Monday, Allan H. "Bud" Selig retired from his post as Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and Rob Manfred took the reins. Manfred is tasked with filling some big shoes; During his tenure as Commissioner, Selig managed to grow baseball's revenues in an unprecedented way. TV revenues are up, attendance is up, MLB has a strong digital presence through MLB Advanced Media (and Gameday and the At Bat App), and franchise values are skyrocketing. So yes, the owners are probably happy with Selig.
However, as a fan, and especially an A's fan...Selig was an unqualified disaster. I am skeptical of Manfred, until now an avowed Selig lap dog and hand-picked successor, but it's hard to imagine him being worse than Bud. So with Manfred, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, innocent until proven guilty, etc. He definitely scored some big points with me by coming out and saying this:
"I don't think of the Oakland issue as Oakland-San Francisco. Oakland needs a new stadium," Manfred said during an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, the first business day of his five-year term. "There's a new mayor in Oakland. We just prevailed in the San Jose litigation, so things are moving around a little bit out there, and I'm hopeful we can make progress on getting a new stadium in Oakland in the relatively short term."
But back to Mr. Selig. This is, after all, meant to be a tribute to his lasting legacy.
Bud Selig became the acting commissioner of baseball in 1992, when Fay Vincent was ousted by the owners (led by Bud Selig) via a vote of "no confidence" following Vincent busting the owners on naked collusion to keep salaries down. By Vincent's estimate Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf stole about $280 million from the players. Of course, when you anger your bosses, your bosses fire you and then take your job. Or something like that. Well, anyway, that is how Selig got his job. Of course, at the time and for many years afterward, he and his family continued to own the Milwaukee Brewers.
Selig very clearly morphed the commissioner from "the best interests of baseball" to the "best interests of the owners." To be fair, increasing revenue is in the best interests of both players and owners (notice that fans are of course left out of this equation), and that seems to have been his chief goal throughout his tenure. He accomplished that.
However, in his greed to make MLB owners richer, "mistakes were made." Plenty of them. One of them was his greed in 1994. Yes, the players went on strike. However, there was no collective bargaining agreement in place. That's what unions end up doing when their contracts are up and their employer refuses to negotiate in good faith. A commissioner more intent on compromising and less intent on going from "acting commissioner" to "commissioner for life" may have struck a deal. Alas, Bud Selig and a core group of his cronies allowed the unthinkable: Canceling a World Series. It was the first devastating blow to the fans, but not the last.
When Bud Selig took over as commissioner in 1992, our Oakland A's were fresh off of a few dominating seasons culminating in three World Series appearances and one title. Of course, and there's no shame in saying this, there was some chemical assistance going on with some central players on that squad, namely Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Baseball insiders clearly knew about it then; hell, Jose Canseco was practically steroids' ambassador in the game.
After the self-inflicted strike in 1994, Selig decided that two wrongs would make a right. A steroid scandal at that point may have severely hampered the regrowth of the game. So, what did he do? He allowed steroids to run rampant, in plain view to every player, coach and general manager but perhaps not to a fan base that wanted to believe. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa smashed homer after homer in a chase to be the king. Both of them completely shattered Roger Maris' 61 jacks en route to bringing with them a baseball renaissance. A baseball renaissance built on a house of cards, as it turned out.
Even more appalling is that this was allowed to continue, to the point where everyone and their mother knew that Barry Bonds was using Performance Enhancing Drugs to chase down Big Mac and Hank Aaron. Bonds put together one of the greatest seasons and careers of all time; the only problem was his hat size ballooned along with his numbers.
Nevertheless, the steroids themselves were not the worst part. The worst part was Bud Selig using the steroids when he needed them in 1998, then faux-marveling at Bonds and others a scant few years later in 2001 (in one incredible whale, he actually said "I don't know if the players are better today, but they are bigger. The bats are different. The balls are different. The stadiums are different. Medical technology is different. If it was so easy and there is something that is contributing to it, then why only Bonds?"), and finally turning full hypocrite when public opinion had firmly swayed against steroids in baseball. Selig reluctantly showed up to Giants games to watch Bonds' single-season home run chase and he offered a few gruff remarks in prepared statements as congratulations. By the time Bonds was chasing down Hank Aaron's 755 career bombs in 2007, Selig very notably wanted as little to do with it as possible. Bonds was chasing down one of his heroes; as a Milwaukee native, Hank Aaron was God. No, now Bud was ready to turn on the players who built his game back up. Bud released the Mitchell Report, an anecdotal outing of steroid users with no real accountability and obvious biases following that 2007 season. By then it had been 15 years since he took over as commissioner, and during all 15 years it was well known that steroids were a major problem in all sports, baseball included.
And of course, in 2014, Selig had this to say in regards to the true home run king: "I'm always in a sensitive spot there, but I've said that myself and I'll just leave it at that." He also defiantly stated "Back in that period, people asked me to change this or change that, it really is a slippery slope. Once you do that, where do you start? Where do you stop? What are your criteria?"
I don't know what the criteria is, but I know that he had a chance to avoid the conversation entirely. We can see that Selig very clearly disavowed the steroid era he blithely encouraged (seriously, Mark McGwire was doing television ads for Andro, now a no-brainer banned substance). He let PEDs run rampant when it benefited him and when he felt it had become a stain on the game he turned around and blamed the players.
Under Selig, there were no rules at all governing steroids. Blaming the players is ludicrous -- reasonable rules against steroids that were present in all sports could have been implemented in baseball. Until then, though, players are wont to use any edge that they can get. Especially when they are in a competitive environment where (depending on who you talk to) at least 25-50% were on some sort of PED.
The upshot of all this is that now we don't know who should be in the Hall of Fame, what was cheating, any player from those 15-20 years or so is cast in a cloud of suspicion (fairly or unfairly) and every player that I and every other baseball fanatic that came of age during that period is now somehow possibly tainted (but we're not sure). Thanks to Bud Selig's hypocrisy first and foremost, it's as if that era of baseball is only spoken of in hushed tones, swept under the rug, and pretended as if it never existed. That was the era of baseball that I and many fans grew up on, and while there's plenty of blame to go around, Selig earns the lion's share.
With respect to our dear Oakland Athletics, Bud Selig has been a thorough disaster; a thorn in our side, never well meaning, never straightforward, and always scheming. When notorious cheapskates Steve Schott and Ken Hoffmann put the A's up for sale back in 1999, a group of buyers headed up by Bob Piccinini and Oakland star Reggie Jackson emerged as a potential buyer. Piccinini, then a part-owner of the San Diego Padres, seemed like a logical choice. An East Bay native, he was on record saying that he wanted to build up the fanbase and a long term home in Oakland. But that was not music to Selig's ears, and not the first time he would favor the local San Francisco Giants over the interest of having two healthy franchises in the Bay Area:
More likely, Piccinini suspects the San Francisco Giants ownership had a hand in convincing Selig to make sure the deal never materialized, especially since Selig has called the A's move from Kansas City to Oakland "a terrible mistake."
"I can tell you there's an executive with the Giants, who shall go unnamed," Piccinini said. "I ran into him at a Warriors game. He said, 'I hear you're getting involved with the Padres. We want you in San Diego; we just didn't want you here.' "
Piccinini owns "a little, tiny piece" of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and a "much larger piece, though not substantial" of the Padres. "And those applications sailed right on through," he said. "So what's the difference?"
"If I was going to pursue a ballpark, I would certainly do it in San Jose, not depend on a vote outside of San Jose, and I would work through the mayor and the Redevelopment Agency," said Lew Wolff, a key figure in San Jose's downtown renaissance. "It's the difference between a big-league city and a nonbig-league city. I wouldn't spend five minutes on any other city besides San Jose."
It took seven years, but Bud Selig eventually orchestrated a sale of the A's to his University of Wisconsin fraternity brother in 2005, current A's controlling owner Lew Wolff. The same one that was very clearly on record as wanting to move the A's to San Jose.
Then again, this is the same guy that orchestrated an exit from the Expos for noted crook and liar Jeffrey Loria, gifting him the Florida Marlins while whisking the Montreal Expos off to greener pastures in Washington DC. So the A's sale was pretty mild by Selig's standard.
While certainly many fans would be hurt by the move to San Jose, the argument could be made that San Jose is the best economic choice for the A's, and in any case we in the Bay Area can still watch our team. If Selig believed that the A's were best served by moving to the South Bay, then maybe bringing in Wolff as the owner was the right move. Because Selig would do away with that territorial rights formality and allow a new stadium to move forward, right? Umm...not so much.
From the get go Wolff tried to move the team to San Jose, and then to Fremont, with all plans being scuttled by the San Francisco Giants, and without the Commissioner stepping in and handling it in any way. As Commissioner, Selig never saw it fit to solve this issue. No, instead he formed a "Blue Ribbon Committee" in March 2009 to much fanfare. Five years later, after having done literally nothing (except threatening the San Jose Mayor to force a voter initiative for a new ballpark off the ballot), it was disbanded with far less pomp.
All this may yet turn into a blessing in disguise for Oakland fans, in that Manfred and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff seem positive about a potential new A's stadium, but it begs the question: If Selig never intended to allow the A's to move to San Jose, why did he scuttle pro-Oakland groups and produce a sale of the team to his buddy who was on record as hell-bent on moving the team to San Jose?
The entire process, from 1999 (when Schott and Hoffmann first started looking for buyers) through today, was completely and intentionally bungled. The Blue Ribbon Committee was nothing but a sham; the sale to a pro-San Jose group (with no intent of actually having the Giants cede territorial rights) was a dire mistake. The inability to address the A's stadium issue in any meaningful way was an abject failure.
So here we are as A's fans, back where we were in 1999, unsure of whether the A's will be around for the foreseeable future. But hey, at least he's FINALLY gone, right?
Yeah, about that. Unfortunately, Selig's "retirement" is not a wholehearted cause for celebration among A's fans. No, in fact, Manfred has kept Bud around as "Commissioner Emeritus" -- a newly-created position that allows Selig to keep stirring the pot when he feels like it for a cool $6 million per year. I have no doubt that when there is a glimmer of hope and a chance for real progress, Selig will rear his ugly head and ruin things once more. So never mind about the "good riddance" part. And most likely the "New stadium in Oakland" part.
I don't know how the rest of the baseball world feels, but all I can say is thanks for nothing, Bud.