It's Time for Bud to Go
September 8 will mark the tenth anniversary of the owners'
ouster of Commissioner Fay Vincent. They should mark the occasion
by removing his successor.
Bud Selig came to power during a nasty dispute over revenue
sharing that divided teams into large-market, middle-market and
small-market camps. After reopening the collective bargaining
agreement, the owners spent more than a year fighting one another
before agreeing on a proposal to present to the players. At that
time, Selig's skills as MLB's consummate insider proved
crucial in holding the owners together...not that it ultimately
did them any good.
But once a labor agreement was finally reached, Selig's
usefulness was over. He should have been replaced by a real
Commissioner, independent of any one club, who could have looked
out for the best interests of the game as a whole. Although
several such candidates were interviewed, the owners stuck with
That was a mistake. Selig's most valuable skills are working
the phones and counting votes. These are the skills of a top aide
-- the chief of staff or majority whip, not the CEO. While Selig
can lead the owners, deciding where to lead them is a task best
left to someone else.
Selig's preferred tactic is to blame all of MLB's real
or imagined problems on everyone but his employers, the owners.
That's great for job security, but does nothing to solve the
problems. Some teams are perennial losers? That's because
"small markets can't compete." Player salaries are
rising too rapidly? That's not the fault of the owners who
offered the contracts -- the players should have accepted
artificial restraints on their salaries to save the owners from
themselves. Owners want the revenues from a new ballpark without
investing their own money? "Build us a new park or we'll
disband your team."
Of course, as the long-time owner of a bad small-market team,
Selig has a lot of experience making excuses and shifting blame.
Selig and his family have run the Brewers since 1970. They
haven't made the playoffs since 1982, and haven't had a
winning record since 1992.
Although Milwaukee is MLB's smallest market, the
Brewers' problems run far deeper than a lack of money.
They've outspent the Expos in each of the past dozen years,
yet over that period Montreal, the poster child for contraction,
is 25 games better than the Commissioner's team. The
Brewers' 2002 payroll is $10 million higher than the
Twins' or Athletics', $5 million higher than the
Reds', yet Milwaukee has the NL's worst record and their
farm system is a shambles. If Selig won't take responsibility
for his family's mismanagement of the Brewers, why should he
admit, or even recognize, that he's floundering in a higher
Compounding the problem, Selig has consolidated MLB's power
in his own office and packed that office with loyalists. He
induced MLB President Paul Beeston, a moderate on labor issues
who enjoyed the trust of the MLBPA, to resign, then replaced
Beeston with his personal lawyer. Selig has expanded MLB's
traditional gag rule on labor matters to prevent teams from
discussing labor strategy with one another, under threat of a $1
Unfortunately for Selig, sometimes he must emerge from this
cocoon and interact with the real world. When he does, the
experience is usually unpleasant for all concerned, because Selig
whines. He whines to Congress about the money MLB is supposedly
losing. He whines to state legislators that they need to
subsidize their local teams with new stadiums. He whines
endlessly to the press and public about baseball's
In fact, MLB's gross revenues have doubled in the past five
years. Its network and cable TV contracts are more valuable than
ever. Even the labor battle is being fought on the owners'
terms, with the only issue being how many concessions the players
will make. Any normal CEO would celebrate these accomplishments,
but Selig virtually ignores them to dwell, loudly and publicly,
on what might go wrong.
What other business would allow, let alone encourage, its
chief executive and most visible spokesman to disparage its
product with remarks like "At the start of spring training,
there no longer exists hope and faith for the fans of more than
half of our 30 clubs”?
When Michael Jordan's Bulls went 141-23 over two seasons en
route to six NBA titles in eight years, the NBA built its
marketing campaign around Jordan. When the Yankees won three
World Series in a row, Selig told fans their teams could never
compete with the Yankees. His incessant negativism can only
depress attendance in the very markets Selig claims to be trying
The least Selig can do is to shut up and stop whining. The most
he can do is to resign in favor of a knowledgeable outsider, and
insist that this outsider be given the necessary authority to
solve anything the owners themselves describe as a problem. But
since mortality tables suggest that the 67-year-old Selig is
likely to live another 15 years, don't expect a new
Commissioner much before 2017. Like Selig, his fellow owners
would rather wallow in self-pity than correct their mistakes.
Copyright © 2002 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the July 2002 issue of Boston
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