Ranking the MLB Commissioners

Joe HalversonCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2012

Ranking the MLB Commissioners

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    When MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced that he planned on retiring after the 2014 season, the reaction around baseball was a collective “yeah, right.”

    After all, Selig has announced his intention to retire on two other occasions, and both times he decided to stay at a dream job that pays a reported $22 million salary. 

    But the announcement did get me thinking about Selig’s place in history among the commissioners of Major League Baseball. Where does ol’ Bud stand among the nine men who have been in charge of the game?

A. Bartlett Giamatti (1989)

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    The shortest-tenured commissioner, Giamatti is famous for one thing and one thing only: convincing Pete Rose to voluntarily accept a permanent ban for gambling on baseball. 

    Eight days later, Giamatti became just the second MLB commissioner ever to die in office. This puts Giamatti at the bottom, largely due to the fact that he was not around long enough to enact any major change or improvements.

William Eckert (1965-1968)

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    A three-star general in the United States Armed Forces, Eckhart had perhaps the most bland tenure of any MLB commissioner. Eckhart got the ball rolling on the addition of four new clubs for the 1969 season, but that is about the only notable positive of his tenure as the commish. 

    He did not inspire confidence in dealing with labor issues, particularly since the MLBPA had just hired noted union leader Marvin Miller to represent them in collective bargaining. As such, the owners voted him out. 

    He also drew considerable public ire for his refusal to cancel games following the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. 

Bowie Kuhn (1969-1984)

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    A former lawyer who helped facilitate the Milwaukee Braves’ move to Atlanta, Kuhn saw baseball expand by four teams and saw each league switch to a two-division format in his first year in office. Baseball also added the DH in 1973, though you can make of that what you will.

    His tenure was marked by labor strife; Curt Flood’s initial challenging of the reserve clause happened in his second year, and he fought tooth-and-nail to keep the system in place until free agency was put into place in 1976. 

    Such labor issues led to several player strikes which directly affected the outcomes of the postseason in both 1973 and 1981. 

    Kuhn is also the first MLB commissioner who is known to have been fully aware of the PED issue in baseball, and he is also therefore the first commissioner known to have completely ignored the problem.

Peter Ueberroth (1984-1989)

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    After overseeing the wildly-successful 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Ueberroth was one of the most in-demand CEOs in the history of sports. 

    MLB managed to land him as their new commissioner, and he went right to work in cleaning up the cocaine problem that plagued the game (and all of sports) for much of the early 1980s. 

    He also reformed the MLB draft by cutting it back to a single phase and also oversaw the negotiation of a then-record $1.8 billion television contract. 

    However, he also played a major role in the collusion scandal of the mid-1980s, which rates among baseball’s biggest corruption scandals since the 1919 World Series.

Fay Vincent (1989-1992)

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    Vincent took over for the deceased Bart Giamatti in September of 1989, and his tenure is best known for his adjustments to the record book. He overturned the rules that listed records for both the 154- and 162-game seasons, which notably gave Roger Maris sole possession of the single-season home run record. He also changed the rules for no-hitters so that they were only listed if they went a full nine innings.  

    He also got the ball rolling on the 1993 expansion, and his realignment plan eventually inspired MLB’s move to a three-division format. 

    Compared to other commissioners, there were very few controversial moments during the Fay Vincent Era. Among the negative aspects of his tenure were the 1990 lockout (which resulted in zero lost games) and the lifetime ban of George Steinbrenner, which was later overturned.

Kennesaw Mountain Landis (1920-1944)

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    MLB’s longest-tenured commissioner was also by far its most authoritarian. A former judge, Landis was charged with restoring the public’s confidence in baseball by any means necessary. 

    Contrary to popular belief, Landis did not come up with the idea of permanent bans for gamblers. It is actually one of baseball’s oldest rules, and the first known ban for gambling occurred 11 years before the creation of the National League. 

    Landis, however, employed the ban in a way that nobody ever thought possible when he banned eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox for throwing the World Series. Two of the banned players, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte, would likely be in the Hall of Fame right now if it were not for the bans. 

    While this move went a long way in cleaning up the game, Landis is also a commissioner with several black marks on his resume. During his time, Landis banned MLB players from participating in barnstorming tours, which all but eliminated exhibition games between whites and blacks while he was commissioner.  Additionally, former MLB owner Bill Veeck claims in his autobiography that Landis prevented from purchasing the Philadelphia Phillies and stacking the team with players from the Negro Leagues, which would have broken MLB's Color Barrier.

    There is some controversy to the validity of Veeck's accusations, but Landis clearly did not do much to help break down the color barrier when he had the ability to do so.  

Happy Chandler (1945-1951)

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    After years of resistance, baseball’s color barrier was finally broken by Jackie Robinson during the 1947 season. It was Chandler who authorized the contract, making him the commissioner who ended the biggest stain on the history of baseball. 

    His other great contribution was the establishment of a pension fund for retired players, which was funded by media contracts that he himself negotiated. 

    However, Chandler also had his moments of sketchiness when it came to labor relations. He threatened to ban any player who organized a strike, and he did all he could to prevent players from earning extra money in overseas leagues during the offseason.  

Ford Frick (1951-1965)

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    Frick was a baseball lifer who played key roles in the founding of the Hall of Fame and the integration of the game prior to his time as commissioner. 

    His time in office was marked by expansion, both in number of teams and in geography. The Boston Braves’ move to Milwaukee in 1953 was baseball’s first franchise relocation in 50 years, and the five additional teams would change cities during Frick’s tenure. 

    Frick also oversaw MLB’s first-ever expansion, adding four teams during the 1961 and 1962 seasons. When the dust settled, Major League Baseball had been turned from a game largely confined to the Northeast into one that was played coast-to-coast. 

    In terms of innovation, Frick also oversaw the creation of the MLB Draft in 1965, which led to a far more even distribution of American-born talent than ever before, but it also signaled the beginning of the end of baseball’s reserve clause. 

    He also made great strides in promoting the game overseas, which is one of the reasons why Japan and Central America have become major sources of MLB talent. 

    Opinions on the Ford Frick era largely depend on how the individual feels about franchise relocation, as there were more of them during Frick’s time than any other commissioner. It is hard to say where he rates in terms of labor relations, primarily because the MLBPA was fairly weak at the time.

    The only major black eye on his record was his controversial decision to list the home run records of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris side-by-side in the record books. But contrary to popular belief, he never suggested an asterisk.

Bud Selig (1992-Present)

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    I have said it before and I will say it again:  Bud Selig is the most under-appreciated individual in all of baseball, if not all of sports. 

    The list of accomplishments during the Selig era is as long as it is varied: wild cards, the three-division format, the expansion of four teams (two of which were entirely on him), interleague play, the MLB Network, Jackie Robinson Day, the WBC, the stadium boom, massive increases in shared revenues, the All-Star Game that counts, instant replay in the playoffs and the establishment of testing and punishments for PEDs. 

    But what really separates Selig from his predecessors is his greatest accomplishment: unprecedented labor peace between the players and owners. 

    When Selig first took the job, relations between the two sides could best be described as toxic and culminated in the 1994-95 strike and cancellation of the World Series that year.  

    But relations have gradually improved since, and it is now safe to say that MLB has the best labor relations in all of sports. The game has now gone 18 years without a strike, and the last two labor agreements were ratified with virtually no controversy.  

    It is no coincidence that MLB has more than doubled in revenue over the past decade and that baseball is now more valuable than the NBA and NHL put together

    There have certainly been some negatives of the Selig tenure: the 1994-95 strike (when Selig was the interim commish) was unforgivable, and he probably dragged his feet on the PED issue longer than needed (as did his four predecessors). But baseball is currently in the best shape it has ever been in, and Bud Selig deserves lots of credit.

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