The former Chicago Tribune/MLB.com reporter Phil Rogers tweeted today that he has ghost-written a Bud Selig autobiography which will be published in July 2019. It will be called “For the Good of the Game” and can be pre-ordered now.
I’ll be charitable enough to Selig to say that it will likely contain a lot of interesting stories. Love him or hate him, he has been one of the most important and influential baseball figures in the past 50 years. He has taken a central role in most major baseball developments since the 1960s and bore witness to just about every other one. The guy has seen some things and I’m sure he has some interesting stories.
What it will not be, however, is anything approaching a useful history of baseball during that time.
As I have written here many times, Selig has never — not once — owned up to his role in some of baseball’s darkest chapters. Quite the contrary, actually. He has engaged in abject denial about his role, even going so far as to cast his largest failures as successes. He has been able to get away with it thanks to a largely compliant and sometimes complicit media which has taken his and/or the league’s side of the story in a largely uncritical fashion most of the time.
Sure, the media has hammered Selig for some blunders — malapropisms and minor P.R. problems and embarrassments like the tied All-Star Game in 2002 — but rarely is he properly blamed for his more malign acts and he has never taken responsibility for them. For example:
- Selig was one of the primary architects of collusion in the 1980s yet has largely skated on it. More than skated, actually. He gets credit for expansion to Colorado, Miami, Arizona and Tampa Bay but rarely is it noted that the primary motivation for said expansion was to pay off the legal judgments leveled at Major League Baseball’s owners for said collusion;
- He is often criticized for presiding over the league as acting commissioner when the World Series was cancelled due to the 1994-95 players’ strike, but rarely is it noted that the strike was the direct result of Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf’s aggressive scheme to break the union and impose a salary cap rather than negotiate with the players in good faith;
- The Steroid Era is, again, passively noted whenever Selig’s legacy is discussed, but it is the players, not Selig or the clubs, who were cast as the bad guys and made the scapegoats in the proliferation of PEDs in the game. Indeed, even the very report that Selig commissioned with the clear purpose of scapegoating players — the Mitchell Report — noted that Major League Baseball as a whole, management included, was responsible for the PED scourge, yet that part was ignored by most. For his part, Selig went from pretending steroids did not exist to taking credit for cleaning up the game and punishing those wrongdoing players in about 3.2 seconds. He has vehemently refused to take any responsibility for PEDs.
These are all major, major events in baseball history. None of which, I presume, will be dealt with objectively in Selig’s book. Indeed, we’ll likely get more of his usual denial and defensiveness about these subjects, complete with the de rigueur baseless assertions. Teams were gonna go bankrupt if I didn’t act! I had no idea that players were using drugs! In the end I’m sure there will be a lot of ambassadorial words about his role as a “steward” of the game and very little said about how he used base, power politics to transform himself from local businessman-wealthy into being worth a few hundred million dollars by virtue of (a) manipulating cities and competitors into doing things that enriched him, his family and his fellow owners; and (b) being repaid by those fellow owners by being allowed to turn the Commissioner’s job into full-blown CEO gig paying him tens of millions of dollars a year, even after he retired.
Which, by the way, would be a hell of a story! Some of that has already been written, of course — check out Jon Pessah’s The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers, which came out in 2015 — but fresh, objective eyes on those stories by someone with access to Selig would be a fantastic historical work. It’s not gonna happen in Selig’s lifetime, of course. Even at 84 he’s still a cunning dude, very conscious of his legacy and very active in maintaining it. He’s not about to give any nakedly honest assessments of his tenure in the game nor is he going to even chance a critical writer to tell his tales. There’s a reason a one-time employee of MLB.com got the ghostwriting gig.
Which isn’t to say this won’t be historically useful in at least some respects. As I said before, Selig is a major figure in the history of baseball. He was there. He did it and saw it all. Even if he’s not going to be honest about the stuff he did and saw, having his spin on how it went should make later, more objective takes on what went down in baseball between the 1960s and today far more rich and revealing. Selig’s gloss on his own history will tell its own story eventually, even if it’s not the story he hired Phil Rogers to tell.