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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

January 11, 2012 at 12:09 PM

On balance, Bud Selig has been good for baseball

selig.jpg

Here’s a quick poll that’s posted elsewhere on seattletimes.com, but we wanted to make sure it got widespread distribution:

Which Seattle pro team will have the most success in 2012?

I’ll have my own poll at the bottom of this post).

A few years ago, a high-ranking Mariners official pulled me aside to ask what I had against Bud Selig. I had made so many digs at the commissioner in my writing he thought I had some kind of personal vendetta.

Far from it. I’ve always liked Selig, whom fans would probably be surprised to learn is warm, personable and funny away from the podium. He’s also a great friend of the newspaper writers, known for his press-box repartee with the media back when he was doubling as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Every year, he holds a no-holds-barred Q & A session with the Baseball Writers Association of America on the afternoon of the All-Star Game, and some of his off-the-record outbursts are classic. The very fact he feels comfortable enough to go off the record to a room full of some 100 writers shows me something about the trust he has with this group.

That said, Selig has been an easy target over the years — with the strike of 1994, with the whole steroids business, with the All-Star Game that ended in a tie in Milwaukee (and which earned me a personal phone call from Selig when he read my column criticizing his handling of that game. I liked the way he dealt with it — he expressed his displeasure without resorting to yelling and screaming, told me his side of the story, and left with a cordial farewell. He didn’t hold a grudge, as far as I could tell. It’s not the only time I’ve heard from the commissioner or one of his lieutenants to dispute something I’ve written, but it’s never mean-spirited. I’m actually grateful that they’re upfront about it.

I bring all this up because word came out this week that Selig, who has said he would retire at the end of this year, will be offered a contract extension at the owners meetings this week. And by all accounts, he’ll take it, adding at least two more years to his tenure as commissioner. He’s been on the job since 1992, and two more seasons would take Selig to his 80th birthday.

This might surprise those who think I have it out for Selig, but I like a lot of what he has done in 20-plus years as commissioner. I know some people have a visceral dislike for the man, probably borne out of seeing his sour visage on TV night after night during the strike of 1994. Heck, I know some people in Seattle still haven’t forgiven him for his role in stealing the Pilots away after the 1969 season. And then there’s the “S” word — steroids.

The strike of 1994 was a bad miscalculation by the owners that they could break the union and get some sort of salary cap installed. It caused tremendous damage to the game. But out of that has come the realization from the owners — led by Selig — that they have to find a way to co-exist with the union. With the latest labor agreement late last year, which lasts through the 2016 season, the sport will have had 21 years of labor peace — unprecedented in any of the major sports. The relationship between MLB and the union has never been better. And while no longer even trying to get a salary cap — something the powerful MLBPA simply would never allow — Selig convinced owners to adopt revenue sharing that, while admittedly flawed, has given the smaller market teams a boost.

The other black mark against Selig, of course, is the rampant steroid use that clouded the game in the 1990s and into the 2000s. But I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame squarely on Selig’s shoulders. Not when the union fought tooth and nail against the implementation of drug testing, until finally pressured by their own members. The steroids era was undeniably a black eye for baseball, but it was a systemic failure. Everyone deserves some blame — owners, players and media, as well as the commissioner.

As with the strike, the followup benefits have, in my mind, helped assuage the damage from the steroids era. The drug-testing program installed by MLB and the union keeps getting tougher and tougher, including the addition of HGH testing in the latest agreement, making MLB the only sport to have that. The fact that superstars like Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez and Ryan Braun have been nailed by the program shows it has credibility, and I think fans have mostly restored their faith that they’re watching a (relatively) clean game.

Finally, I gave him high marks for some of the radical changes instituted under his watch — interleague play, expanded playoffs, wild cards, realignment, use of instant replay, and the internationalization of the game. Some purists wish that there were still two leagues, without divisions, and the winners met in the World Series. But people forget that baseball through the 1980s was being roundly criticized — and rightly so — for being too staid and conservative. That changed under Selig, who has made more radical changes to the game than just about any other commissioner. Most of them have been quite successful and are now widely accepted as part of the fabric of the sport.

Revenues are booming, attendance is booming. The sport is healthy. Yes, Selig has his faults, and his foibles. But keeping him on as commissioner is a good thing. Do you agree?

How do you feel about Bud Selig remaining as commissioner of baseball?

(Photo by Associated Press)

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