Justice Is Served

November 28, 2009 7:01 PM

Facing hard truth: This 'Bud' not for you


He made mistakes -- egregious mistakes over the years. Yet his mistakes never cost Bud Selig his job, which was a pity.

So please excuse me now for standing and yelling "Hallelujah!" after hearing reports Selig is stepping aside in 2012 as baseball's czar. He should have quit 10 years earlier, because he has lorded over baseball like "Bozo the Clown."

The game should be better served under whomever the 30 owners select as Selig's replacement.

For it has been under Selig's leadership that owners and baseball fans have watched the "Steroids Era" flourish; it has been under his leadership that the ban on Pete Rose, an iconic figure in the game's history, has become a lifetime one; and it has been under Selig's leadership that the playing field has become uneven: The rich teams rule.

It is the latter that disappointed me most about Selig's reign. Not that I grant him a pass for allowing steroids to taint sacred records, but no good comes from dwelling on Selig's myopia on this subject. He's tried to bury what steroids did to the game in a hole deeper than the Pacific. It hasn't worked, not with purists. The sanctity of these records matters.

But if pressed on it, I could live with the taint on the record books if the alternative was a playing field that allowed all teams to compete. People can end all the talk about small-market teams having won here and there; the facts remain that teams with the deepest pockets are the teams that compete, from year to year, for championships.

Are these enough reasons to long for Bud Selig's departure? Perhaps not, so try out other failings of the man who has guided the national pastime the way Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling did Enron: 

§  Under Selig, the name of Jackie Robinson has been sullied beyond repair. Selig, who has said he reveres Robinson, has tied everything commercial he could get away with to Robinson's last name. Yes, Selig, 75, has claimed he wanted Robinson's legacy to remain in people's mind, but he forgot to say he wanted first to squeeze every dollar out of the man's name.

§  As blacks walk away (actually, run away) from the game, Selig has done nothing substantial to repair their frayed ties to the game. If he appreciated Robinson's baseball legacy as much as he said, Selig would have poured millions into building baseball fields and providing gear for urban areas. He would have made building baseball academies the centerpiece of his efforts to revive the game in inner-city America.

§  Selig's decision to hold the "Civil Rights Game" in Cincinnati last summer stood as an affront to the movement, because no city in the North had a more tenuous tie to civil rights than Cincinnati, a city notorious for its rogue cops. Selig, whose concerns always lean toward what sells, could have found a dozen Major League or Minor League cities with better credentials, but he picked Cincinnati for what reason? To celebrate the integration and its importance to baseball? Selig besmirched the civil movement in ways that its most respected figures would have denounced.

§  His refusal to implement a global draft, a draft that would allow teams with weak revenue streams to compete without having to spend millions on developing baseball academies in Latin America or elsewhere. NBA and NHL teams have found a way to make a global draft work, why couldn't baseball?

These are all gross failures of Selig's regime. In his job, Selig was supposed to protect the game's integrity and build on its strengths. He came to power after owners dumped Fay Vincent, an outsider, and stayed within their ranks to hire Vincent's successor in 1992. But their choice has proved an impotent leader, a man whose values were intertwined with theirs and not with the fans and the ballplayers.

Broad change has often left carnage in its wake; it also can lead to open opportunities elsewhere. It can reshape the landscape, preserving whatever in front of it that might have been bad.

And the game has plenty of bad in front of it -- plenty of good, too. It has a core following as rabid as any group of sports fans. But it is a following in America that is growing older and grayer - a following that has not infused its love of the game into the boys and girls of today. They give their allegiances to professional football and basketball, two sports that have stepped into the breach.

All of this happened under Selig's watch. So salute him? For what -- taking apart a storied institution a brick at a time?

No, I won't salute Selig's time as baseball czar. I will, however, cheer loudly his decision to hand the job to someone else; I just wish he'd done so a decade sooner.


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