It's easy to harp on Bud Selig. Sometimes it seems like the national pastime for baseball fans and the media that cover the sport.
There's probably not a decision Selig has made that hasn't been criticized in some regard. (I've contributed to that myself, having recently questioned the wisdom of baseball's playoff format for the 2012 postseason.)
Even something that would presumably be universally accepted, such as retiring Jackie Robinson's number throughout baseball and honoring him every year, gets knocked. Some think other legends should receive the same honor or that more should be done to educate people about Robinson's legacy, rather than just let every player wear No. 42 every April 15.
Selig just can't win, it seems. But that comes with the job of being commissioner of a major professional sport. Do any of Selig's peers—Roger Goodell, David Stern or Gary Bettman—get unconditional praise and adoration? They most certainly do not.
Would you believe Selig has been the commissioner of baseball for 20 years? While it doesn't seem like he's been in the office that long (between interim and official gigs), it's also difficult to remember a time when Selig wasn't at the forefront of a major decision that changed the game for the future.
It would be impossible not to leave a legacy after 20 years of being baseball's top executive. The body of work Selig will leave behind is impressive, one that likely won't be fully appreciated until he's well into retirement. Here are some of the most notable achievements of Selig's tenure.
The Playoffs Are Wild
One of the first major decisions Selig made as commissioner was to incorporate a Wild Card playoff team with each league's division champions in 1995.
No longer would a team win 100 games yet not participate in the postseason, as happened to the 1993 San Francisco Giants, who finished with a 103-59 record but stayed home in October.
Perhaps the Wild Card has taken some suspense from the pennant race, but a good team isn't penalized for the misfortune of playing in a particularly tough division anymore. Plus, the competition for a wild-card bid can be just as exciting as the duel for a division title. The best teams get into the postseason.
But more importantly, with an expanded playoff field, more fans in more cities get to experience the excitement of a September run for the postseason.
The idea of a team not winning its division yet winning the World Series remains unseemly to some fans. But five wild-card teams have won the World Series since the Wild Card was implemented, so it's hardly an oddity anymore.
Everyone Plays Everyone
Prior to 1997, American League and National League teams only faced each other in the World Series. The All-Star Game was the only additional setting in which AL players and their NL counterparts played against one another on the field.
But with the advent of interleague play, fans in AL cities could see the best players from the NL and vice versa. What would it be like to see Pedro Martinez pitch at Wrigley Field? How many home runs could Barry Bonds hit to Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch?
Fans no longer had to make special road trips to see the best players. The best players and teams were now coming to them.
However, there can be too much of a good thing. The novelty of interleague play has worn off, and with realignment next year, we'll get one interleague series every day.
Yet at one time, NL teams playing AL teams during the regular season was special. Selig knew it would help expand the popularity of the sport, making it more accessible to fans throughout baseball. There's no going back from that now, even if it someday leads to both leagues playing by the same rules and losing one of the game's unique distinctions.
You Get a New Ballpark, and You Get a New Ballpark
If you're a fan of one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams, it's likely that you're watching your club play in a modern marvel of a ballpark.
Fans in virtually every baseball city enjoy the game in a setting that provides the best current amenities while tipping a cap to the classic ballparks of the past.
Compare that to an era in which several teams played in homogeneous concrete bowls with artificial turf covering the field or deteriorating, rusted husks that provided little comfort for fans and less revenues for ballclubs.
The wave of new ballparks throughout baseball has cost the game some history. For instance, fans in Detroit still clamor for Tiger Stadium despite having a more open and aesthetically pleasing setting in Comerica Park. And in some cities, greedy owners have taken advantage of local taxpayers to fund these glitzy, modernized structures.
But going to a ballgame has never been more enjoyable and more memorable in more cities than it is now. Virtually all of this ballpark renaissance has occurred under Selig's watch.
This One Counts, Even If It Shouldn't
Perhaps Selig's most controversial and unpopular move during his tenure as commissioner has been to attribute competitive stakes to the All-Star Game. The league that wins the exhibition gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
The decision was an overreaction to the embarrassing circumstance of having the 2002 All-Star Game end in a tie because each team ran out of players to use.
As much as managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly should be blamed for letting the game end in such an outcome, the exercise of trying to get every player into the All-Star Game while playing a friendly exhibition probably made such a situation unavoidable.
The image of Selig holding up his hands in a helpless shrug when confronted with this dilemma is unfortunately enduring. Anyone who feels Selig is incompetent has a picture for affirmation of their belief.
In Selig's defense, however, he had to do something to bring some juice to the All-Star Game. The game had become too friendly, too sleepy. It was a game in name only, really more of a midseason mixer than competitive exercise. There were absolutely no stakes to the game, and it was increasingly being played that way.
Perhaps the idea of making the All-Star Game competitive is a flawed one to begin with, considering that starting lineups are selected by fans and the remaining roster is subject to concerns such as making sure that every major league team has one representative.
It's hard to believe that "this one counts" has been in place for 10 years now. Yet ever since the incentive of home-field advantage was implemented, it's been a heated topic of discussion every July. Even if it's largely unpopular, Selig has to like the fact that it increases interest in the game and keeps people talking about baseball.
This list really doesn't give enough credit to Selig's legacy as baseball commissioner. So much else has happened in the sport under his leadership.
There hasn't been a work stoppage due to a dispute between players and owners since 1995, for instance. Instant replay has been incorporated into the game and will likely be expanded in the years to come. Revenue sharing and luxury taxes have led to more competitive balance among big- and small-market teams.
Selig's 20-year reign has left a deep impression on baseball, one that his successor will have a difficult time attempting to live up to. Those are some giant footsteps to follow.
As popular as it is to bash Selig, his tenure is one to be celebrated. Baseball is a better sport—and continues to thrive—because of the decisions he's made. There can't be a better, more lasting legacy than that.
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