Bud Selig

We don’t need to celebrate Barry Bonds, but we should avoid whitewashing baseball history


I realize that approximately 95% of you think I’m out to lunch on this whole “Don’t call Hank Aaron the Home Run King” thing I’ve been posting about over the past couple of days. I get that I am not changing any minds. I get that everyone hates Barry Bonds, I get why they do and I get the love for Hank Aaron. But what’s setting me off here isn’t some unholy love for Bonds or a vendetta against Aaron. It’s about baseball’s troubling tendency to whitewash history.

We see this all the time, especially when Bud Selig is involved. One thing he has learned very well over his 20 years as commissioner is that if certain people assert things often enough, people start to repeat it and then, most of them anyway, start to believe it. This is not something anyone can do, of course, but when you are the speaker and the leader, you get that privilege. We’ve seen it with presidents and we see it with Selig too.

Selig has been allowed to distort labor history via his characterization of the 1994-95 strike as something that just sorta happened as opposed to a strategy that he and a group of small market owners actively put in place before Fay Vincent was even deposed. We’ve seen him talk about the PED epidemic as something he long wanted to deal with but couldn’t because of player intransigence when, in reality, it was never a priority for him or the league. Many of the innovations he has championed — the All-Star Game determining home field advantage, instant replay — were things which resulted directly from his failures or failure to act, yet are portrayed as his leadership. Indeed, he and those who work for him have actively tried to erase those failures from history at times.

Again, this is not some special or evil trait of Bud Selig’s. It’s something all leaders tend to do, either intentionally, accidentally or half-passively because they’re allowed to without having anyone call them on it. It’s somehow seen as rude to call politicians, executives and leaders out on their mistakes and inconsistencies. They’re aware of this, so they simply assert that Things Are Just So, and thus they tend to become As So.

We’re seeing this happen with an entire era of baseball. Players who starred from the early 90s through the mid-2000s will be the least represented of all eras in the Hall of Fame. Records set during that time are not being recognized. The great bulk of what shaped the game over the past 20-30 years — PEDs, labor issues, financial issues and the lot — are brushed aside because they don’t fit too comfortably with a retiring commissioner whose legacy seems to matter an awful lot to an awful lot of people.

I think Selig’s legacy is a pretty good one, actually, and have argued the case before. But it’s certainly not a flawless one, and the consequences of that legacy mean that we have some uncomfortable truths to wrestle with. Things like the all-time home run champ being a cheater. Things like one of baseball’s charter franchises playing in a ballpark full of raw sewage. I think we should acknowledge those things just as much as we acknowledge the sepia-toned highlights of baseball’s past.

By writing Barry Bonds out of baseball’s history the way a lot of people, the Commissioner included, would prefer to write him out, we fail to do this and we go way too far into whitewashing history as opposed to dealing with it. That’s why I bristle when I hear the stuff I’ve heard the past few nights.

Billy Williams, Bill Murray and . . . Fall Out Boy!

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 08:  Former players Ferguson Jenkins (L) and Billy Williams of the Chicago Cubs throw out ceremonial first pitches before the Opening Day game against the Milwaukee Brewers during the Opening Day game at Wrigley Field on April 8, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball has announced the on-field ceremonial stuff for tonight’s Game 3 of the World Series. There are a couple of good things here! And one bit of evidence that, at some point when he was still commissioner, Bud Selig sold his mortal soul to a pop punk band and now the league can’t do a thing about it.

The ceremonial first pitch choice is fantastic: it’s Billy Williams, the Hall of Famer and six-time All-Star who starred for the Cubs from 1959 through 1974. Glad to see Williams here. I know he’s beloved in Chicago, but he has always seemed to be one of the more overlooked Hall of Famers of the 1960s-70s. I’m guessing not being in the World Series all that time has a lot to do with that, so it’s all the more appropriate that he’s getting the spotlight tonight. Here’s hoping Fox makes a big deal out of it and replays it after the game starts.

“Take me out to the ballgame” will be sung by the guy who, I assume, holds the title of Cubs First Fan, Bill Murray. It’ll be wacky, I’m sure.

The National Anthem will be sung by Chicago native Patrick Stump. Who, many of you may know, is the lead singer for Fall Out Boy. This continues Major League Baseball’s strangely strong association with Fall Out Boy over the years. They, or some subset of them, seem to perform at every MLB jewel event. They have featured in MLB’s Opening Day musical montages. They played at the All-Star Game this summer. Twice. And, of course, they are the creative minds behind “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark,” (a/k/a “light ’em MUPMUPMUPMUP“) which Major League Baseball and Fox used as incessant playoff bumper music several years ago. I don’t ask for much in life, but one thing I do want is someone to love me as much as Major League Baseball loves Fall Out Boy. We all do, really.

Wayne Messmer, the former public address announcer for the Cubs and a regular performer of the National Anthem at Wrigley Field will sing “God Bless America.”

Between that and Bill Murray, I think we’ve found out the Cubs strategy for dealing with Andrew Miller: icing him if he tries to straddle the 6th and 7th innings.

Imagining a daytime World Series game at Wrigley Field

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 27:  A overall shot of the scoreboard showing the postponement of the game in Baltimore because of riots before the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 27, 2015 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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Night baseball first came to the World Series in 1971, when the Pirates played the Orioles in Game 4. The last World Series game played under natural light came in 1984, when the Tigers played the Padres in Detroit in Game 5 of that year’s Fall Classic. The last World Series game played during daytime hours was Game 6 of the 1987 World Series, but that came in Minneapolis, in the Metrodome, so it was still played under artificial light. All games since then have been played in the evening hours.

Ever since, there have been periodic calls for the World Series to include day games. These appeals are often grounded in tradition and nostalgia for bright sunshine making way for long shadows. For memories of sneaking transistor radios into classrooms. For the symbolism of the sun setting on both the day at hand and the baseball season as a whole.

It’s an appealing idea. Baseball in the daytime is a wonderful, wonderful thing. And while day baseball may be occasionally miserable for fans and players in the heat of August, October afternoons are often the loveliest weather there is. There is nothing better than fall sunshine. A baseball game in that fall sunshine seems like the closest one can get to heaven on Earth.

Unfortunately, it’s a wholly unrealistic idea in this day and age. Far fewer people would actually get to watch the World Series if it were played during the day. We complain about late games lasting into the wee hours, preventing kids from watching, but how many kids are going to be able to watch a World Series game when they’re in school? Or at after school extracurricular activities? And how many people can ditch work to watch a baseball game? Some say to put one of the day games on the weekend, but that clashes with other activities and, of course, with football, which is going to win the battle for the remote in more households than baseball would.

Yes, the networks and Major League Baseball are in it for the money and the TV ratings, but the fact is that the money and the ratings are a function of more people watching baseball games in the evening, kids and grownups alike. It’s pretty straightforward, actually. More people watching baseball is better for the people and for baseball, full stop, aesthetics and commercial motivations notwithstanding. For this reason the World Series will almost certainly be played at night for the foreseeable future. And it should be.

Still . . . it’s Wrigley Field, the last bastion of day-only baseball for decades. A place where, even if they now play most games at night, still features more day baseball than anyplace else. And it’s a sunny Friday afternoon on which the temperatures will creep into the 60s. I know it would never happen and certainly won’t happen today, but the idea of an afternoon World Series game in Wrigley Field makes even a hard-headed, bottom-line-appreciating anti-nostalgist like me sorta wish today was a day game. If I close my eyes I can imagine it. I can feel the warm breeze and smell the fall afternoon air. I’m sure many of you can too.

And even if you can’t, can we agree that maybe today should be a day game simply for public health purposes? I mean, get a load of this:

These people will have been drinking for at least 11 hours come game time. Many of them for much longer. You’re probably looking at some dead men walking, here. For the sake of their livers and personal safety, this game should start at 1pm, dang it. If even that is early enough to save them.