He permeates the game like a bad case of chronic halitosis in an elevator. His grimy fingerprints can be found all over shady business deals and litigation across baseball. His words are hollow, his cries for fairness and a level playing field are defy reality, and he is as arrogant a liar as Pete Rose. And even though he left the business years ago, he still dresses and acts like a slimy used car salesman trying to pawn a lemon off on some unsuspecting rube. His name is Bud Selig, and he is the archenemy of the grand old game of baseball.
There have been dumber commissioners, Bowie Kuhn chief among them. Kuhn not only lacked the foresight to recognize a shift in the way the game was being played, but he stubbornly resisted the realities of free agency. There have been more dictatorial ones. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was an ardent racist who felt it was more important to keep the reserve clause intact and black folks in their proper place while reminding everyone he was the ultimate arbiter of any dispute. Bart Giamatti, the very model of arrogance, was a pseudo-intellectual twerp who used to quote Greek philosophers in an attempt to mask his own vanity, lack of originality, and overt sense of superiority.
Yet, throughout the history of the game, there has never been another commissioner as self-serving and able to speak out of both sides of his mouth as Bud Selig. At once he has said baseball is going through a golden age while also lamenting the supposedly insidious intrusion of steroids – under his watch, no less. He pisses and whines about inflating free agent contracts, but sits back and secretly sighs with satisfaction as every club grows in real value every single season because of the increasing value of the players – the game’s very commodity – that he publicly vilifies.
When a city balks at building a new stadium, he bitches about how the game cannot survive anywhere where the locals aren’t willing to dig deep and finance a cathedral to the game of baseball. He then has the nerve to turn around and say that the game is there to serve the fans. He hypocritically shuns Pete Rose, would rather pretend Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens didn’t exist, and behaves as if the nefarious Donald Fehr and the MLBPA have robbed him and the rest of the owners of their rightful profits. He likes to trump the success of the wild card in baseball, bleat the virtues of the World Baseball Classic, and rambles on about how wonderful the game is. Yet, at every turn Bud Selig has proven himself to be one of the more disruptive and mendacious commissioners the game has ever seen.
Selig got his start in baseball as a minority owner of the Milwaukee Braves in the 1950’s. When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1965, Selig divested himself of the team and began actively lobbying for a new team in Milwaukee. In 1969 he reached an agreement to buy the Chicago White Sox, but after American League officials caught wind of his intent to move the Sox to Milwaukee, the deal was nixed. Instead, in 1970 he purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee where he renamed them Brewers after an old minor league club that dated back to the 1880’s.
For most of their history the Brewers were a profitable, but shitty franchise. They made the playoffs in 1981 and the World Series in 1982, but beyond that, they were at best a mediocre team. Selig was a competent and profitable owner and even considered a hero by some folks in Milwaukee for giving them a team while successfully fleecing them for a new stadium. But as commissioner, he raised the art of being a sneaky fuck to new heights, especially when it comes to labor relations.
From the mid-1970’s forward, the players have beaten the living shit out of the owners at the negotiating table. Mostly it was because Marvin Miller was 10-times smarter than any of the fools he was sitting across the table from. Miller, a shrewd and sophisticated labor lawyer, had been a part of trilateral negotiations between steel workers, the government and US Steel in the 1950’s and had been involved in some of the most complicated contracts the free world has seen. By comparison, men like Bud Selig and the rest of the owners were dogshit on the heel of Miller’s shoe. After Miller retired, the players union was taken over in 1985 by his lieutenant, Donald Fehr, a bare-knuckled negotiator in his own right who continued the union’s winning streak through the 80’s, 90’s and today.
After badly losing to the players in 1981, the owners colluded against the players mid-decade and made a gentlemen’s agreement in blatant violation of the collective bargaining agreement (and the law) not to sign anyone else’s free agents. Selig and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf were the chief architects of the strategy and when Fehr took the owners to court, the owners ended up having to pay $280-million in damages to the players. While Selig never publicly admitted to collusion, his fingerprints were everywhere and Fehr quietly chuckled.
In 1992 labor relations flared up again. Commissioner Fay Vincent — the last real commissioner baseball has seen — pissed the owners off to holy high heaven when he gave an honest assessment of the owners he had been hired to represent at the negotiating table. “The Union basically doesn’t trust the Ownership,” said Vincent, “because collusion was a $280 million theft by Selig and (Jerry) Reinsdorf of that money from the players. I mean, they rigged the signing of free agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the players. And I think that’s polluted labor relations in baseball ever since it happened. I think it’s the reason Fehr has no trust in Selig.”
Selig and Reinsdorf went completely apeshit and demanded Vincent’s resignation. At first Vincent told them to eat a dog dick, but in the end the owners held a no confidence vote. By a score of 18-9 Vincent was effectively pushed out and in his place went Selig on an “interim” basis that lasted for six years. He passed on “ownership” of the Brewers to his daughter to avoid a conflict of interest, but anyone who believes that Selig was anything less than fully involved in his team’s finances is more delusional than someone fucks crack whores and thinks he got dick warts from his wife.
Throughout the next two years Selig and the owners cried and whined to anyone who would listen that the players were sucking them dry while agents were holding guns to their heads and forcing them to give guys like Bobby Bonilla and Matt Young inflated long-term contracts. The owners needed to be saved from the nefarious clutches of the evil Donald Fehr and a salary cap had to be put in place to save teams in smaller markets such as Kansas City, Oakland, Minnesota, and of course, Selig’s and Jeff Dahmer’s home town, Milwaukee.
In 1994 with labor relations at an impasse, Selig and the owners decided to lock horns with the Players Association again. This time the owners were determined to win at all costs, even if it meant canceling the World Series for the first time since 1904. So they did. After the players went on strike that August, the owners refused to negotiate in good faith and waited until September before canceling the season and the playoffs. In turn, Selig successfully played the media, blamed the players for being greedy, was complicit in destroying a relatively well run and locally owned franchise in Montreal, and helped devastate attendance figures and the game’s popularity across North America. Then, in the ultimate insult to paying fans, Selig and the owners tried to field replacement players at the beginning of the 1995 season.
No less a legendary figure than Tigers manager Sparky Anderson refused to go along with the charade. Calling the replacements everything but a group of wannabes, retards and baseball invalids, Anderson refused to even manage the Tigers in Spring Training. Calling the tactic shameful for the game of baseball, Anderson called a press conference, announced he was going home to play golf, driving off into the sunset to sip scotch and try to fuck his wife until the lockout was ended.
Eventually, as happened in 1972, 1981 and 1985, the owners got their asses handed to them, but not until after they tried to game the system one last time. Selig and the owners tried to wipe out the existing collective bargaining agreement and abolish free agency in one fell swoop by declaring it null and void. Except they forgot about the National Labor Relations Board and had their asses handed to them in federal court when a judge put the old agreement back in place.
He loves to take credit for the Wild Card entries, which have been phenomenally successful providing five World Series champs since its inception in the mid-90’s. However, Selig was an ardent opponent of the system while Fay Vincent was in charge. Vincent was looking to institute the idea in the early 90’s, but Selig and Reinsdorf undermined Vincent’s authority at every turn only to implement ideas he championed after the fact. Selig loves to talk about the success of small market clubs. Yet, it was only a few years ago that he commissioned a “Blue Ribbon Panel” that carted out a lot of specious numbers that said small market teams were unable to compete under current economic conditions. When asked about the Oakland Athletics ability to win 90 or more games year in and year out, Selig called them an anomaly. When the Twins did it, he called it a fluke. When the Marlins won the World Series in 2003, he called it a great story about a scrappy underdog. When the Tigers turned their franchise around, he called it heroic or some such shit, but he has never backed off his stance that baseball needs a salary cap to control spending despite the fact that teams like the Yankees, Mets and Dodgers may spend in bunches but don’t automatically win the World Series.
During the 2001 labor battle Selig contended that Major League Baseball needed to contract two clubs – the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins – for the financial health of the game. Of course Selig was remiss to mention that Twins owner Carl Pohlad, one of the richest men in baseball and one of his Selig’s closest friends, was demanding that the state of Minnesota along with the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul needed to build him a new stadium without him contributing a dime of his own money. Pohlad was bitching that the Twins were at a competitive disadvantage because they did not have a baseball-only stadium. Selig also failed to mention that the owners were going to buy Pohlad out of his stake in baseball with an over-valued cash payout while falsely claiming that fans in Minnesota didn’t give a shit about
the club enough to come to games.
The case surrounding the Expos was even more heartbreaking. For years Montreal management regularly drafted, acquired, signed or developed some of the best raw talent the game has seen in the last 30 years. Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Steve Rogers, Jeff Reardon, Andres Gallarraga, Cliff Floyd, Moises Alou, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Jose Vidro, Larry Walker, John Wetteland, Ken Hill, Randy Johnson, Tim Wallach, Michael Barrett and Marquis Grissom all passed through Montreal on their way to stardom, riches and in some cases, World Series titles.
From 1979 through 1983 the Expos were among the attendance leaders in baseball. The team was locally owned, well run, profitable, and winning. In the early-90’s Sports Illustrated wondered if the World Series would be an all-Canadian affair as the Toronto Blue Jays won consecutive titles and the Expos were knocking on the door and armed with the best farm system in baseball. In 1994, with one of the best young lineups ever assembled, the Expos were poised for a pennant run and had the best record in baseball. Armed with Pedro Martinez, Ken Hill, Walker, Moises Alou, Grissom, Wetteland and a very young Cliff Floyd, the Expos were dominating the National League while also lobbying the local government for help with a new stadium.
Yet, with the cancellation of the post-season the Expos lost all support for a new stadium, watched their attendance shit the bed, and the local owners were forced to sell off their best players to stay solvent. Shortly thereafter, the owners sold the team to an art dealer named Jeffrey Loria who immediately demanded, with the explicit support of Selig, that the provincial government completely finance a new stadium to replace the white elephant Olympic Stadium, and then began to hint that he would move the franchise if he did not get what he wanted. In the end, Selig allowed Loria to sell the club off to Major League Baseball at an inflated price, buy the Florida Marlins and then literally strip the Expos of everything of value that wasn’t bolted down including the office furniture and computers before the Expos were
awkwardly taken over by MLB and forced to play with both hands tied behind their backs. Even when the club competed the team was not allowed to make stretch run trades or September callups that might have kept the team in the pennant race. However, the owners had no problem with sending the Expos on road trips for extended periods by having them play “home games” in fucking Puerto Rico, of all places, all but ensuring the club would be exhausted, spent and dull when it came time for them to play “contenders” that they out hustled, out worked, outplayed and out-thought all season long.
To make up for it Selig hired Omar Minaya as general manager of the team, making him the first Latino chief executive in baseball, Selig cynically made it impossible for Minaya to make significant changes to the club. Except for trading blue chippers Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore – and two of Cleveland’s current cornerstones — for Bartolo Colon; Selig and the rest of the owners hamstrung Minaya. It took years, but the Expos were finally relocated to Washington DC where Peter Angelos had to be paid off with the blood of 500 first-born male children before he would allow another club into his competitive territory. Now, the Nationals are maybe the worst team in baseball. What’s more, a community that was reasonably loyal to the club was robbed of their team while the owners pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars while
jiggering the competitive balance of the game.
As for steroids, everyone, including Selig, the sportswriters, the players, the fans, the general managers, the mangers, everyone who is involved in and loves the game is to blame for this one. No one is saying that Selig and the owners actually peddled dope to the players. Guys were juicing up long before Selig took the stage. But let’s be honest, when the home runs were being jacked, the tickets were being sold, and Mike Lupica was licking Mark McGwire’s balls, no one gave a shit that Ken Caminiti was pumping himself full of Mexican horse hormones to fuel his MVP season in 1998. When Brady Anderson hit 52 home runs from the leadoff spot after never hitting more than maybe 15 in his entire life, no one lifted a finger to bring an end to steroid use, least of all Selig. Of course he would cart out the usual chestnuts about how there needed to be comprehensive testing and that the game needed to be clean and that the world will collapse unless he and the owners could check the blood, urine, spinal fluid and hair strands of every player in baseball for any illicit substances. But in reality, the owners shrugged, collected the cash and then pointed the finger when the rumors started flying.
The popular sentiment is to blame the Players Association because for years both Miller and Fehr resisted drug testing, and rightfully so. It’s an invasion of privacy and the only reason the owners ask for it is so they have more leverage with the players during collective bargaining and free agent negotiations, not to keep the game “clean.” If it was all about fair play and keeping the game clean, blacks would have been playing in the majors back in 1924, the reserve clause would have been abolished during the 30’s, and Curt Flood would not have had his life ruined for having the nerve to demand the right to sell his services to the highest bidder instead of being sold like chattel.
No, the owners, with Bud Selig championing their cause, applauded the players during the 90’s as record profits rained down and the game’s image was re-established, but when the bill for it came due they pointed the finger at convenient targets like Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and claimed that it was the players who “did this to the game.” Ironically, Selig and every one else was willing to smile and clap until Barry Bonds came along and knocked Big Mac out of the all-time single season home run record. When Bonds hit number 71 everyone in baseball began to look at each other out of the corner of their eyes and go, “what the fuck do we do now?” It wasn’t because he was black, per se, but more about him being a vile person that no one liked, the zeal of FBI agent Jeff Novitzky’s investigation of BALCO, and Congress sticking their nose into the business of baseball instead of investigating torture allegations during the middle of an illegal
As it stands now, Selig has the nerve to ignore Barry Bonds after he achieved baseball immortality and smashed Henry Aaron’s all-time home run record and denounce all the players upon whom his finances have been reliant. Selig, who is on the record as a close personal friend of Aaron’s, has tried to keep himself above the fray even though he is swimming in money earned from the halycon days that baseball is enjoying. This last year alone saw Selig earn over $18 million in salary and bonuses from the owners. He also has the audacity to tell Newsday, “I don’t want to hear the commissioner turned a blind eye to this or he didn’t care about it. That annoys the you-know-what out of me. You bet I’m sensitive to the criticism. The reason I’m so frustrated is if you look at our whole body of work, I think we’ve come farther than anyone ever dreamed possible. I honestly don’t know how anyone could have done more than we’ve already done” while saying that
Alex Rodriguez of all people has “disgraced the game.”
While the players are certainly responsible for the choices they made, and while the debate about the philosophical implications of steroids can go on forever, this entire mess ultimately falls at the feet of the person who claims to be the head of baseball and repeatedly bleats his own accomplishments while shouting down any criticism. Selig and the owners effectively went back on an agreement to keep the 2003 sample steroid tests confidential, have denied their own culpability for baseball’s problems, and have used the Mitchell Report (a wholly incomplete and one-sided document) to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the problems baseball faces.
The problem here is that Selig helped spearhead and champion this entire situation. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he did look the other way, he was not okay with steroid testing for the good of the game, but rather okay with it as a tool to break the union. He is not sensitive to the needs of the fans, nor does he really give a shit about the communities that support them. This is and always has been a money deal for him, and even the hardest core of fans needs to understand that these leagues and sports are not about the ideal of fair competition of dream fulfillment nor even representations of the best in people, they have gone way beyond that. These sports leagues are multi-billion-dollar monopolies that will be guarded by those involved at all costs and are being helped along by our own