Craig Calcaterra

Ichiro Suzuki

The Marlins have offered a one-year, $2 million deal to Ichiro

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Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that the Marlins have offered a one-year contract to free agent outfielder Ichiro Suzuki worth $2 million.

Ichiro has reportedly drawn interest from several teams, but the Marlins are the ones who pop up the most in rumors. It’s hard to imagine he’ll do much better than a one-year, $2 million deal. It’s possible to imagine Miami finding another backup outfielder for around that price. So you have to figure Ichiro jumps soon or the Marlins move on.

Bud Selig: The Greatest Commissioner in the History of Baseball

Bud Selig
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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.

MLB and the umpires reach a five-year labor agreement

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs Baltimore Orioles
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There was a time when the umpires and Major League Baseball didn’t get along that well when it came to labor stuff. Then, one day, the umpires union had the brilliant idea of mass resignations as a means of attempting to create bargaining leverage. Major League Baseball happily accepted the resignations of the umps it didn’t like but had no real power to fire, re-hired the ones they did like and went on its merry way. Since then: ump-league labor peace.

So you will not be shocked that, for the fourth time since that ill-advised gambit, the union and the league have reached a new labor deal with little muss nor fuss:

Major League Baseball owners and the World Umpires Association, the exclusive bargaining representative of all full-time Major League Umpires, have both officially ratified a five-year labor agreement, the parties announced today.  The pact covers the 2015-2019 seasons.

I figure we’re two or three more cycles until institutional memory of 1999 is wiped out and someone with the umpires union gets it in their head that they have any real power in this relationship. Until then, smooth sailing.

 

The 18th greatest GM of all time was the son of the “Well, nobody’s perfect!” guy in “Some Like it Hot”

pirates logo
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Mark Armour and Dan Levitt have written a book: In Pursuit of Pennants, which examines how front offices have historically found innovative ways to build winning teams. In support of that, they are counting down the top-25 GMs of all time over at their blog. Since it’s slow season, I’m going to continue linking to the countdown as it’s great stuff we rarely read about in the normal course.

Who helped build three World Series champions in Pittsburgh? Joe L. Brown, that’s who. The son of the comedian Joe E. Brown — himself famous for uttering the “Well, nobody’s perfect!” line from “Some Like it Hot” — reigned as head of the Buccos from 1955 through 1976.

Brown took over for Branch Rickey and helped turn the Pirates from laughingstocks into champions. Then, when that 1960 championship teamed proved not to have enough momentum, he reloaded throughout the 60s, resulting in the 1971 championship team. That group kept the high level of play up, getting restocked with fresh talent on a regular basis, and winning multiple NL East crowns. After Brown retired, that group held together through the 1979 championship.

Bill Madlock credited Brown with creating the “Fam-a-lee” of that Willie Stargell and Sister Sledge would make famous. Maybe he didn’t help them gel the way Stargell did in the clubhouse, but there would be no talent there to gel if it weren’t for Joe L. Brown.

And now your annual “Dontrelle Willis has signed with _____” post

Washington Nationals v Baltimore Orioles
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To be followed in, say, early March with a “Dontrelle Willis released by ___” post and subsequent “Dontrelle Willis signed by ____” post come June. We may overlook the “Dontrelle Willis released by ____” post in September, as those tend to get lost in the shuffle:

He has not pitched in the bigs since 2011. He has not been a good big league pitcher since 2006.