past 15 years: MLB and NFL. This isn’t a coincidence…

  17. Rob said...

    JoePos (from a few months ago) with a great take on why we fail to appreciate Bud: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/joe_posnanski/10/29/selig/index.html

    Also, I’d like to point out that since the first Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed, we are currently in the midst of the longest era of labor peace the sport has seen. Presiding over 15 years of labor stability when no other commissioner was able to make it 9 is rather impressive.

  18. tadthebad said...


    I’m not declaring Bud as the worst Commish ever, nor the best.  He’s done some good things and some bad things.  But as Alex mentioned, for Will to say that if we’re serious fans we can’t argue this “fact” is a bit ridiculous, don’t you think?

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