Bud Selig

What is Bud Selig’s legacy?

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We’ve been hearing that Bud Selig would retire after 2014 for some time. But given how many times he’s backed off on retirement promises, it’s never been the smart bet to believe it. Now that it’s official, however, I think we can finally say that we’re done with Bud Selig after next year.

So: how did the old man do for the past 20 years or so?

The snap judgments will be pretty black or white, I figure. Quotes from people in and around the game about how Selig was the best commissioner of all time and the most wonderful thing since sliced bread. Columns and blog posts (and especially comments to blog posts) from people who think Selig was the antichrist. All of these will contain a kernel of truth to support their thesis and all will ignore the things which don’t.

And that’s the thing about Selig: he defies such decisive characterization. He was an amazing credit to the game at times and a gigantic source of consternation at others. Which is something you might expect for a guy who held any tough job for a couple of decades during which serial challenges came his way.

Bud Selig’s failures have been exceedingly high-profile and photo-worthy. He came onto the scene in what was more or less a coup against then-Commissioner Fay Vincent and quickly found himself embroiled in labor strife which led to the 1994-95 strike. Indeed, his ascent as commissioner was in part because he was head of the hawkish faction of owners who wanted to take a hard line with players over pocketbook issues. Later he presided over moves which rankled the purists: interleague play. Realignment. All manner of shenanigans with the All-Star Game. And, in his final years, the introduction — albeit the painfully protracted introduction — of instant reply.

Most notable among his mistakes in the game — and they remain mistakes no matter how much he attempts to wish them away via his pleading of ignorance — is the explosion of performance-enhancing drug use during his tenure. Whatever the reasons for their introduction to baseball, the league and the clubs were blind to PED use, often willfully so, for years and years. A big reason for this: baseball had other priorities such as its ultimately failed efforts to impose a salary cap or otherwise bust the union. And even if it tried to address PED use the league’s collusion against free agents in the 1980s destroyed any trust that existed between the players and the league. Collusion that was, in large part, orchestrated by Selig and like-minded owners. So no, Selig did not make any player take PEDs, but he did much to keep the league from addressing the problem.

But there’s a funny thing about all of Selig’s controversies and failures: he learned from them. Basically all of them. And from them he enacted measures which made things better than they were before.

While he was co-author of the labor apocalypse of the mid 90s, he has presided over labor peace since 1995. People forget that we came a day or two away from another strike in 2002 but it was ultimately averted. In large part because Selig lived the previous strike, learned from it and decided to pull back from the brink. Since 2002 it has been totally smooth sailing.

The same goes for PEDs. He and Major League Baseball were late to the party, sure, but once it became impossible to hide or ignore the problem Selig, with the help of a finally-amenable union, enacted drug testing. Drug testing which, despite its imperfections, stands as the most stringent in American team sports. While at times there has been amnesia and, in the view of some, grandstanding on the issue from the Commissioner’s office — most recently in the Biogenesis scandal — it cannot be denied that Selig presided over a sea change in baseball’s view of performance-enhancing drugs. Only Nixon could go to China. Only Bud Selig could forge a peace with the union and work to rid the game of PEDs.

Finally, one cannot ignore the fact that Selig did the one job he was tasked to do above all others: make money for the owners and build the game of baseball.

Baseball has grown tremendously under his watch, both from a business perspective and, in my view, in terms of the product on the field. The money flowing into the game via media rights deals are insane. While we fret about attendance around the margins, the fact remains that the days when teams near the bottom of the league averaged four-figure crowds a night — days which weren’t too terribly long ago — are but a memory. While we can quibble with the method of funding for all of those new ballparks, all of those new ballparks fundamentally changed the nature of the game-going experience. Going out to a ballgame is no longer the province of men who smell like beer and cigars and some larger family crowds on the weekend. Ballparks are filled all week with both hardcore fans and casual fans, all of whom pump tons of money into Major League Baseball’s coffers.

Maybe that bugs you, but never forget: baseball is a business, not a public trust. And Bud Selig is a CEO, basically, not a public official tasked with making you happy. He has done the job he was hired to do quite well, thank you.

Selig is far from perfect. And his blackest mark as Commissioner — the 1994-95 strike — may be a sin for which he does not deserve ultimate absolution. But one need only look at what’s going on in other sports or to imagine an alternate history in which some of baseball’s other owners took control in the early 90s like Selig did, to see how much worse things could have gone.

Bud Selig’s legacy is complicated, as anyone’s who has held his job for as long as he has would be. But on the whole he has been a good commissioner with some bad marks, not a bad commissioner with some good points. And when he goes into the Hall of Fame next year or whenever that happens, it will be well-deserved. For even if you don’t like Bud Selig, you cannot deny the mark he has made on the game of baseball.

A Twins player confronted a Twins announcer about what he said on a broadcast

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We seem to get a story like this from a struggling team every couple of years. This year it’s the Twins and the story is about words said by one of the Twins players to Fox Sports North broadcaster Dick Bremer. From Mike McFeely of WDAY radio, who spoke to Bremer recently:

Surprisingly, Bremer said one player has confronted him this season about being too critical of the team. Bremer wouldn’t name the player.

“I make it a practice to go in the clubhouse every day and go down on the field, so if a player has a complaint about something I’ve said on television they have that opportunity,” Bremer said. “I was confronted in the clubhouse in the last homestand. I didn’t say what I wanted to say, which was, ‘Well, play better and the commentary will be more positive.’ You can’t mask the fact this team is a quarter of the way through the season with 10 wins.”

The whole article is interesting because it gives several examples of Bremer and his colleague, Bert Blyleven, being critical. Depending on which instance — and there were likely many not mentioned here — blowback from players may have more or less justification.

On the one hand, simply saying a player executed a given play poorly or saying that the team was performing poorly is a simple fact. On the other, an example was given in which Blyleven questioned why Phil Hughes was taken out of a game. It was only later revealed that he was experiencing shoulder soreness, but it was suggested that Blyelven was questioning his toughness at the moment. I agree with Bremer that if the players don’t want to be criticized they should play better. But it crosses a line in my mind when poor play is used to imply poor or weak character, especially when not all facts are known. Not all situations are the same.

Overall, though, despite the complaint of this anonymous Twins player, I think local broadcasts are too deferential to the home team far too often. The broadcasters have seen more baseball than almost every viewer and in many cases played it. I don’t think it’s out of line for them to offer objective, informed criticism of bad play even if that’s out of fashion in today’s world. That they seem very clearly pressured by the clubs with whom their employers are partnered to do otherwise is a shame and does a disservice to viewers.

And heck. It’s boring too.

Ryan Vogelsong placed on the DL with facial fractures

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 23: Ryan Vogelsong #14 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is carted off the field after being hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Jordan Lyles #24 of the Colorado Rockies in the second inning during the game at PNC Park on May 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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The Pirates have announced that starter Ryan Vogelsong has been placed on the 15-day disabled list due to facial fractures.

Vogelsong suffered the fractures yesterday afternoon when he was batting and was hit by a pitch by Colorado Rockies starter Jordan Lyles. Vogelsong, was taken off the field on a cart and admitted to a local hospital. A.J. Schugel has been recalled from Triple-A to take Vogelsong’s place on the roster.

The Padres National Anthem debacle explained

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Outsports has what should be the final word about Saturday’s National Anthem debacle at Petco Park before the Dodgers-Padres game.

The upshot: it was not, not surprisingly, a homophobic conspiracy. Rather It was a series of unfortunate occurrences and dumb mistakes, once again validating the old saying about how one need not look to evil motives when mere stupidity can explain things. This is one of those times. Go read the post for the entire explanation. The short version of that is that, like a lot of anthem singers, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus was to sing along with a backing tape of themselves performing the anthem. The DJ in charge of it played the wrong date’s backing tape. He played the one from the female singer the night before.

In addition, Outsports spoke with that DJ — DJ Artform — who is embarrassed by his mistake and by not doing anything to correct it in the moment. DJ Artform was a contractor and his relationship with the Padres was terminated.

So that seems to be that. Until the next thing anyway. There is always a next thing.

Cubs release Shane Victorino

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File this under “not terribly surprising,” but Shane Victorino was released from his minor league contract with the Cubs yesterday after batting .233/.324/.367 through nine games with Triple-A Iowa. Victorino says he does not plan on retiring, however, and that he plans to try to latch on someplace else.

It’ll be a supreme long shot. Victorino, 35, Victorino suffered a calf injury during spring training and missed all of spring training. Last year he played in only 71 games between the Red Sox and Angels, and 30 in 2014 with the Red Sox. He was last healthy and effective in 2013. In a league where older players don’t do as well as they used to, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to find a gig.

If this is the end of the road for the Flyin’ Hawaiian, he’ll finish with a career batting line of .2750/.340/.425 with 108 homers, 489 RBI, 231 stolen bases and four Gold Glove Awards in 12 seasons. He also has two World Series rings, from the 2008 Phillies and the 2013 Red Sox. He was a two-time All-Star.

Maybe not the way he wanted to end his career, if this is indeed the end, but Victorino had a fine career while it lasted.