Bud Selig: The Greatest Commissioner in the History of Baseball

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On Sunday, Rob Manfred will officially take over as the 10th Commissioner of Baseball, succeeding Bud Selig, who has held the post, officially or in acting commissioner capacity, for 23 years. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be assessing Selig’s past, predicting Manfred’s future and generally summing up the State of the Game as we witness the transition of power.

Bud Selig is the greatest commissioner in baseball’s history. I and some others first claimed that about a year ago, and I see no reason to change that assessment. The executive summary of the Case for Bud, keeping in mind that his job has been to serve baseball as a sport and the owners as a favored constituency, not to make the general citizenry happy:

  • Since the 1994-95 strike, he has reigned over two decades of labor peace, with multiple collective bargaining agreements being ratified without a work stoppage;
  • Baseball’s attendance has skyrocketed, with teams averaging over 2.5 million tickets sold a year, whereas when he took over half the teams didn’t even draw two million;
  • Tremendous revenue growth. Baseball is now a nearly $10 billion a year industry. Revenues were just over a billion a year when he took over. More significantly to the owners, the value of franchises — the appreciation of which is how these guys make serious money — have gone through the roof;
  • A near complete turnover of the ballpark inventory in the game. With a couple of exceptions, every team that has wanted a new ballpark has gotten one and damn few of them have had to pay for most or, in a lot of cases, any of these palaces;
  • The successful adoption and exploitation of online media and online platforms which is unmatched in professional sports. Indeed, MLB Advanced Media serves as the digital platform for many other sports and entertainment outlets;
  • Innovations like the wild card, interleague play and expanded playoffs which, while distressing to baseball purists, have helped drive those revenue and ticket sales increases and — maybe more significantly — shook baseball out of the mindset that nothing can be changed in the game without an act of God and the ghost of Honus Wagner appearing to 18 of the 30 owners in a vision on the top of a mountain; and
  • The taming — relatively speaking — of the performance enhancing drug scourge that peaked in baseball in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Those are a lot of accomplishments.

Now, to be clear, a lot of those things don’t do much for us as fans or the public at large and many of them may actually tick us off. But again, it was not Bud Selig’s job to serve the public. It was his job to serve 30 franchise owners and to make sure fans and players aren’t alienated enough to where those 30 owners lose money. By that measure Selig has been astoundingly successful, especially compared to his mostly feckless and sometimes calamitous predecessors.

Now to be clear, Part II: many of those innovations and accomplishments were only made possible by Selig’s own past failures. We would not think much of labor peace — nor would it be as attainable — if Selig had not spearheaded the group of owners who (a) overthrew former commissioner Fay Vincent; (b) installed Selig in his place; and (c) declared war against the union and fomented the player’s strike which cost us the 1994 World Series.

Likewise, PEDs would not have gotten to the crisis point they became if Selig and his comrades had not ignored it as it took hold and created an atmosphere of rancor and distrust with the players which prevented either side from addressing PEDs before, say, dealing with all of the messed up financial issues.

Finally, some may say that all of that revenue growth and success baseball has seen in the past 20 years would’ve happened with or without Selig. Maybe. I think such a position underestimates just how easy it is for someone to meddle with a good thing, but I won’t claim that Bug Selig merely waved a magic wand and caused money to come out of everyone’s ears.

All of that amounts to a bit of a complicated legacy to be sure. After all, if one solves the problems he himself created, does that make one a success?

For the time being — at least until any and all skeleton’s from Selig’s commissioner closet come to light — I’m going to say yes. At least in the case of professional sports management where ego reigns supreme and hardly anyone at the highest executive levels are ever punished for their failures.

Selig could’ve decided in 1995 that, even if his labor tactics had failed, he was right and everyone was wrong and they could all go to hell if they thought differently. He could’ve limped along as commissioner for a couple of years, earning a seven and then eight-figure salary before being fired by his fellow owners. He could’ve then returned to running the Milwaukee Brewers — which he still owned, and which were managed by his daughter — and counted his money for the rest of his days. It’s the path a lot of baseball owners would’ve taken, I reckon.

But Selig didn’t do that. While never publicly and fully admitting his failures in words, he attempted to atone for them in deed. The former labor hawk reached a peace with the player’s union with whom he had done battle for so long. A peace that, eventually, turned into the closest thing to a partnership baseball had ever seen. He pushed baseball owners — a conservative group by nature — to try new things. When he could’ve just counted all of the money he and his friends were making in the resurgent late 90s and early 2000s — a game made resurgent due to Mac and Sammy and Chicks Digging the Longball — he decided that it was worth risking killing that golden goose by beginning to take a hard line on PEDs.

No, these changes were not out of the goodness of his heart. They were motivated by money and, in the case of PEDs, Congressional and P.R. pressure — but they were changes he didn’t have to make. Remember: he could’ve just taken his bag of money back to Milwaukee. Instead of doing that he attempted to learn from his past mistakes and take a different course of action than almost anyone in the exclusive baseball owners club would, naturally, be inclined to take. He decided to look to the future, not the past. This is almost unheard of in the history of the baseball executive class.

And all of it amounts to Bud Selig being the best commissioner in the history of baseball. Maybe not your favorite commissioner. Maybe the competition for the title isn’t that fierce either. But Bud won it, fair and square. And as he leaves office this weekend, it’s worth remembering it.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Red Sox 9, Indians 1: Doug Fister put forth a dogged performance last night, tossing a complete game one hitter, with his only mistake a leadoff solo homer surrendered to Francisco Lindor in the third pitch of the game. After that: nine full innings of no-hit ball which doesn’t technically count for anything special but which was pretty darn cool all the same. Eduardo Nunez drove in five behind him with a three-run homer and a two-run double. Jackie Bradley, Jr. doubled. Fister, however, was obviously the top dog here.

Yankees 13, Tigers 4: Since the Rays’ Logan Morrison said that Sanchez should not be in the Home Run Derby Sanchez has hit 12 dingers to Morrison’s five. Last night Sanchez homered twice. One of them went nearly 500 dang feet. I’d say he’s vindicating the choice pretty well. Masahiro Tanaka allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings in his first appearance since hitting the DL with shoulder inflammation. Nicholas Castellanos hit two homers in a losing cause for Detroit, including an inside-the-park homer with two outs in the ninth, giving the masochists sho hung around something to cheer for.

Cubs 13, Reds 9: A weird day for Chicago: Ben Zobrist was scratched from the starting lineup because he was late getting back from an offday in Nashville because he misplaced his rental car. There’s probably more to that story but let’s leave it go for now. Late in the game Kris Bryant suffered a minor injury which caused Joe Maddon to put Anthony Rizzo at third base for an inning because it was “fun.” Really:

“Looking at it, the only thing left was (catcher Alex) Avila at third, which is no fun, or Rizzo at third and Avila at first, which is fun, and that’s why we did it,” Maddon said.

Oh that wacky Joe Maddon.

As for the game, the Cubs were down 6-3 after five innings but rallied for ten runs in the final four to win it going away. Zobrist hit a double as a pinch hitter late. No word on whether he got lost on the way back to the team hotel.

Dodgers 8, Pirates 5: The Dodgers used six pitchers in the game without any of them going more than two innings. Their disabled list — the disabled list! — right now has a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Wood, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Yu Darvish and Julio Urias. Doesn’t matter, though. Nothing seems to stop them. Here the offense propelled them. Chris Taylor had three hits and drove in three runs. Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run homer. In the sixth, Adrian Gonzalez got his 2,000th career hit and was promptly knocked in by Corey Seager to put the Dodgers up for good.

Marlins 12, Phillies 8; Marlins 7, Phillies 4: This doubleheader was a home run fest, as the teams combined for 14 bombs in the two games. Giancarlo Stanton hit his 46th homer and Ichiro — Ichiro? — hit a pinch-hit three-run bomb in the first game. Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto hit homers too. In the nightcap Ozuna went deep again and Christian Yelich joined him. Yelich likewise robbed the Phillies’ Nick Williams of a homer with a sweet grab over the fence.

Athletics 6, Orioles 4: Ryon Healy hit two homers and Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis joined him. Three of those homers came off of Ubaldo Jimenez, who has given up 29 this year. A’s starter Paul Blackburn was cruising with four shutout innings under his belt when he was hit on the wrist by a comebacker in the fifth and was forced to leave the game. X-rays came back negative, however, which is a positive.

Diamondbacks 7, Mets 4: J.D. Martinez hit a first inning three-run homer and Patrick Corbin allowed one run on four hits over eight innings. Reliever Matt Koch struggled in the ninth, allowing three runs, which set the stage for Fernando Rodney to get a cheap as hell save by tossing only two pitches.

Rays 6, Blue Jays 5: Chris Archer struck out ten in six innings and Lucas Duda and Corey Dickerson homered. This is, based on just my gut, having done the recaps, as opposed to looking at the actual schedule, the 135th time the Rays and Jays have played this season.

Braves 4, Mariners 0: Lucas Sims allowed three runs over six shutout innings and three relievers completed the blanking. Nick Markakis homered and singled in a run. The Braves also scored on a play that featured multiple rundowns:

I wish I could hear Skip Caray call that one.

Twins 4, White Sox 1Jorge Polanco homered for the third time in two days and Kyle Gibson turned in his best start of the season, allowing one run over seven while striking out eight. If the season ended today the Twins would be the AL’s second Wild Card team. Also if the season ended today, the World Series would take place in September, which would be hella weird.

Nationals 4, Astros 3: Howie Kendrick tripled in two and Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer as the Nats came back from an early 2-0 deficit. The Nats don’t play the Astros often, but they have beaten them in nine straight meetings dating back to 2012. It’s 13 of 14 if you count back to 2011. Houston was in the NL in 2011 and 2012, of course. They should still be there but I suppose that’s the topic of another rant.

Royals 3, Rockies 2: The Indians scored one run on only one hit in their loss to Boston. The Rockies scored two runs on two hits in their loss to Kansas City. Here Danny Duffy allowed only one hit, but it was a two-run homer to Nolan Arenado, which followed a walk. By then the Royals had scored three thanks to a passed ball, an infield single and an RBI double. After that four Royals relievers kept Colorado hitless for the final three frames.

Padres 12, Cardinals 4Yangervis Solarte drove in six runs thanks to a couple of RBI doubles — one which cleared the bases — and a two-run homer. Austin Hedges added a two-run homer and Matt Szczur singled in a couple as the Padres romped. They were getting a lot of bad mojo out of their system, too. Coming in to this game the Padres had scored only six runs over their previous four games combined and Solarte had only driven in six runs in the previous two weeks.

Angels 10, Rangers 1Albert Pujols hit his 610th career homer — a three-run shot — passing Sammy Sosa for 8th on all-time list, and for first on the all-time list for homers from a foreign-born player. He also doubled in a run. Ricky Nolasco only allowed one run but couldn’t make it five innings, so he didn’t get the win. Three Angels relievers shut Texas out over the final four and a third, however.

Brewers 4, Giants 3: Travis Shaw hit a two-out double in the seventh inning to bring the Brewers back from behind and give manager Craig Counsel his 200th win. The Giants are bad, folks.

Aaron Judge’s record strikeout streak ends at 37 games

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For the first time in a month and a half, Aaron Judge went an entire game without striking out, ending his record streak at 37 games. Judge had an RBI single and three walks in Tuesday night’s 13-4 victory over the Tigers.

Judge went 1-for-4 with a solo home run and zero strikeouts in a 9-4 loss to the Brewers on July 7. Between July 8 and August 20, Judge would strike out in all 37 games, breaking the record previously held by Adam Dunn, who struck out in the first 32 games of the 2012 season. If one counted streaks extending into multiple seasons, Dunn held the record at 36 games as he struck out in his final four games in 2011 as well.

After Tuesday’s performance, Judge is now hitting .284/.417/.594 with 37 home runs, 81 RBI, and 93 runs scored in 525 plate appearances on the season. He’s had a particularly rough second half, as he entered Tuesday with a .684 OPS since the All-Star break, a far cry from his 1.139 OPS before the break.