Bud Selig: the greatest commissioner in the history of baseball?

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Save your easy jokes. I know it’s fun to slam Bud Selig because he’s the boss, has been for a long time and thus every baseball complaint we’ve had for over 20 years is easy enough to lay at his feet. Plus he’s kinda funny in a lot of ways so that makes it even easier. Believe me, there is no Bud Selig punchline we haven’t heard.

But Jayson Stark lays out, at length, the case for Bud Selig’s legacy today. A legacy which Stark believes to be unparalleled in baseball history:

Bud Selig has been, without any dispute, the greatest and most important commissioner in the history of his sport. Period.

Again, save the jokes. And name a commissioner who has a better claim to that title. Or, at the very least, one whose legacy isn’t severely compromised by illegality, segregation, unfortunate early death or, in some cases, pure fecklessness. Happy Chandler integrated the game, but that legacy is far less his than Jackie Robinson’s and Branch Rickey’s. Really, among the nine guys who have held the title of Commissioner, Selig is pretty easily the top choice. Stark makes a good case for him. And he doesn’t let him off the hook for many of his stumbles either.

But I do feel a bit of a whitewash afoot, however unintentional it may have been on Stark’s part. And I suspect it was unintentional for the very reason Selig is such a fascinating Commissioner in the first place: his legacy and history in the game is extraordinarily complex, and thus almost impossible to capture while trying to keep things from spiraling out of control.

By way of example, Stark — while correctly noting that Selig and others in the game looked the other way on PEDs for years — lauds Selig for ultimately dealing with the PED problem more aggressively than any other sports commissioner. He also offers the defense for Selig’s past inaction that Selig has offered in the past: that he couldn’t do it alone. He had to have player cooperation. This is very true. But what’s left out of that is the reason why players were loathe to cooperate with ownership on PEDs or anything else for the great bulk of Selig’s term.

Put simply, there was zero trust between players and owners due to decades of owners doing absolutely everything they could to screw players over. The Collusion cases involved illegal conspiracies by the owners — with Selig and his ownership allies at the forefront — to hold down player salaries. To some of you it may seem like ancient history — most of the acts took place in the 1980s — but when Selig took office the Collusion cases were still very recent history. Indeed, the most recent expansion in 1998 which brought us the Rays and Diamondbacks was a direct result of those cases. The owners needed the money to pay the settlements and got it via expansion fees.

This distrust, on top of the owners still-ongoing aim of imposing a salary cap which led to the 1994-95 strike, meant that financial matters were first and foremost in every player-owner negotiation. Indeed, they could just barely deal with those (and in 1994 didn’t), meaning that there was no way they were going to get to any drug issues until at least after the last acrimonious CBA negotiation in 2002. Eliminating PEDs wasn’t a priority of ownership at all and even if ownership had pushed it, their treatment of players over the previous couple of decades would have made reaching some agreement next to impossible.

The same dynamic underlies labor peace as well, which is the primary thing Stark credits Selig for bringing. Which, yes, he did. Eventually.

While the labor battles of the 80s and 90s are often portrayed as player vs. owner, the reality is that for most of the post-free agency era, the biggest battles have been between small market owners and large market owners, and the complicated financial negotiations that led to labor strife were often a function of small market owners trying to tamp down salaries, both to help their own pocketbooks, but also to hamstring the richer, larger-market teams. Pushing back, of course, were the larger market teams who resent having to share the wealth they receive by virtue of a territorial monopoly system trying to screw the small market owners. It was only after they bruised each other for a while that proposals were put to players and even then there was a lot of owner-owner intrigue in the mix.

Selig was, unequivocally, the leader of the small-market owners in the late 80s and into the early 90s, and it was clear that their plan — to try to institute a salary cap — was the one that carried the day (what, you think Steinbrenner thought of that?). Selig led the charge to get rid of Commissioner Fay Vincent. Selig and his allies took the hard line that led to the 94-95 strike which caused the cancellation of the World Series. And of course, Selig was, by then, acting Commissioner.

So, yes, Selig brought about labor peace. But it was a peace attainable only because everyone knew how awful the alternative was. And they only knew that because Selig was the leader of the movement which led to that awful alternative in 1994.

There are other examples of this. Things which Selig is credited for doing now only because he had a hand in messing it up to begin with. We’re getting instant replay now because there have been a lot of high profile umpiring mistakes that wouldn’t have been possible but for baseball’s hesitance to get tough with umpires or adopt technology sooner. The financial success of MLBAM and local television are helping the game boom, but how much of that is because of, as opposed to in spite of Selig, is an open question (Frank McCourt cashed out of baseball a billionaire, after all; it doesn’t take a genius to make money in MLB these days).

Yet I am still inclined to agree with Stark about Selig’s primacy among baseball’s Commissioners. And not just because it’s a pretty weak field overall. I give Selig credit for many if not most of the good things baseball has done during his tenure because, hey, at least he didn’t stand in the way. And even for those items I mentioned above — the “victories” Selig claims even though they’d be impossible without his previous failures — because it speaks of a quality in leadership that is so often lacking: learning from mistakes.

Really, how many leaders actually think about, learn from and ultimately solve the problems they created? Not a ton. Most leaders declare victory no matter what happened and let their successors deal with the fallout. Maybe that wouldn’t have been as easy for Selig given how long he’s been around, but there is an undeniable humility on his part in actually trying to get things right after being wrong previously. It’s something we expect from normal people but hardly ever see and rarely even demand of leaders. The fact that Selig has learned on the job and the fact that he has grown is much to his credit.

None of that makes Selig perfect. None of it brings the 1994 World Series back or the Expos back or gets rid of Jeff Loria or keeps sewage out of the A’s clubhouse or equalizes the TV revenue the Brewers get with that the Dodgers get. But when you judge Selig you have to give him credit and blame where it is due. And on the whole, I believe Selig is running an accomplishment and leadership surplus. And, yes, compared to his predecessors, he is the greatest of all time.

Cardinals shut down Adam Wainwright with right elbow impingement

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In the wake of Thursday’s disastrous outing against the Pirates, Cardinals’ right-hander Adam Wainwright will be shut down from throwing for 10-14 days after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right elbow, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reported Saturday. Wainwright was officially placed on the 10-day disabled list on Friday with a right elbow impingement, though the club doesn’t expect him to sit out for the remainder of the regular season.

It’s been a rough stretch for the 35-year-old righty, whose last two starts have been accompanied by a noticeable dip in his velocity. Thursday’s clunker was the most telling indication of trouble, with a fastball that failed to crest 89 MPH and five earned runs scattered over three innings. It’s another unfortunate downturn in an injury-riddled season that has seen a career-worst 5.12 ERA, 3.3 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 121 1/3 innings.

Injuries and velocity issues notwithstanding, the Cardinals can’t afford to lose another starting pitcher with the division lead a mere 1.5 games within their grasp. They’ll utilize fellow right-hander Luke Weaver in Wainwright’s rotation spot for the time being and hope that rest, rather than surgery, is the key to their starter’s return.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Cubs 7, Blue Jays 4: Friday saw the Blue Jays return to Wrigley Field for their first game since 2005, and in the end, they may as well have stayed away. Jake Arrieta led the charge against Toronto, improving to a 13-8 record with 6 1/3 innings of one-run, six-strikeout ball, and even Kevin Pillar‘s eighth-inning rally couldn’t close the door against the Cubs.

Cardinals 11, Pirates 10: It just wasn’t Trevor Williams‘ night. The rookie right-hander was tagged for a career-worst eight runs in three innings, helping the Cardinals to a six-run lead by the time Steven Brault came in to relieve him in the fourth. Pittsburgh’s bullpen fared little better, propelling the club to their sixth consecutive loss and pushing them 6.5 games back of the division lead and nine games out of the NL wild card race.

Orioles 9, Angels 7: No one did more than Manny Machado on Friday night — and, during a game that saw a cumulative 10 home runs between the Orioles and Angels, that’s saying something. He started off with a two-run homer in the third inning, taking Andrew Heaney deep with a 418-foot blast into the right field stands:

In the fifth inning, with the Orioles trailing 7-4, Machado roped another 398-footer off of Heaney for Home Run No. 2:

The dinger brought Baltimore within two runs of tying the game, but they entered the ninth still down 7-5. Anthony Santander, Ryan Flaherty and Tim Beckham loaded the bases for Machado, who needed just two pitches before finding one to crush for a walk-off grand slam:

Dodgers 8, Tigers 5: The Dodgers made another push to pad their offense on Friday night, trading for Mets’ centerfielder Curtis Granderson following a decisive win over the Tigers. They didn’t appear to need any additional help toppling opposing starter Ryan Zimmerman, however, and racked up seven runs in the first six innings to earn their 86th victory lap of the year.

Marlins 3, Mets 1: Even two hours of stormy weather couldn’t put a damper on the Marlins’ road trip, which started with a bang following 5 1/3 solid innings from southpaw Justin Nicolino and a three-run spread from their offense. J.T. Realmuto stunned rookie starter Chris Flexen with a first-inning, two-RBI home run, setting a new career high with his 50th RBI of the year:

The Mets, on the other hand, extended their streak to five consecutive losses and now sit a distant 13 games out of postseason contention.

Red Sox 9, Yankees 6: The Red Sox moved a comfortable five games ahead of the Yankees on Friday, powering their second straight come-from-behind win with a monster seventh-inning rally from Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland. While almost every Red Sox-Yankees matchup has felt like a nail-biter this month, don’t expect Boston to relinquish first place that easily. They’ve won 13 of their last 15 games and taken three of four from their AL East rivals.

Mariners 7, Rays 1: The Mariners picked up their third straight win with a seven-run charge against the Rays, capping their efforts with Nelson Cruz‘s mammoth solo shot in the ninth inning:

It marked the slugger’s 30th blast of the year, making him just the fourth Mariner to record 30+ home runs in three consecutive seasons. More impressively, the homer set a new Statcast record for the longest home run recorded at Tropicana Field, at a whopping 482 feet.

Reds 5, Braves 3: It looked like it was all over for Zack Cozart in the seventh inning, when the shortstop took a fastball to his left shin. He remained on the ground for several seconds before walking to first base, but made his exit after the half inning and figures to be day-to-day while the swelling in his leg subsides. Even without their star infielder, the Reds continued to dominate the Braves, coasting to a 5-3 finish with a handful of home runs from Adam Duvall, Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker.

White Sox 4, Rangers 3: Nicky Delmonico is having himself quite the rookie campaign, slashing .382/.452/.691 with five home runs and a 1.143 OPS through his first 15 games in the majors. He padded his big league resume with his first inside-the-park home run on Friday night, clearing the bases on a first-pitch slider from Ricardo Rodriguez for his second home run of the game and the game-winning knock.

Not only did the homer help power the White Sox’ win, but it was the first rookie-engineered inside-the-park home run in almost 15 years:

Twins 10, Diamondbacks 3: Speaking of speedy outfielders legging out inside-the-park home runs, Byron Buxton stole the spotlight during the Twins’ six-homer night with his second career inside-the-parker in the fourth inning:

His 13.85-second charge around the bases set a new Statcast record for the fastest home-to-home sprint, which would be even more meaningful had he not already broken that record with a 14.05-second dash on his first inside-the-park home run last October.

Astros 3, Athletics 1: It didn’t take a big offensive surge to back Dallas Keuchel‘s gem on Friday night. The Astros’ ace held the Athletics to three hits and three strikeouts in seven strong innings, extending an impressive rebound after blowing an eight-run loss to the White Sox earlier this month. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve swatted a pair of home runs in the third inning, giving Houston just enough of an edge to clinch their 75th win of the season.

Indians 10, Royals 1: The Indians kept spinning their carousel of injured pitchers on Friday, swapping out a healthy Andrew Miller for Corey Kluber after their starter twisted his ankle during the Royals’ attempted rally in the sixth inning. Kluber’s loss didn’t slow Cleveland down for long, however, and they completed their seventh win in eight games after taking a nine-game lead over their division rivals.

Rockies 8, Brewers 4: The Rockies still top the NL wild card standings, and this time, they’re not sharing first place with anyone. They slugged their way to eight runs on Friday night, banking on big shots from Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez to secure a one-game lead over the Diamondbacks. The Brewers’ Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana, meanwhile, had more modest goals, each reaching 20 home runs in the Brewers’ losing effort.

“All my life, I’ve always wanted to hit 20 home runs,” Broxton told reporters following the loss. “I’ve never done it, and it’s nice to actually do it in the big leagues.”

Nationals 7, Padres 1: We don’t always get to pick and choose our moments in the spotlight, and for rookie right-hander Matt Grace, his moment coincided with an untimely injury to Max Scherzer. The Nats’ ace was scratched with neck inflammation prior to the game, accelerating Grace’s big league debut against San Diego. He turned in 4 1/3 scoreless innings, holding the Padres to just two hits and registering his first major league strikeout against Dusty Coleman to help the Nationals to a cushy 14-game lead in the NL East.

Giants 10, Phillies 2: The Giants could face the rest of the season without closing pitcher Mark Melancon, but at least on Friday, a solid start from Matt Moore and an explosive run by the offense was enough to single-handedly shut down the Phillies. Moore kept the Phillies off the board for 7 1/3 innings, backed by a handful of base hits and home runs from Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford to establish the club’s first double-digit win in two weeks.