Keeping Score

Bud Selig’s Long Goodbye

Baseball's commissioner announced he will retire in 2015. His tenure will always be overshadowed by the steroid era he oversaw

  • Share
  • Read Later

At least there’s a date, finally. Bud Selig, who has lead Major League Baseball since 1992, seemed like he never wanted to stop being the sport’s commissioner. The $22 million salary the owners gave him helped. But on January 24, 2015, he will officially leave the game’s top office. Yes, it’s time.

When Mariano Rivera announces that he’ll step away before playing a full season, you get a drawn-out victory tour with silly presents. Mercifully, that’s ending. But Rivera is a beloved on-field legend.  Selig, 79, is a suit. So expect no season full of cheer.

What will fans most remember about Selig? Commissioners are faces of the game, and Selig was rarely smooth: it’s easy to recall him throwing up his hands during that All-Star Game tie in 2002. Or bumbling through the 2005 steroid hearings, in which Congress embarrassed baseball into ramping up its drug testing. He lacked gravitas and polish.

Many decisions, however, did turn out well. Most people like the wild card (though the fate of the single elimination wild card play-in-game, started last season, is still up in the air: play 162-games, earn a spot that used to guarantee you a five-game series, but now it’s do-or-die for you? Bleh. Money grab.). Selig was smart not to meddle with baseball’s website. MLB Advanced Media is a cash cow, and its tech clout extends beyond the game. Overall revenues have grown. No labor battles loom. There’s at least some movement on common-sense instant replay. The game has taken good steps forward.

At the same time, having the All-Star game decide home field advantage at the World Series is illogical and always will be. May Selig’s successor reverse this policy on January 25, 2015. When it comes to cultural cachet, baseball lost a ton of ground to football and basketball during Selig’s tenure. The low World Series ratings are disturbing. The new commish needs to somehow carnivalize the Fall Classic to stop the regular-season NFL games from beating baseball’s most important event.

The big Selig debate — and get ready for a thousands columns and stories on this over the next year — centers around performance-enhancing drugs. In 2010, Selig called steroid use in baseball “virtually nonexistent,” and said that the “so-called steroid era — a reference that is resented by the many players who played in that era and never touched the substances — is clearly a thing of the past.” Not so much. This year’s Biogensis performance-enhancing drug episode taught us that policing only goes so far. A showdown with A-Rod looms — not a fun way to spend your final days. Ryan Braun embarrassed himself, baseball, and the Brewers, the team Selig used to own. On steroids, Selig has been too earnest: look what we’ve done! This is my legacy! A more honest approach — the cheaters have a leg up — would have helped.

Anyways, there’s plenty of time to talk steroids during Selig’s long goodbye.  Gosh, can anyone just retire tomorrow anymore? Today, it’s the occasion to, well, what exactly? Celebrate Bud Selig? Not that easy. Who’s on deck?