Thursday, September 26, 2013

Selig: A Clouded But Impressive Legacy

     By Ross Newhan

      Clouded by the steroid scandal, Bud Selig will still leave a remarkable legacy when he retires as commissioner in January of 2015

      Selig has set retirement dates in the past only to be talked into staying by his constituents, but at 79 his 2015 confirmation on Thursday seems as official as it can get.

      That legacy?

      Popularity, prosperity, parity and (labor) peace are the keywords, illiteratively speaking

      In 21 years since Selig was part of the group that forced out Fay Vincent and he initially became acting commissioner, baseball has set an array of attendance and revenue records, billion dollar TV contracts are common among the teams, the World Series has seen a variety of winners and, since the 1994 strike and Series cancellation, the game will have experienced 21 years devoid of a stoppage when the current bargaining agreement expires in 2016.

      Second in longevity only to the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Selig has initiated and served over a series of the most sweeping--and for the most part popular and/or beneficial-- changes in the game's history.

      Among them: revenue sharing among the teams; realignment; interleague play; a wild card and now two from each league in the playoffs; use of TV replays (which is certain to be expanded next year) and tying the All-Star Game winner to home field advantage in the World Series.

      The latter gives far too much credence to the winner of an exhibition game in which the teams are largely picked by the fans, but, well, what's one overreach in reaction to the 2002 All-Star tie?

      The haunting aspect of his legacy--and one he will have to confront in his planned memoir and as a possible instructor at the University of Wisconsin and one he is (and will be) reminded of with each Hall of Fame election for several more years--is the steroid spectre.

      In the aftermath of the Series cancellation, first riding Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak, the  industry's leadership then became lost in a blitzkreig of testosterone aided home runs.

      Slow to react, Selig would argue that he was confined to a bargaining situation with the players union. Both houses, in retrospect, were deserving of a plague, but the salvation--for Selig, for the union, for the game--is that baseball now has the toughest drug program in professional sports and a program that is likely to get tougher (with stronger penalties) after the next bargaining session.

     No commissioner is likely to see the chemists capitulate entirely.

    For Selig, the Biogenesis outbreak was a test of his investigative and enforcement staff  (13 players accepted their suspensions rather than fight the evidence) and now, with Alex Rodriguez's arbitration appeal beginning Monday, a slice of the commissioner's legacy is at stake in his 211 game suspension of the renowned A-Rod.

    Time, of course, will determine Selig's place in baseball's history, but from this vantage point he  has written an impressive chapter with 15 months to go.