How Baseball Historians Will Remember Bud Selig's Roller Coaster Ride in Charge

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How Baseball Historians Will Remember Bud Selig's Roller Coaster Ride in Charge
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner is coming to an end after the 2014 season. Unless he changes his mind again.

When it comes to Bud Selig's retiring, we'll believe it when we see it.

Over the past handful of years or so, every time Selig had promised his tenure as Commissioner of Major League Baseball would be over once his contract ran out, he instead chose to stick around a bit longer.

There are plenty of reasons for that.

For one, Selig's salary, according to Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine, is around $22 million annually, which would put him among the highest-paid players in the game. Anyone who's going to walk away from that kind of money better be darn sure leaving is the right call. For everyone.

Which brings us to another reason Selig has continued to stay on. The sport's higher-ups, as a whole, like Selig as commish because of the stability, respect and loyalty he both brings and commands, especially since he's been horsehide's head honcho since 1992.

 Here's what Toronto Blue Jays owner Paul Beeston said in January 2012 when Selig re-upped for two more years to take him through the 2014 season:

I am very pleased that Commissioner Selig remained open to the wishes of the clubs and has agreed to continue in a role in which he excels. The great prosperity of the game today is a reflection of Bud's record of accomplishment. He is uniquely suited to handle the demands of his position and serve as the leader of Major League Baseball.

Not everything in Selig's Era has been so glowing. For instance, the fact that the sport is caught up in yet another performance-enhancing drug scandal as Selig's tenure is expected to be coming to an end, doesn't exactly make for good PR or great timing.

But when the soon-to-be 79-year-old's baseball scorebook is settled, likely—but not definitely—in a little over a year, what will we remember about Allan H. "Bud" Selig's commissionership?

 

The Player Strike

Back in August of 1994, when Selig was still getting settled in his office, baseball entered into, as the Associated Press put it 10 years later, "the longest work stoppage in the history of major North American professional sports leagues."

At the time, Selig was both president of the Milwaukee Brewers and acting commissioner after predecessor Fay Vincent resigned in September of 1992—he would officially and unanimously be elected in July of 1998.

The player's strike cut out the final month-and-a-half of the '94 season, and even more tragically, the postseason, as well.

And while the sport made it back in 1995, the schedule was truncated and didn't start until late April, which many forget about almost 20 years later.

Talk about a tough start.

With a close call or two along the way, Selig turned labor strife into peace. The current collective bargaining agreement, finalized after the 2011 season, runs through 2016, meaning there will have been 21 straight seasons without a work stoppage—dating to the strike that disrupted the '94 and '95 campaigns—once it comes time for the players union and the league to renegotiate.

"Nobody back in the '70s, '80s and early '90s, 1994, would ever believe that we would have 21 years of labor peace," Selig said at the time.

 

Expansion and the Wild Card

In 1992, Selig's first season running the show, there were 26 MLB franchises.

Today, of course, there are 30 clubs, because the sport added two new teams on two separate occasions under Selig's watch.

The first came in 1993, when the Colorado Rockies and then-Florida Marlins joined the league.

It was in 1994, then, that baseball expanded from two divisions per league to three by introducing the Central divisions to both the National and American Leagues. (Previously, the leagues were made up of the East and West divisions only.)

Then four seasons later, in 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays (née Devil Rays) came into the picture.

While there were suggestions and arguments over the years that the talent level was watered down by adding four new teams in such a short period of time, it's worth pointing out that all four of MLB's newest franchises have made it to the World Series since being inaugurated, with the Marlins winning it twice, in 1997 and 2003.

The Marlins were the first Wild Card club to reach the World Series, and Edgar Renteria's two-out hit in extra innings won it all.

In the middle of all this, Selig introduced the Wild Card, which was supposed to be put in place for the 1994 playoffs—except those didn't happen, as mentioned above. So the first instance of the Wild Card came in 1995, as the postseason expanded from four to eight teams from 1995 through 2011.

Then, of course, 2012 was the first of the Wild Card Game, which pits the two non-division-winning clubs with the best records in each league against each other in a one-game playoff where the winner moves on and the loser goes home.

 

Interleague Play

In the same year the Marlins first won it all back in '97, MLB began interleague play, thus embarking on an era in which both leagues played each other during and throughout the regular season, as opposed to only in the World Series.

There are those, mostly the traditionalist types, who despised this for one reason or another or even for many reasons—and still do. And there are those who saw it more as a peculiar, unnecessary decision, on par with, say, the switch in 2003 to turn the All-Star Game from an exhibition into a game that "counts" by determining home-field advantage in the World Series, simply because the 2002 game ended in a tie.

Whether you're a fan of interleague play or not, it's now on the docket almost every night after being scheduled in "pockets" of time from 1997 through 2012, and it's hard to ignore the positive impact that the initial change had on attendance.

 

The Steroid Era

PEDs -- ongoing but hit their peak by all estimations and accounts in the mid-to-late-1990s and into the early-aughts.

This is why we look back on the dramatic, historic Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998 with bittersweet feelings.

On one hand, the two sluggers, both of whom smashed the long-standing all-time single-season home run record—Roger Maris' 61 in 1961—certainly captivated America's attention and helped bring baseball back from the 1994 strike.

On the other hand? Well, all those muscle-bound home run hitters also wound up being at the root of what is, without question, the single biggest stain in Selig's ledger.

It's a shameful truth that some of the more memorable images, footage and feats from Selig's tenure will be something like this...

Harry How/Getty Images
Barry Bonds hits home run No. 71 in 2001, surpassing the record of 70 set by Mark McGwire in 1998.

...or this...

...or this...

...or this...

While Selig has worked tirelessly and done his due diligence to help clean up baseball—spearheading the Mitchell Report, enacting mandatory drug testing and imposing suspensions, to name a few—those efforts didn't make it any less awkward, disappointing and maddening to watch as players continued to break records and get rewarded with monster contracts.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Manny Ramirez was suspended twice for positive drug tests, including a 50-game ban while with the Dodgers in 2009, when he was earning nearly $24 million.

 

Globalizing the Game

While he was fighting to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, Selig was also pushing to geographical boundaries to make the sport more global.

To that end, he was successful with the inception of the World Baseball Classic, which started in 2006 and has had two more since, in 2009 and 2013.

The World Cup of baseball, the WBC is a tournament held during MLB's spring training and pits various baseball-playing countries against each other in locations across the globe.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
After Japan won the first two WBC tournaments, the Dominican Republic hoisted the trophy in 2013.

In addition to the WBC, Selig has also helped bring MLB to new countries and even overseas. Since 1999, there have been Opening Day series and/or regular season games played everywhere from Puerto Rico to Mexico to Japan, and Australia will be added to the growing list next year.

 

Not-So-Instant Replay

An aspect that has become increasingly frustrating, especially in recent years, is Selig and baseball's Ent-like approach when it comes to using and expanding video review.

The good news, of course, is that instant replay in baseball has existed in limited capacity since late in the 2008 season and is being utilized when applicable: on boundary home runs, to determine if the ball cleared the wall, was touched by a fan or was fair or foul.

Also, the plan is to allow for replay to aid in all fair/foul calls as well as on plays to determine where the ball is trapped or caught.

The first use of baseball's instant replay in the World Series came in 2009 and correctly changed an Alex Rodriguez ground rule double into a home run.

The bad news? It's taken a handful of years—and countless infuriatingly poor calls by umpires—for Selig to consider changing his stance and opening up even more types of calls to video review.

 

Spreading the Wealth—and the Success

Big-money clubs like the New York Yankees dominated in the early portion of Selig's reign, winning four of five titles from 1996 to 2000, but over the past decade or so, the success has been much more spread out.

Consider this: Since 1992, only 11 different teams have won the World Series, but since the new century started, nine different clubs have earned rings.

This can be attributed, at least in part, to Selig's measures like the luxury tax and revenue sharing, which are competitive balance initiatives that have helped spread the wealth to smaller-market teams.

The system's gotten better, but it's not perfect, considering the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates haven't made the playoffs in forever.

 

Back in the Seats

One result of the increased parity? Increased attendance.

Here's a key takeaway from the numbers of fans in the seats following the 2012 season, per the league

MLB’s 2,423 dates this season garnered an average of 30,895 fans per game, up from 30,362 per game in 2011. The 2012 attendance total ranks behind only the 2007 (1st), 2008 (2nd), 2006 (3rd) and 2005 (4th) seasons. Overall, the last nine years are now the nine best-attended seasons in the history of Major League Baseball, including the four successive record-breaking seasons from 2004-2007.

Given where the game was when Selig first took over, with the strike and decreased fan interest in the early and mid-'90s, it's pretty remarkable to see where it is at the turnstiles now.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Over the past decade, fans have flocked to baseball games in record numbers.

 

A Multi-Billion-Dollar Industry

Yes, Baseball is booming.

Even with the various problems, both ongoing and new, the sport is at an all-time high. Especially when it comes to finances.

Thanks to television broadcast deals in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, for both the league as a whole and individual teams, baseball has become an $8 billion industry, up from $1.2 billion back in '92, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote.

It also says as much in Selig's MLB.com bio: "Revenues have increased more than six-fold, from $1.2 billion in 1992 to an all-time high $7.5 billion in 2012."

As an example of just how much money there is in baseball, the big-city Los Angeles Dodgers sold for $2 billion this time last year, while the small-market San Diego Padres went for $800 milion shortly thereafter

At the moment, there doesn't appear to be any signs of a slow-down in the sport's financial and economic growth, which is good for baseball business.

This explains why Selig is compensated in the amount of $20 million-plus.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Selig still has work to do before he leaves office, but overall he's been one of baseball's better commissioners.

It also means that despite the two largest remaining problems that need to be resolved in short order—the Biogenesis scandal and the Oakland Athletics' need for a new location—Allan H. Selig, the second-longest serving commissioner in MLB history, will have done pretty well by Major League Baseball once he decides to hand the reins over to someone else.

Whether that actually happens after next season, though, we'll just have to see.

Then we'll believe.

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