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January 16, 2012

Bizball

Bud Selig's To-Do List

by Maury Brown

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Late last week, Bud Selig, that consensus builder of The Lodge and players union, was voted by the league’s owners to receive an extension through the 2014 season. The league’s Executive Council placed the two-year extension in nomination after requesting of Selig that he remain in the position past the expiration of his contract on December 31, 2012. In other words, his employers (read, the owners) love him, and there’s really no one out there at the moment that they seems in a hurry to put in his place (see “Why Selig Isn’t Retiring”).

Selig has been at the head of the league since September 9, 1992, first as interim commissioner and then as the ninth commissioner in the history of Major League Baseball, a position to which he was elected on July 9, 1998.  This marks the fourth extension for Selig, who agreed to new three-year contracts in 2001, 2004 and 2008.  Only the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis—who served from January 12, 1921 until his passing on November 25, 1944—accumulated more experience as the leader of the sport than Selig. Since taking over in 1992, the league’s gross revenues have grown from $1.2 billion to over $7 billion in 2010.

Yes, Selig has done a lot. He can say that 20 new ballparks have been built on his watch (or will be once the Marlins new stadium opens in April). That’s a whole bunch of taxpayer greenbacks for baseball’s owners. Congrats on that, I guess.

The league boasts that due to economic reforms in the league, nine of the last 11 World Series Champions have been different clubs. Only the Red Sox (2004, 2007) and the Cardinals (2006, 2011) have won more than once during that span. Nineteen clubs have made the postseason over the last five years, and 24 clubs have made the postseason over the last 10 years. All of this is to say that MLB really has had the best parity of all the “big four” sports over that period, and that’s not hyperbole… it’s fact.

And, you’d be remiss if you didn’t say that under Selig’s watch, MLBAM and MLB Network were created—both cash cows. Both are centralized, which means all clubs benefit equally from it.

Despite his successes, I hope it’s not too early in Selig’s acceptance party to throw out some items that still need tending to. Some will benefit the present, while others will heal old wounds:

“Glacial” is One Thing, But it’s Time to Address the A’s to San JoseSelig, you’re on this, I know. Or, at least that’s what you’ve said. "It's really on the front burner," came across your lips when you asked about the relocation of the Athletics to San Jose. Well, it’s about time. After all, you created your special committee to look into the matter in 2009. Still, this time, something needs to happen, and it should. Make it a priority to get consensus for the May owners meetings to get it completed. After all, Walter Hass gave up Santa Clara Co. to Bob Lurie when the Giants were trying not once, but twice to get a referendum passed to build a ballpark for the Giants in the South Bay. Larry Baer, who has taken over as the control person of the Giants after Bill Neukom’s ouster needs to be reminded of that.

Collusion in the '80sSelig has denied it, as many of the old guard continues to do, but it’s time to admit that the owners really did collude to hold down player salaries in the 80s. Selig should do this if for no other reason that, with the handful of owners and execs still holding onto denial, history has clearly said as much. Few, if any, say it never happened (read Collusion I, II, III… A Hard Lesson Learned (PDF)). Now that Don Fehr has left to tend to the NHL and Gene Orza is gone, maybe you could apply some salve and kick the painful collusion denial story to the curb… for good.

Make Fixing the Blackout Policy a PriorityMaybe this should be listed first. It’s great that we’re about to have HGH testing in baseball, but there are consumers out there every year that have forked over more than $100 to watch MLB games via MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV, or through mobile technology like At Bat who are subjected to a ridiculous blackout policy. Bud, name one other industry that limits a product to consumers? At the very least, direct Tim Brosnan to not accept expanded exclusivity with FOX, ESPN, and TBS when contracts are renewed. It’s surprising the FCC hasn’t been brought to bear at this stage. Going further might be poking a bear in the eye (see MLB’s broadcast territory map).

Take Some Kind of Responsibility on the Issue of SteroidsSelig has said repeatedly that he never knew about steroids permeating that game. Fine. Others will say you had to know, but if you say you didn’t, fine. That doesn’t absolve you or Don Fehr from being held accountable on some level, though. At the very least, when you saw 50 home run seasons become almost commonplace and players suddenly looking like Mr. Potato Head, you had to think, “Hmmm… something’s not right.” If you didn’t, well, then one has to say there’s incompetency at play. At the end of an incredible career, place yourself head and shoulders above the fray and say, “I should have known more. I should have seen it.” Admitting “something” removes the tinge that you’re either lying or non-observant.

Admit Contraction Was Never Going to FlyI sense that the issue of contraction was something Selig’s bosses (read: owners) put him up to. Anyone with their finger on the pulse of baseball knew it was never going to fly with the Expos and Twins. Maybe this is one for the memoire, but admitting contraction was a failed concept would be refreshing.

Be Bold: Address the DHIf you really mean it this time (we’re not holding our breath), and plan on bowing out in 2014, do something about the DH. In 2013, interleague begins runs all season long. It’s time. I’m not saying get rid of it or make it part of the NL; I’m saying it’s time for the league to quit straddling the fence. It’d be a great way to exit.

Be Hands-On in Finding a SuccessorAt some point, a new commissioner is going to happen. Bud’s a pretty powerful guy, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to live as long as the game. Make it a high priority to groom the replacement or, at the very least, articulate what has made you “work” so well for the owners. Help guide the search committee, or better yet, sit in on it. I know there’s a whole heck of a lot of people out there that think Selig is a boob, that he’s horrible. Well, there’s never been a commissioner out there that didn’t have that stuff said about them. It’s a difficult position to be in, since doing everything in the best interest of fans can run counter to what your bosses have in mind. Looking back on the likes of Happy Chandler or Bowie Kuhn, Selig looks like a cross between Einstein and Gandhi. Believe it or not, Selig isn’t easy to replace.

Do a Book, But Don’t Do HardballThe reference is to Bowie Kuhn’s book, a piece of puffery that had little insight and loads of narcissism. But Selig, do a book. Readers (or, at least ones that have a sense of reality) can’t expect you to do Lords of the Realm or some scorch-MLB tell-all, but something with insight, something the reveals matters that baseball historians have not heard, is needed. Others will write of you (yes, I think you hear me knocking), but marry up with someone good out there if you can’t pen it yourself so that you can do better than what’s been published prior which, sadly, isn’t much.

Selig is, in many ways, the least likely of success stories. In the here and now, many fail to recognize that. No one expected him to last. For that matter, no one really expected him at the time to be commissioner. He’s fascinating. Think about this: the guy that shrugged at an All-Star Game tie, who has fumbled his way through more press conferences than I can count, has been at the head of the league nearly as long as Landis. For those that know the history of the commissionership, many of his predecessors lasted as long as the ink for their name on the door took to dry.

But, Bud, you’ve still got some work to do. Yes, getting the Mets and Dodgers in order is important, but hopefully a couple of items here can be tended to as well. After all, some of them are simple and cost neither time nor money. In return, you get something worth a heck of a lot more than that $22 million paycheck you get each year. You get some added integrity as you head out the door.

Maury Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Maury's other articles. You can contact Maury by clicking here

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