The Best and Worst of Bud Selig's Legacy as MLB Commissioner

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2013

The Best and Worst of Bud Selig's Legacy as MLB Commissioner

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    For what seems like the 100th time in the last five years, Bud Selig has announced that he will be stepping down as commissioner of Major League Baseball.

    According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Selig's retirement will take effect in January 2015 when his current two-year deal expires. 

    You can be forgiven for rolling your eyes because Selig has teased walking away for years, only to sign new extensions that keep him around a little while longer. But this time feels different because in two years, he will be 80 years old. 

    Selig took over as acting commissioner in 1992 after Fay Vincent resigned. It wasn't until 1998 that Selig was officially voted in by the owners to be commissioner, but he served in the acting role for six years and will walk away after 23 years. 

    In honor of Selig's impending departure, we wanted to take a look back at some of the best and worst moments in his career as commissioner. Most of these will be after his time as the official commissioner, but there are a few noteworthy things that happened when he was still in the acting role that had to be included. 

    As always, if you have a best or worst moment from Selig that we didn't include, feel free to let us know in the comments section. 

Best: 1995 Playoff Expansion (Interim Commissioner)

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    Think of the baseball postseason today, then remember that there was a time nearly 20 years ago where people were not happy about adding an additional team, known as the wild card, to the playoffs. 

    It came about almost out of necessity because in 1994, Major League Baseball went from a four-division, two-league format to six-divisions across the two leagues. But it certainly helped Selig put his stamp on the game as interim commissioner. 

    Since the inception of the wild card in baseball, five have won the World Series (1997 Florida Marlins, 2002 Anaheim Angels, 2003 Florida Marlins, 2004 Boston Red Sox and 2011 St. Louis Cardinals). Five other teams have made it to the World Series (2000 New York Mets, 2002 San Francisco Giants, 2005 Houston Astros, 2006 Detroit Tigers, 2007 Colorado Rockies). 

    Even the baseball purists, those deranged human beings who will argue against the DH being used in both leagues, have come to embrace what the wild card has done for the playoff race every season. 

    I don't agree with Selig's attempt to expand the postseason by adding a second wild card team to each league, though I do understand the desire to reward teams that win divisions. But his first playoff expansion was also one of the best moves he has ever made. 

Worst: The Overreaction to the 2002 All-Star Game

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    One of the things that defines Bud Selig's tenure as MLB commissioner is his tendency to go overboard when he hears a negative response. 

    Never was that more evident in the way Selig handled hearing the boo birds at the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee when the AL and NL were tied 7-7 after 11 innings. With no more pitchers on either side, Selig made the (right) decision to call the game and end it in a tie. 

    Fans weren't happy immediately after it was over, but I would be willing to bet that soon after, the whole thing would have gone away when people remembered that this whole event is a marketing exhibition for the sport where the result really is secondary. 

    Yet Selig couldn't stand the idea of getting booed, especially not in Milwaukee, so he came up with the brilliant idea of having this glorified exhibition game decide home-field advantage for the World Series. 

    The idiocy of that decision only gets compounded when you realize that the stars playing at the end of the All-Star Game, for the most part, will be from teams that have no chance to even reach the postseason. 

    It is a pointless stipulation to attach with an exhibition game that no one treats seriously. Even today, the game is still managed like a fun showcase for the top players in baseball rather than something that counts. 

Best: The Drug Testing Policy

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    It took Congress getting involved for Major League Baseball and the Players' Association to actually get anything done when it comes to drug testing, but since that 2005 investigation, the policies have continued to get stronger. 

    The drug-testing program was laughable when it was first adopted. Players would get suspended without pay for 10 days (not games) on a first positive test. It is the equivalent of being slapped on the wrist by your parent when you tell them no. 

    As things currently stand, the drug-testing policy is as good as there is in professional sports. Players get suspended for 50 games on a first positive test and can be banned for life after a third positive. 

    MLB has also been ahead of the curve when it comes to human growth hormone (HGH) testing, adopting it in time for the start of the 2013 season. 

    The NFL has talked about HGH testing dating back to 2011, yet nothing has come of it because the league and players can't agree on the process of the testing and any appeals that will be heard. 

Worst: Keeping Steroids/PEDs in the Spotlight

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    I imagine this will be controversial for some, because it is where I appear to defend players either accused of using steroids or performance-enhancing drugs, or those who have actually done it. 

    Rest assured, that's not the case. I like the drug policy, as stated on the previous page, and think it's good for baseball. But there are certain things that Selig has done with this whole mess that have bothered me.

    Just look at this season as an example. The Miami New Times report linking Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and others to the Anthony Bosch and the Biogenesis clinic came out at the end of January. 

    It was not baseball's finest hour, but it also wasn't something that had to linger. There was very little bad blood surrounding it a few weeks after the report was released. In fact, I would argue that a lot of people had probably forgotten it when the games started in April. 

    But because he has to play self-righteous judge and jury, Selig had to make sure he found enough dirt on a lot of the players mentioned in order to suspend them—even though there were no positive tests—just to send a message. 

    In doing so, we spent nearly two weeks during the season talking about this situation instead of the games on the field. Some praised Selig for taking action, which is their prerogative. But the situation wasn't going to destroy baseball or turn people off. It was just a chance for Selig to throw around his power. 

    This is another case where Selig can't let something go, even though there probably wasn't any great demand for punishment aside from the media looking to join the commissioner on his quest for self-righteousness. 

Best: Interleague Play

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    Interleague play has gotten so watered down in recent years as the novelty has worn off and the Astros switched leagues, forcing year-round matchups between the AL and NL. But when it was first adopted in 1997, it was a huge deal for baseball. 

    In the past, any thought of the NL and AL playing in games before October was a joke. No one would ever think to put the two sides together before the World Series. 

    Yet when Selig did, he got exactly what he could have hoped for. Not only were rivalries built between two teams in the same city/state, but the fans have latched on to the concept and packed the stands during these games. 

    According to, from 1997-2012, interleague series averaged more than 30,000 fans in attendance at the stadiums across baseball. 

    Whether you get more excited or not by the idea of the AL vs NL in the middle of the season (before the Astros swapped leagues), it is clear by the numbers that most casual fans were going to the stadium in higher numbers because of these games. 

Worst: Refusal to Expand Replay

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    For reasons that have never really been explained, aside from the cop-out response of the human element, Selig has yet to touch on why Major League Baseball remains so far behind the eight ball when it comes to replay. 

    It took a long time before we got to have it for home runs, yet we have seen over the last few years that there is still a lot more work to do. Some of it can be alleviated by actually holding some of these horrible umpires accountable for their poor work. 

    There are some practical solutions that would have to be worked out: Where do you put a player who hits a ball down the line that was ruled foul but is found to be fair? What happens if a runner is on first base? If a player scores on a ball that is ruled a trap that gets reviewed and is declared a catch, does that runner have to go back to his original base or can he advance one spot?

    It would require a lot of thought, but the idea that there are still so many calls out there that are wrong by umpires, who get away with it because they have a strong union that the notion of severe punishment is a joke, 

    For a long time, there didn't seem to be any urgency from Selig to get expand replay. It was just one month ago when he finally decided that changes needed to be made for 2014. I guess we can applaud him for finally coming around, but the big question is, what took so long?

Best: Global Expansion of the Sport

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    One of the best and most underrated things that Selig did after taking over as commissioner is embrace the global popularity of baseball. 

    There are critics who don't like the World Baseball Classic because it takes MLB players away from their teams during spring training when they need to be getting ready for the season. They argue it puts them at risk for injury playing intense games before their bodies are physically ready to handle it, etc. 

    But just look back at this year's WBC, then tell me that the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rican teams were not emotionally invested in winning and trying to represent their country in the best possible fashion. 

    On top of the WBC, Major League Baseball makes a point to play regular season games in places like Japan and Australia because those are two countries that embrace the sport and are going to pack a stadium to see what the best players in the world can do. 

    Again, some may not like it because it robs them of seeing their favorite team at a time when it is convenient for them.

    It also helps when you want to expand revenue streams because a lot more merchandise is going to be sold around the world when you play meaningful games there, and it might inspire new talent to give the game a shot. Increasing the potential talent pool for teams to draw from is never a bad thing. 

    There are also certain programs in this country that do a lot of work to bring baseball to places it has fallen behind the eight ball, like the RBI program. 

    Selig understands the importance of making sure everyone around the world knows and understands this game because the future is just as important as the present. 

Worst: Draft Slotting and the 2011 CBA

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    One of the worst things Selig has ever done came in 2011 when the owners and players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that put financial restrictions on the amount of money that teams can spend on draft picks and hard slotting in the first 10 rounds of the draft. 

    Not only is this a meaningless exercise just designed to keep money down, or basically a way to protect the owners from themselves, but it also encourages teams to lose more. 

    For instance, right now you are probably reading a lot about how the Astros are being rewarded for losing. Peter Gammons of the MLB Network tweeted on Wednesday that they went 6-30 vs. Oakland and Texas, made money and will have the largest signing pool with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. 

    And Gammons is absolutely right about all of that, but what do you want the Astros to do? MLB has set up this new system that rewards bad teams for losing more, so if you are a team that was in dire straits, like Houston was for so many years under the previous ownership and front office, why not exploit it?

    Doing things this way allowed the Astros to get Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Jr. and Mark Appel in consecutive drafts. It's not their fault that MLB did this; they just found a way to take advantage of it and will be rewarded in the future when that talent makes it to the big leagues. 

    There is no reason to have hard slotting in the draft, other than to save the owners from, nor is there any argument to put a cap on international spending. And if you are going to put slots on where teams pick, what do you expect them to do? 

Best: Labor Peace

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    It is no secret that relations between the owners and union haven't always run smoothly throughout the history of baseball. That is going to happen when you have two sides looking out for their own best interest. 

    Selig came into a volatile situation when he took over as acting commissioner in 1992 because former commissioner Fay Vincent said flat out that the union didn't trust the owners. 

    The Union’s been very difficult. I think building a relationship with the Union, #4, would have been a huge priority. The Union basically doesn’t trust the Ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by Selig and Reinsdorf of that money from the players. I mean, they rigged the signing of free agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the players. And I think that’s polluted labor relations in baseball ever since it happened.

    On top of that, there was the complete disaster of the 1994 players' strike that wound up cancelling the World Series and ran into the 1995 season before an agreement was reached. 

    It took time before baseball would completely rebound from the bad taste in fans' mouths, but we are fast approaching 20 years of labor peace between the owners and union. By contrast, the NFL, NBA and NHL have all had at least one work stoppage since the last time MLB did. 

    Granted, the NFL lockout didn't bleed into the season, but it doesn't change the fact that business wasn't allowed to be conducted until a new deal was signed. 

    Selig deserves a lot of credit for being able to work with the union to make sure another fiasco like 1994 hasn't happened again. 

Worst: Contraction Talk

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    It seems strange to think about now because the Twins play in a beautiful new ball park and are building a special farm system that will make them very good in the not-too-distant future, but Bud Selig actually talked about getting rid of the franchise altogether. 

    The world and baseball economy were trending downward in 2001, so Selig thought the best thing for everyone involved would be to contract two franchises and go with a 28-team league. Those two teams were reported to be Minnesota and Montreal (now Washington). 

    The Montreal contraction made sense because that franchise was a complete wreck with no signs of hope playing in a stadium where no one went to see the games. It was incredibly embarrassing for the Expos, the city of Montreal and Major League Baseball. 

    But to put the Twins, a franchise that had won two championships less than 20 years ago, in that same vein seemed like a rash decision that required a lot more thought. 

    The good news is, nothing came of the contraction talk, as the Twins are still in Minnesota and the Expos wound up moving to Washington D.C. in 2005. 

    Still, this was far from Selig's finest moment. It made him Public Enemy No. 1 in Minnesota for a long time. 

    If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments. 


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