Bud Selig, Or, A Better Way To Spend Eighteen Million Dollars

Mordecai BrownerAnalyst IFebruary 6, 2009

I will make this prediction to you: by the time I leave, you won’t recognize this sport,” he said a year ago. “It’s going to be that much more popular and we’ll have branched out into so many other things." - Bud Selig[1]

The timing could not have been more perfect.

The very day that President Obama announced his intention to cap salaries for executives who take "bailout" funds at a meager $500,000, reports surfaced that Commissioner Bug Selig pocketed over $18,000,000 in fiscal year 2007.

That's 36 times what Dustin Pedroia made.  Selig's $880,000 expense package was almost what Ryan Howard made that season ($900,000).  According to MLB, 79.5 million people went to games in '07.  In other words, you and I gave Bud Selig a quarter for every game we attended.

I'm not opposed to ridiculous salaries for executives.  If a business has wild success and wants to keep its top talent in place, they might have to splurge a bit.  As long as they stay profitable, who am I to say anything?

It's not the number that bothers me, but the car salesman they're giving it to.  For all Bud Selig wants to boast about expanding baseball and how we're living in a "golden age" (I'm not joking, he actually said this [2]), the truth remains as crystal-clear as an HDTV broadcast:

World Series Television Viewers, 1975: 36 million
World Series Television Viewers, 1980: 42 million
World Series Television Viewers, 1985: 35 million
World Series Television Viewers, 1990: 30 million
World Series Television Viewers, 1995: 29 million
World Series Television Viewers, 2000: 18 million
World Series Television Viewers, 2005: 17 million [3]

Selig took over as acting commissioner in 1994 and on a permanent basis in 1998.

Under Bud, the World Series has not only moved to FOX, but it has also been demoted from a significant event to a water-cooler afterthought.  And it isn't because of the markets involved, either.  The thrilling Twins-Braves series of '91 brought in almost 36 million viewers.

In 2008, only 13.6 million tuned in.

"You won't recognize the sport." 

No, I won't, Bud.  People used to talk about baseball.  Once upon a time, it would have mattered when Philadelphia had their Phillies winning their first title in almost 30 years.

The annals of acerbic talk radio have well-cataloged additional Bud Selig criticisms:

He allowed the All-Star game to end in a tie, that communist mechanism reserved only for soccer and old-school college football.

He sold advertising on the bases to a Japanese company.

He stood smiling over a homerun infused steroid era, subsequently allowing continued moral clouds to develop around the national pastime through complete inaction, thereby allowing Congress to parade some of his legends to a hearing and casting doubts on many other 90s greats.

He brought forth the World Baseball Classic in an attempt to expand baseball's fan base while damaging his own domestic product in the short-term.

He was instrumental in demolishing individual league offices, a move that weakened baseball's character strength of having two separate leagues (personal opinion, I know).

He tried to contract two teams in a completely botched behind-the-scenes move.

I'm sure there are many more if I sat and thought for a longer period of time, but the end-result is that during his decade of power, Bud Selig has yet to expand the game internationally at a pace more significant than any other sport, and there's ample proof the game's popularity has fallen domestically.

In his defense, he often cites raw attendance figures, which have increased during his reign.  But a closer look reveals the increase is not as great as it seems.  In terms of capacity, the number of teams at 75 percent or better in 2002 were 12.  In 2008, the number was 13.

The bulk of the attendance increase has come from a small sample of teams.  Yankees' attendance has risen by almost 13,000 per game over the last six years.  The Cubs have seen a 5,000 person per game increase.  The Angels have boosted attendance an additional 16,000 per game between '02 and '08.

Yet, in many metropolitan areas, baseball is on the decline.  Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Phoenix, Cleveland, Oakland, Houston, Denver, Baltimore - all of these places saw declines, many significant.  Much of this has to do with how good the local team is, which is a variable MLB doesn't weigh, but should.

When our beloved pastime continues to fail in Miami despite two World titles, when the Reds' attendance only increases by 2,000 per game after building a gorgeous stadium, and when Colorado can't get as many people to show up for the reigning league champions as they did when Coors Field was a novelty.

I'm not sure we're in a "Golden Age."

Baseball, for what is most likely stagnant growth (or, rather, re-energizing popularity in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and calling it growth), paid Bud Selig a cool $18 million.

You can do better, owners.

As I'm writing this, a slew of top business minds are looking for alternate career paths. 

With Obama's salary cap, I guarantee more top-notch CEO's may be looking for a new office if they see the red ink on the balance sheet growing.  They aren't all Alan Mullalys or Dick Fulds, either.  There's some sharp minds who could certainly be had for as much money as you're currently paying a used car salesman.

George W. Bush has suggested that MLB commissioner is his "dream job."  I wouldn't pick him, but there's likely a selection of former politicians and organizers out there up to the task of truly expanding the game.

There's always Bob Costas.

Rod Blagojevich is currently looking for a job, and I can assure you he'll use at least some of that expense fund on hair upkeep, unlike Mr. Selig.

And then there's me.

I'd work for nothing.  Half the expense account ($400,000) will be just fine, thank you very much.  With the remainder I'll invest in expanding baseball in South America, Africa, and Southern Asia. 

I'll ban News Corporation (FOX) from bidding on baseball.  I'll demand individual franchises take more active roles in their metropolitan youth leagues. 

I'd heavily penalize teams for empty seats and strongly suggest they sell their remaining tickets for cheap if game time neared without a sell-out.  I'd cut inning breaks to a two-minute maximum.

And that's just off the top of my head.

Above all else, there would never be a tie at the All-Star game, just as there wouldn't be if you were spending almost $20 million wisely.

There's good business moves, and then there's bad business moves.  Some CEOs are worth $18,000,000.  Some are worth far more.  Bud Selig is worth about $180,000.  Of course, what else could I expect from the group of men who kept paying Chan Ho Park well into 2007.

Unfortunately, baseball's elite feel Bud is worth it, despite shrinking domestic popularity.  Just like Wall Street's elite two years ago, they may come to learn their golden age was quite gilded.

In the meantime, MLB, I'm waiting for your call.  I'm even willing to lower my expense account to $300,000, leaving more to fund youth leagues and directly ensure the game's future.  I'm sure Bud Selig would agree this is an admirable move, even as he cashes his next paycheck.

[1] Spurrier, Guy.  "Selig's Salary Outpaces Most of the Players He Oversees."  3 Feb 2009.  Sourced here:  http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/postedsports/archive/2009/02/03/selig-s-salary-outpaces-most-of-the-baseball-players-he-oversees.aspx

[2] MLB.com  "MLB Shatters Attendence Record."  10/2/2007.  Sourced here:  http://mlb.mlb.com/news/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20071002&content_id=2245590&vkey=pr_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

[3] Figures taken from ESPN: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/attendance


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