What Bud Selig Must Fix in His Last Years as Commissioner to Complete His Legacy
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig won't be around forever.
For that matter, it's very likely that Selig, commissioner of baseball since 1992, won't even be around a couple years from now. His contract is up after 2014, and he hinted in December to Mike Bauman of MLB.com that will be the end of the line for him.
If so, that gives Selig a little under two years to tie up loose ends to complete his legacy, and that's not that much time for what amounts to quite a bit of work left to be done.
It's not perfect, but Selig's legacy already consists of some commendable accomplishments. New ballparks have sprung up all across the league, wild-card expansion has helped 27 different clubs qualify for the postseason in the last 12 years (h/t Mr. Bauman), attendance is up and there's plenty of money about to be pumped into the league thanks to recently signed national TV deals.
If Selig were to retire right now, he'd go into the books as a good commissioner. If he wants to go into the books as a great commissioner, he should check the following things off his list before he retires.
New Stadiums in Sight for Oakland A's and Tampa Bay Rays
Since Selig first took office as MLB's commissioner in 1992, 21 new ballparks have opened. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the first, Marlins Park is the most recent.
Thanks to all the new ballparks that have popped up over the last two decades, there aren't that many ugly spots left on the Major League Baseball landscape. The two that stand out, however, are ugly enough to make one's eyes bleed.
These would be O.Co Coliseum, home of the Oakland A's, and Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Coliseum is a dated football stadium where baseball looks badly out of place, and Tropicana Field is a dark, catwalk-infested shanty.
The A's and Rays deserve better, and they both want better.
A's general manager Billy Beane told CSNBayArea.com this week that the A's are "burdened" by O.co Coliseum, and it's no secret that the organization would love to move down the road to San Jose.
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported in February that the commissioner's office has provided the A's with a guideline for a potential move to San Jose, but this guideline isn't much of a step forward in and of itself. The San Francisco Giants hold the rights to the territory the A's want, and they're not going to give up these rights without proper compensation.
That's up to Selig, as Shaikin noted that the rules call for the A's to owe the Giants whatever "sum of money as the Commissioner deems appropriate."
As for the Rays, Selig said last April that "there's no question" the organization needs a new stadium. That's going to be a lot easier said than done, however.
As Christopher O'Donnell of The Tampa Tribune reported in February, the Rays couldn't even get permission to check out sites for a new stadium, as a split city-council vote denied the club's wishes. The St. Petersburg hierarchy isn't going to let the Rays go elsewhere without a fight.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the most recent ballpark built in Florida has been revealed as a boondoggle of epic proportions. The Marlins have a new ballpark on their hands thanks largely to taxpayer dollars, and Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com wrote last November that the Miami Marlins' shenanigans in recent months (more on those in a moment) have hurt the Rays' cause.
Selig obviously has a limited amount of power on both fronts. He can't just snap his fingers and have new ballparks built for the A's and Rays in a matter of days and with few headaches. Both situations are going to take years to resolve. And even if the A's and Rays do eventually move into new parks, it's going to be long after Selig is gone from the commissioner's office.
But at least getting the ball rolling in the right direction in both Oakland and Tampa Bay should be one of Selig's main priorities in the time he has left as commissioner. If he gets the A's and Rays moving toward new stadiums, he'll be remembered as the guy who effectively rid baseball of bad ballparks.
In addition to bad ballparks, Selig should also have bad owners in his crosshairs. And you know who that means...
Get Jeffrey Loria Out of Baseball
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is the worst owner in baseball, and he doesn't bear that dishonor by default. He's earned it.
Loria has a reputation as a swindler and a generally sleazy character because, well, he's been linked to a series of controversies the likes of which are typically linked to swindlers and generally sleazy characters.
In 2010, Deadspin released documents that Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passan wrote "confirmed the long-held belief that [Miami] takes a healthy chunk of MLB-distributed money for profit." It was apparent then that Loria and the Marlins were more well off than they claimed to be, which makes it pretty damning that the organization pitched in so little for its new stadium.
In his open letter to Marlins fans from late last month, Loria proudly boasted that the Marlins had contributed $161.2 million to the construction of Marlins Park. What he neglected to mention was that the park itself cost over $600 million to build. According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the total public bill will eventually come to over $2 billion.
All of this would be bad enough, but Loria had to go and blow up the club's roster with trades of Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez during the 2012 season and then another big trade that sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to Toronto shortly after the season ended.
It's true that Loria blew up a bad team, but he disillusioned a fanbase that was disillusioned enough to begin with, and he also sent a clear message to the club's young players (Giancarlo Stanton in particular) and all prospective free-agent signees that he's not to be trusted.
Selig is not above running bad owners out of the league. In fact, he just pulled that trick with former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, and Passan was right when he wrote last November that Loria is a "far worse owner than Frank McCourt on his divorcingest day." Loria is bad for the Marlins, bad for Miami and, above all, bad for baseball.
Before he leaves, Selig should do baseball a favor and give Loria the old heave-ho.
Fix the All-Star Game Silliness
When the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie, it was indeed clear that something had to be done. Major League Baseball never wanted to have another embarrassment like that one on its hands.
At the time, the decision that came in 2003 to have the All-Star Game decide home-field advantage in the World Series sounded like a great idea. Selig said that the change came about to "re-energize and give greater meaning to the All-Star Game," and the decision panned out quite well when the 2003 All-Star Game turned into a high-drama contest.
But more recently, not so much. The National League has won the last two All-Star Games by a combined score of 13-1, and Chipper Jones said ahead of last year's game that the players still think of the Midsummer Classic the same way they always have.
As told to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick:
To be honest, the players still treat it as an exhibition game. If you want to really ride everything on it, take the nine best players from each league and let them go at it for nine innings. Don't give them an at-bat here and an at-bat there, or an inning here and an inning there, because that doesn't tell you anything. If you want to put so much on one game, then you have to have the elite of the elite play all nine innings and have your manager fill in the cracks as you go.
There are two ways to fix the All-Star Game problem.
One is to simply strip the All-Star Game of any ties to the World Series and allow it to be what it really is: an exhibition and only an exhibition.
The other is to follow Jones' advice and change how the game is arranged. That would involve allowing players and managers to treat the game like an actual game, for starters, but it would also involve changing how the players for the game are selected.
If the All-Star Game is going to count, it should be the American League's best against the National League's best. That's not the same as the AL's most popular against the NL's most popular, which is what the All-Star Game is thanks to fan voting. Fans vote for their favorite players, not the most deserving players. The result is watered-down rosters on both sides.
A better idea would be to let GMs and other front office executives choose the teams. They're the ones who make a living doing player analysis, so they're going to know which players are truly the best of the best better than fans, managers or the players themselves.
The choice is Selig's. Either way, the one choice he shouldn't make is to allow the All-Star Game to proceed as it's proceeded ever since 2002. The home-field advantage silliness has gone far enough.
Expanded Replay Is a Must
A couple years ago, Major League Baseball implemented the use of instant replay for disputable home run calls. It was a welcomed change, and the system has performed largely as intended.
Now all MLB needs to do is take care of everything else. More replay is needed.
Selig has come to understand this. Last July, he endorsed the idea of expanding replay in baseball, saying, "We're going to expand instant replay when we have the technology to do it."
The "when" is the tricky part. There was some talk last year of MLB possibly expanding replay in time for the 2013 season, but nothing materialized. The more recent word from MLB executive vice president Joe Torre is that replay will come to baseball next season in 2014. For now, MLB is using the World Baseball Classic as a means of assessing its options.
When replay does expand, it's likely only going to be for fair-or-foul calls and trapped balls in the outfield, as ESPN's Jayson Stark has noted that those are the only calls permitted for replay under the basic agreement. Any further expansion will require approval from both the players and the umpires.
There's certainly room to expand beyond fair-or-foul calls and trapped balls. Out-or-safe calls on the basepaths are another possibility, and it goes without saying that plays at the plate should be considered as well.
In all, expanded replay is one of Selig's easier goals for the next couple of years. The league isn't that far off from expanding replay beyond just home runs, and it's going to be easy for the league to expand replay even further if the initial expansions are satisfying for teams, players and umpires.
If MLB catches up to the NFL, NBA and NHL in the replay arena, it would be the last of the four major professional sports leagues in America to emerge from the middle ages. If nothing else, that would be a plus for baseball's reputation.
But polishing the league's reputation to a nice shine before leaving won't be that simple for Selig. The league's reputation still hinges largely on what the public believes players are putting into their bodies.
Even Tighter PED Protocols
The biggest stain on Selig's legacy as MLB commissioner? The labor stoppage that resulted in the cancelled World Series in 1994 is a strong nominee, but nothing has more negatively impacted Selig's legacy than the Steroid Era.
The Steroid Era is still haunting baseball and Selig's legacy. Selig and the MLB Players Association have gone to great lengths to clean the sport up, but the public perception is that MLB is still a juiced league. That was made clear by a recent poll carried out by ESPN's SportsNation, which revealed that the general public still has MLB pegged as the league with the highest rate of PED use among the four major American pro leagues.
That's utter nonsense, but the public perception is the public perception. All Selig can do is keep fighting the good fight.
And to his credit, he is. MLB will be doing in-season blood tests for HGH for the first time in 2013, and the league has also made tweaks to its testing procedures for testosterone.
But it's not enough. BALCO founder Victor Conte will vouch that MLB still hasn't figured out testosterone, telling USA Today in January that the league needs an entirely new testing procedure for it. The one that's in place is ill-suited to catch testosterone users red-handed, as it's a drug that's easy to administer, quick to act and difficult to detect.
That's not all Selig has left to do to advance MLB's war on PEDs. He told USA Today last week that he's looking to implement "stronger penalties" for PED users. He's not alone, as MLB union chief Michael Weiner recently told the New York Daily News that there's support for stricter punishments among the players. That's surely music to Selig's ears.
Last year's suspensions of Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal and others are enough proof that a 50-game ban for a first-time PED offense isn't enough. I've written that a two-strikes-and-out approach—a full-season ban for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second—with additional stipulations should be seriously considered.
At least two players have sounded off on their support for the idea of a two-strike system as well. Colorado Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer told The Denver Post that he sees a two-strike system as a fitting deterrent. He has a comrade in St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday, who told MLB Network Radio (via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) that he's convinced 50 games for a first offense isn't tough enough.
So the players want a cleaner league, Selig wants a cleaner league and the fans definitely want a cleaner league. That makes, well, everybody.
If he's going to ride off into the sunset after 2014, Selig has a little less than two years to make it happen.
The clock's ticking. On this and everything else.
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