So says Richard Justice in The Sporting News....
Bud Selig is the best commissioner baseball has ever had. It's not even close. To think otherwise is silly.
He brilliantly steered the sport from the dark days of the 1994 World Series cancellation to record-setting growth. He is the biggest reason baseball has labor peace, parity and attendance that has increased for four years in a row.
A new generation of ballparks has been built under his watch, and he expertly guided baseball into the Internet age.
His only fault is that he failed to quickly understand the impact steroids were having on the game. The same, too, is true of owners, general managers, trainers and doctors.
Steroids happened. We can't ignore that. Selig also pushed for the best testing agreement in the sport's history and had the guts to order George Mitchell to tell as much of the story as he could.
Can you imagine the NFL doing such a public soul-cleansing?
Selig is as decent and as honorable as anyone you'll ever meet. At a time when the sport is running so well, it's hard to remember what the bad old days were like.
First, there's labor peace. This isn't a big deal to people of a certain age because they don't remember that for about 20 years baseball's players and owners tried to kill the game every four or five years. They were well on their way to doing just that when a player strike forced Selig to cancel the 1994 World Series.
Virtually all the good things that have happened to baseball since 1995 are because of Selig.
He led the charge for interleague play and an additional round of playoffs. MLB.com has dramatically changed the way fans watch games, buy tickets and get information.
Selig also pushed for the revenue sharing that has given more teams the chance to be competitive. Fifteen of baseball's 30 teams have played at least one postseason series the last two seasons. That's parity by any definition.
Under Selig, revenues have grown from $1.2 billion in 1992 to $6.2 billion in 2007. That's why owners simply won't allow him to retire.
"You can't retire until I expire," A's owner Lew Wolff emailed Selig last winter.
Baseball owners can't overlook all the good that has happened.
And there's steroids. Baseball wasn't hurt in any financial sense by steroids, but baseball was embarrassed. It took far too long to recognize the problem.
That said, not every player used steroids. One of the defenses of the cheaters is they had to do steroids because everyone else was doing them. Wrong. Some players made the right choice.
I was around those Oakland teams a lot in the late '80s. Those teams were ground zero for baseball and steroids.
I saw players hiring nutritionists and using exotic supplements. I saw them retreat to the back of the clubhouse almost every night to pound the weights. I saw them get bigger and hit more home runs. I thought it all made sense.
OK, I'm dumb. I was in a lot more clubhouses than Selig, and I completely missed what was going on.
To this day, I'm nearly certain a lot of those Oakland players -- Carney Lansford, for instance -- never touched a performance-enhancing drug. I can't swear this is true, but I believe it.
I believe in my heart there was no conspiracy to look the other way on steroids, in an effort to make the game more popular. This isn't a popular opinion. I'm sure to hear from people who absolutely, positively believe Selig knew and Donald Fehr knew and maybe they all knew.
All I can tell you is that I was there. I was there when steroids first entered baseball, and I covered as many of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa games as anyone in the country. I didn't look the other way. Did I miss the story? You bet.
As the man in charge, Selig is ultimately responsible. But what a lot of people miss is that baseball is governed by a labor agreement. There is not much Selig can do unilaterally.
But he certainly could have made better use of the bully pulpit that comes with being commissioner. Did he push hard enough for steroid testing? No, he didn't. The owners first requested steroid testing in the 1995 labor agreement, but they didn't push hard. They had critical economic needs after the 1994 strike; rightly or wrongly, those came first.
Selig's management style is a thing of beauty. He works the phones from morning until night, arguing, pleading, cajoling reporters, players and owners.
He makes more than $15 million a year but remains a common man in so many ways. He lunches on hot dogs, takes the grandkids to Target and believes in old-fashioned values.
Last fall when he was visiting his second home in Scottsdale, Ariz., he couldn't find his beloved Green Bay Packers on television. So he asked around and ended up at Buster's sports bar. Alone.
By the end of the game, he was talking baseball with half the place while watching the Packers and lunching on a Cobb salad and a dozen Diet Cokes. Who couldn't love a man like that?
Richard Justice is a columnist for the Houston Chronicle and a regular contributor to Sporting News. http://www.sportingnews.com/yourturn/vi ... p?t=381768