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Since its debut during the Civil War, baseball has evolved from a mere recreational activity used by soldiers to pass the time in army camps into a major sporting industry generating millions of dollars of revenue annually. Like any large corporation, there are many positions; both on the field and off, required to keep the business of Major League Baseball running.
Beyond the obvious jobs of coaches and players, there are countless support and administrative personnel facilitating the "behind the scenes" aspects of the sport. Since its inception, professional baseball has appointed one top executive, the Commissioner of Baseball, to oversee the entire operation and maintain the integrity of the game. Unfortunately, like most public officials, the Commissioner is often forgotten in times of prosperity, yet the first to be blamed when problems arise. It is a job that requires not only a tremendous love for the game, but an even greater patience for the fans and media. From Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to Francis T. Vincent, Jr., most Commissioners have experienced disappointment by the fans at one time or another.
One man however, seems to have taken this love-hate relationship with the public to another level. Unfortunately, our current Commissioner appears to have inherited a broken version of our National Pastime. "His" baseball, unlike any of his predecessors, has been long-corrupted by big money endorsements, self-centered athletes and performance enhancing drugs. The baseball he was handed to manage is all but a faded shadow from the glory days when players were worthy and the fans treated them with respect. Many purists believe that both classes have declined in the modern game and as a result, much of the blame has fallen back on the Commissioner. This poses the question; why would anyone willingly take on such a role fully aware of the burden that waits? And who would want to? The answer to both questions lies in looking at a man that did: Mr. Alan H. "Bud" Selig.
Selig was a successful car dealer from Wisconsin who purchased the fledgling American League franchise known as the Seattle Pilots for a reported $10.8 million dollars. When Milwaukee joined the major leagues in 1953, Bud became a faithful Braves fan and subsequently the largest public stockholder in 1963. Unfortunately, he would later watch his beloved Braves move to Atlanta in 1965 resulting in the loss of both his team and his investment. Recognizing the importance of baseball to his city, Selig later formed an organization dedicated to reestablishing a team in Milwaukee. After several heartbreaking failures, Bud was finally successful in 1970 when a Seattle bankruptcy court awarded the Seattle franchise to the investment group led by him, and the modern-day Milwaukee Brewers were born. Amazingly, Bud's college roommate was Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and both of men went on to become owners of major league franchises within their own city. Like his political partner, Selig was always active in his community as a member of the board of the Green Bay Packers football team and the University of Wisconsin medical school. He was also the founder of "Athletes for Youth", a trustee of the Boys and Girls Club, and helped establish both the Child Abuse Prevention Network and Businesses Against Drunk Driving.
After being given the position of "Interim Commissioner" in 1992, Bud was officially named baseball's ninth commissioner six years later on July 2, 1998. Following his appointment, Selig's daughter Wendy took over as acting president of the Brewers club and his interest in the team was placed in a trust. First and foremost a fan, Bud entered the position of Commissioner with the same tenacity that had led him in his crusade for a franchise in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, baseball was still reeling from multiple labor disputes and was suffering a steady decline in both ticket sales and television ratings. Over the last two decades, the National Football League had clearly become the most powerful and financially successful sport with professional basketball not far behind. Unbelievably, professional baseball had slipped from a perennial National Pastime to third on the list of popular American sports.
From the day he first entered the offices of the executive council, Bud had faced many serious and difficult issues. Initially, he presided over the 230-day strike that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. Eventually, he was able to help secure a new collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association, but afterward, many disgruntled fans felt that the Fall Classic's cancellation was a major factor in the decline of baseball's popularity. To this day, some believe that the game will never fully recover and may never again reach the romantic heights that it once enjoyed.
Some of Selig's other contributions to the game were the implementation of new rules, as well as the institution of addition playoff rounds. Some of these changes were overwhelmingly popular and unpopular with baseball's fans. These included the establishment of Interleague Play which opened up the door for many American and National League teams to compete against one another for the first time in history; the Wild Card system which added opportunities for more teams to participate in the post season; and the validation of the All-Star Game by making it count for home-field advantage in the World Series.
Perhaps the biggest threat still faced by the modern game's Commissioner is the rapidly growing dichotomy between rich and poor teams. Few people however, could be as uniquely well-suited to address this issue. As the owner of a small-market team, Selig obviously understands the difficulties that the "Milwaukee's" of the world have going up against financially superior teams like the New York Yankees. This issue will continue to plague Major League Baseball and along with the debate over mandatory drug testing, has turned the spotlight on Bud to fix the problem at all costs. Over the last few years, many fans and media have doubted Selig's abilities refusing to recognize that any of his policies have had a noticeable impact on fixing today's "broken game" Fortunately for him, many others have applauded his efforts and baseball finally appears to be making a slow but steady comeback.
So far Bud Selig's legacy has been met with mixed emotions and it seems for every fan that recognizes the benefits of change, there is a purist who denies them. Time will only tell as Selig's term in office is far from being up and many issues still need to be resolved. Fortunately, he appears ready to stay the course and hopefully better days for baseball are on the horizon. Unlike his players though, it appears in many instances, this Commissioner, Bud Selig, "just can't win".
© 2004 Pinstripe Press. All Rights Reserved.