Bye bye Bud…

As anybody who has read my thoughts will know (and thanks for doing so btw!) sports administrators don’t get a good write-up from me. Mainly because most of them are awful – Sepp Blatter, Roger Goodell, Bernie Ecclestone, Richard Scudamore… the list goes on. But there are good administrators in sport and today I’d like to pay tribute to one who is retiring this year, Allan H Selig (known as “Bud”) acting commissioner of baseball from 1992 and commissioner of the sport since 1998.
What you have to remember is that baseball was a shambles when he took over. The fact that Selig became the fourth commissioner since 1984 when he took over – but only the ninth since the office was created in 1920 – shows this. It’s labour relations were awful – just like Britain in the 1970s. Baseball had had seven strikes/lock-outs in 20 years and two years after Selig was appointed it hit its low point. In August 1994 yet another MLB strike began. This one lasted 232 days and achieved what ADOLF HITLERcouldn’t do. It stopped the World Series from being played for the first time in 90 years. It was baseball’s equivalent of the UK’s 1978-79 “Winter of Discontent”. Yet like the UK, baseball learned its lesson. The fact that the sport has had no strikes since – while the NBA, NFL and NHL all have – is Selig’s best achievement.
But not the only one. Here (in no particular order) are the best changes Selig has made to the sport.
1. Wild Cards. It is amazing now to think that in 1993 the team that was second best in MLB – the Giants who won 103 games – did not make the postseason. That was because the team with the best record – the Braves with 104 – were in the same division and only division winners got to the postseason. By bringing in the wild card not only did MLB stop such injustices it also gave more teams a chance to get into the postseason. Without wildcards classic championship series like Yankees-Red Sox (2003 and 2004), Cardinals-Astros (2004 and 2005) and Rays-Red Sox (2008) wouldn’t have happened. And the second wild card is a brilliant example of both “carrot” and “stick” there are now two wild card teams – but they are only guaranteed one game so it means you want to win the division and avoid the wild card game.
2.Interleague play. Coming from a UK football culture where the biggest games are often between teams from the same city or geographic region it amazed me that in baseball games like Yankees v Mets, White Sox v Cubs or Giants v Athletics did not take place outside the World Series. That changed when interleague play started in 1997. Quite why it took baseball so long to do what other US sports had already done is a mystery but it in my opinion is a good idea. Plus you can see stars from the two Leagues playing against each other now for their own teams. An example this year was when the Angels played the Nationals and Mike Trout and Bryce Harper – two of the sport’s future stars – were on the same field.
3. Realignment.By making both leagues have 15 teams it meant the three divisions had five teams meaning each team has to beat four others to win its division and get into the postseason. This made it fair for the first time since 1993 (four divisions of seven teams). Before 2013 one division had six teams one had four and the rest had five – making it harder for teams in the NL Central and easier for teams in the AL West to win their division.
4.Instant replay. No more need be said. We saw its benefits in Game 7 of the World Series where an incorrect call at first base was challenged – and overturned- by the Giants. Had instant replay not existed the Royals might have scored a run, took the lead won the Series and – like KC’s 1985 World Series win -it would have been remembered for a bad call and not the brilliance of Madison Bumgarner. Justice was done- and seen to be done.
Of course no one is perfect and Selig’s biggest failure is on Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Baseball started to crack down on PEDs far too late and its punishments are too soft. You get a 50-game suspension for a first offence but in a 162 game season that is nothing and Nelson Cruz came back from a 50 game ban this year to become the leading home run hitter in the majors. Sports like athletics have a two-year ban – and some people say that is too soft. Baseball was far softer on PEDs than it was on gambling and now – with last years biogenesis scandal – it has paid the price.
Still when an administrator leaves their post I ask “have they left the sport in better health than when they started the job?”. And in my oinion for Selig the answer can only ne “Yes”. New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred – who takes over on January 1st – has a hard act to follow.
PS – still on the subject of baseball I was horrified to hear of the death of young Cardinals’ player Oscar Taveras who died this week aged just 22. It is so sad to realise we will never know how good this prospect could have been. My thoughts go to his friends family and to the Cardinals’ organisation. To think that if the Cardinals had won the NLCS, he would have played in the World Series…

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