As the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig became the first person to own a major league sports team while simultaneously holding ultimate authority over all aspects of the sport...
His father was a successful car dealer, and Selig's college roommate was Herb Kohl, who went on to own a chain of department stores, a seat in the Senate, and the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks. After college, Selig went to work at his father's car dealership, and eventually became a millionaire.
In 1970, Selig bought the one-year-old Seattle Pilots baseball team out of bankruptcy for $10.8-million, and announced that the team would become the Milwaukee Brewers. Selig was hailed as a hero in his home town, for bringing big league baseball back to Wisconsin after the National League's Milwaukee Braves had left for Atlanta four years earlier. Over the next 23 years, Selig's Brewers finished in last place or next-to-last 12 times, and made the playoffs twice. Then, in 1992, baseball's owners decided that Commissioner Fay Vincent had been too sensitive to fans and players' perspectives, and not attentive enough to the owners' needs.
They pressured Vincent to resign, and Selig was named "Acting Commissioner" on 10 September 1992. To the casual baseball fan, the arrangement might sound peculiar. But if you're a baseball aficionado, you'll probably understand that it's worse than that. The Commissioner's Office was established in 1920, in the aftermath of scandal: eight players for the Chicago White Sox had been accused of taking bribes to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series. The game of baseball was condemned for being fixed, and baseball's owners understood that if fans questioned the game's integrity they'd buy fewer and fewer tickets.
So they invented the post of "Commissioner", and hired a famous and well-respected judge, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis was given a lifetime contract, so he couldn't be fired, and his only responsibility was to take whatever actions he deemed to be in the best interest of baseball. One of Landis's first acts was to ban the eight "Black Sox" players.
As a car dealer who owned a baseball team, Selig's impartiality as Commissioner was often questioned, but not nearly enough. Putting an owner in charge of baseball's integrity was like asking a team's catcher -- instead of an umpire -- to call balls-and-strikes. Selig's daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, took over as "acting president" of the Brewers, and Selig's investment in the team was -- not immediately, but eventually -- placed in a trust.
During the 1994 season, players went on strike, and Selig took a hard line against them. On 14 September 1994, Selig announced that the remainder of the season would be cancelled. It was the first year without a World Series since 1904. In January 1995, Selig reassured fans that there would be a 1995 season, but "with the best players willing to play" -- meaning scabs. Spring training opened with minor league players in major league uniforms, but the fans' and media's reactions were so negative, Selig relented. The strike was settled before the season began, by acceding to almost all the players' demands. Canceling the 1994 World Series, then, accomplished nothing for baseball, except to discourage and alienate its fans.
In 1998, Selig was promoted from "acting" to "official" Commissioner of Baseball. By then it was common knowledge, visibly obvious to any observer, that several of baseball's biggest stars were bulking up with the use of steroids. With sluggers' new artificially-enhanced strength, home run records that had stood for decades were topped and topped again. Selig did nothing until, several years later, public trials and non-fiction books documented how the game had been juiced.
In 1999, Selig announced that he was negotiating to have corporate advertising sewn onto the sleeves of players' uniforms. Another uproar led to the scuttling of those plans, so far. Also in 1999, Selig finally vacated his office in the Brewers' ballpark -- not for ethical reasons, but because County Stadium was being torn down. It was replaced by one of those new faux old-fashioned stadiums with fewer seats and higher prices.
At the 1999 World Series, Selig was embarrassed when fans voted banned-for-life Pete Rose to baseball's "All-Century Team". The ceremony, at Atlanta's Turner Field, was the first time Rose had been allowed inside a major league ball park since his 1989 expulsion from the game, and he got the longest, loudest ovation of any of the all-time greats -- more applause than Ted Williams, or even Atlanta's beloved Hank Aaron, and much, much more than Selig. And immediately after the ceremony, before the game, Rose was required to leave.
In 2000, Selig had Major League Baseball take control of each team's websites. Shortly thereafter, baseball began requiring fees from fans who wanted to listen to radio play-by-play on-line. Pop-up ads were triggered on every page at mlb.com, so fans who cared enough to click ten pages of statistics got ten pop-up windows.
In October 2001, Selig announced that 25 of baseball's 30 teams had lost money that year, and the game was $4-billion in the red. When skeptics wanted to see the teams' books, the Commissioner would not allow it. Selig decided that baseball's financial problems were caused by having too many teams in smallish cities, and he announced that at least two teams would be eliminated by the start of the 2002 season. He wouldn't say which two, however, so fans of four struggling teams -- the Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Montreal Expos, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- spent the off-season worrying. The press finally decided the Expos and Twins were on the chopping block. Twins fans sued, and as spring training loomed for the 2002 season, Selig announced that the Expos and Twins could continue playing baseball after all, as his "contraction" plans would be delayed at least another year. There's been no public announcements of contraction since.
On 9 July 2002, baseball played its annual All-Star Game in Milwaukee. The score was 7-7 in the 11th inning when the teams ran out of pitchers, and Selig announced the game would end as a tie. 40,000+ fans at the stadium booed, chanted "refund, refund", and started throwing trash onto the field. Millions watching on television must have given Selig the finger. "This is not the way I wanted [the game] to end," said Selig. "I was in a no-win situation," he added.
In 2002, Montreal Expos owner Jeffrey Loria wanted to dump that team and buy the Florida Marlins instead, an unprecedented switch. But after thirty-plus years of consistent losing, Loria's Expos had alienated almost all of Quebec and Canada, suffering dismal attendance, meaning Loria had no prospective buyers. Their games weren't even being broadcast on local TV or radio. So Selig had baseball itself -- a consortium of all the other owners -- buy the Expos. For several years, the Expos played many of their "home games" in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When they played in Montreal, the stadium was always close to empty, as Selig had made it clear it was just a matter of time until the team left Quebec. The Expos now play in Washington, DC.
Loria, meanwhile, was immediately allowed to buy the Marlins. His ex-partners in owning the Expos have sued Major League Baseball under the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
In 2003, Selig announced that the league that won each year's All-Star Game would have home-field advantage in that year's World Series. Traditionalists were aghast. For a century, the home-field advantage for the championship had rotated each year, a seemingly fair system. But now, one of the most important factors in baseball's showcase event -- where the games are played -- may be decided when the second-baseman from a last place team hits a bad-hop grounder at the All-Star Game, months before.
In 2004, Selig announced that the logo for Spiderman 2 would be embroidered onto to tops of first base, second base, and third base in major league parks, as a promotional tie-in for that movie's release. Fans were again infuriated, and the New York Yankees refused to go along with the plan. Eventually Selig relented. Also in 2004, 12 years after becoming Commissioner, Selig sold his interest (local fans would say "disinterest") in the Milwaukee Brewers.
In smaller cities with baseball teams, Selig has repeatedly issued veiled threats to get state and local governments to underwrite new stadiums. "We love having Major League Baseball in [insert name of city], but the game just won't be viable here unless the team gets a new stadium." Unlike other private companies, most major league teams now conduct their business in buildings constructed and maintained by tax dollars.
Under Selig's watch, baseball has also added a few wrinkles that have proven popular with fans. The playoffs now include "wild card" teams, meaning it's no longer a prerequisite that teams have to finish in First Place. And they've added interleague play, where National and American League teams face each other during the regular season.
When he is interviewed by reporters, Selig really, really tries to be seen as a big softie with a sentimental love of baseball. Maybe he is, maybe he does. Selig says he cried when the Milwaukee Braves left for Atlanta in 1966. He cried, he says, at the end of Kevin Costner's last baseball movie, For the Love of the Game. Selig also says he vividly remembers going to a ball game at Yankee Stadium in 1949. It was his birthday present from his mom, and he remembers where he sat. "Up there," he says, pointing toward the right field upper-deck seats. "The Cleveland Indians played the Yankees. I think Bobby Avila may have hit a couple home runs." Memory is a tricky thing, but 1949 was Avila's rookie year. He played in only 31 games, and he hit no home runs.
As the game's Commissioner, Selig has done more damage to baseball than Pete Rose ever did. And those who still care about baseball can only wait and wonder what Selig will come up with next.
(thanks to NNDB.com)