Chin Music’14: Selig’s Legacy? Rose, Receipts & Records

28 Aug

It’s funny, some people‘s priorities.

Two weeks ago the grand old game announces its biggest change in leadership in 20+ years and who does Sports Illustrated see fit to grace their cover but the ephemeral state of Mo’Ne-mania. Oy vey.

.......Selig.wc.cca.10.31.10.3.6m.CJCosS.M.Mullen

On August 14th baseball’s owners selected a new MLB Commissioner to replace Allan Huber “Bud” Selig who’ll be stepping down shortly after conclusion of the 2014 season.

The new man’s name: Robert D. Manfred, Jr.

Born in New York State (Rome) around 1958 (couldn’t verify) and educated at Cornell (BS) and Harvard (JD), Rob’s not well known to the general public but as the current COO of MLB is no doubt a familiar face to the cufflink crowd and the media set.

........R.Manfred.wc.cca.7.15.14.fanfest.A.Pardavila.3.5m

Word from ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and Tim Kurkjian is that Rob is an experienced attorney in labor matters and sharp as a tack (“really bright“). That’s fine.

As for the out-going Selig, when he hands in his executive washroom key and calls it a career, Milwaukee’s favorite son (b.1934) will have served the 2nd longest tenure (1992 – 15) of the nine Commissioners. Only the legendary Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920 – 44), the original baseball Czar who blazed the trail and lowered the boom on the 1919 World Series fixing Black Sox (‘20), served longer.

For Rob, it’s wait & see as he’ll take the reins just prior to Alex Rodriguez likely return.

For Bud, it’s some well deserved R&R, time with family & friends, periodic corporate boards, occasional speaking engagements and finally time to warm-up the VCR player and watch The Rockford Files tapes that’ve been gathering dust all these years.

And how will history treat #9, the man who brought major league ball back to beer-town (‘70) and then guided America’s national pastime for so many years? For a man whose dedication to the job is second only to Kennie, he oughta’ have a legacy, right? Right.

Bud’s legacy in three words: money, Rose and records.

Money Maniacal

Big money can be good news or bad, depending on the circles in which you travel.

If you’ve been a financial partner with MLB during the reign of Selig, like say, an owner, an employee, a shareholder in one of baseball’s many business ventures, Allan will be hailed as the best money manager the game’s ever seen, hands down.

Baseball’s annual take? Somewhere around 6 billion. Not too shabby.

But if you’re outside the “circle of trust,” i.e., unadorned fan, Selig’s unabashed, pointed pursuit of profit-taking has altered your game in some not entirely un-destructive ways.

If there was anything constant, unique, quaint or subtly satisfying about major league baseball, Selig either altered it to the point it was unrecognizable (all star game) or sacrificed it altogether (day-time World Series) in the name of money maximization.

Major league baseball is a for-profit enterprise, has been since 1869. That owners want a man-on-point who maximizes profits is, in the abstract, a rational tack to take.

Yet baseball is not abstract. It’s special state as national pastime and concomitant antitrust immunity mean that business as usual won’t always cut the mustard in the sacred game.

The Commissioner has always had a duel role: he serves at behest of the owners to make a tidy profit, yet, must also balance that pursuit with the best interests of, not just MLB, but with those who make the game a valuable commodity in the first place, the fans.

Inter-league play

Debuting in 1997, this novelty wore off fast.

When Yankees face Mets or White Sox the Cubs, it’s practically just another ball-game now. Most saw the malaise coming, which explains why commissioners from Landis to Vincent refrained. Prior to inter-league, the rare AL v. NL meet in World Series and exhibitions (taken very seriously by players & fans alike) was special and highly anticipated. But ‘special’ merely waves a red-cape to the bullish agent-for-change.

Night World Series

Culturally, nothing exuded modernaire Americana more than the World Series skip: boxing your pencils (school) or closing shop (work) to take in an afternoon fall classic.

I was lucky to’ve attended one of the last day Series in 1982, held at, coincidently, Selig’s old stomping grounds, Milwaukee County Stadium: Brewers vs Cards. A classic match, mine was a crisp October afternoon, as I witnessed Brew Crew forge a thrilling victory in G5, only to see STL win in 7 when Bruce Sutter’s split-finger proved difference-maker.

But those days are long gone, thanks to Bud and predecessors Kuhn, Giamatti & Vincent, though Selig’s been in the dark his entire tenure. The LCS & WS are now exclusively night affairs that end near midnite (Zzzz). The last day World Series was played in 1987 as Twins hosted the Cards in HHH Dome (G6); the last outdoor fall classic day-game was in ‘84 at old Tiger Stadium for Game five as the Padres and Garvey & Gwynn came a’ calling.

All Star Game (Home Run Derby Week)

Baseball means different things to different people. By mid-season it means one thing for every player, manager, announcer and vendor in the stands: a grind.

The 162-game MLB regular season starts with spring training (Feb) and culminates with mid-October’s fall classic. By July the guys are prit’ near pooped and in need of a break to re-charge batteries and spend quality time with family & friends.

The All Star game‘s been around since the 30s. Players know the score. Some took it seriously, others were glad to miss out on the honor (See; Above). When the game was a semi-serious exhibition it passed muster with most. Then Selig & Co. started to fiddle.

I don’t know if it was the hellacious hissy-fit thrown by a 100 hot-headed Milwaukeeans (and their barrage of beer bottles) after 2002 game was declared a tie, or All Star revamp was a natural course of things for today’s corporate chiseler who leaves no stone un-turned, but what used to be an enjoyable diversion is now an over-baked ham ($).

The pre-game home run derby now over-shadows the game itself which’s become anti-climatic, though I suspect even kids are bored with this muscle vestige of the steroid era.

And the fiddling didn’t stop there.

Tweakers decided to attach a carrot in form of WS home field for best League, not best record, in hopes of inspiring heartier play. But to think All Star participants in July are motivated by a carrot in October, realizing there’s chance he may end up helping a hated rival in the Series in some extended sense of League spirit, hit’s the height of absurdity.

World Baseball Classic

This one had market saturation written all over it from get go (‘06).

The format can be electric. World Cup of soccer is captivating, Little League (LLWS) has made its worldly mark (S. Korea ‘14) and I hear-tell cricket is a global success story, too. But not every international venture thrives, i.e., Olympics and FIBA World Cup, both of which need a return to amateurism. Fat ($) chance.

Strengths: WBC (Wasn’t that a belt?) can showcase individual talent and gives those developing baseball nations another place to grow & measure out.

But like All Star angst, the US roster is always hit & miss, and treads on the League play that every nation from Japan to Mexico puts at a premium. Time to pull the plug.

Calculated Leadership

Instant Replay

Easy to appreciate why Allan Huber caved to cry-babies and gave ‘em their instant replay bottle. On a different metaphorical plane, IR is the 400 lbs gorilla that’s been banging on the door for years and fed a steady diet of replay-bananas by video TV producers.

But sport was never intended for exactitude, not like heart surgery or bridge building.

Proponents ask, ‘Don’t you want to know the truth (and not that polite)?’ Sure I do, but not at the cost. Presently, it slows the game to a crawl, killing momentum and interest. And in a sport that already pushes fan patience to the limit, that’s untenable.

And when IR is combined w/micro-management like the new Posey rule (HPCR), it’s a cocktail for frustration that some sportswriters seem bent on using as verbal ammunition in an early offensive against umpires to win their ultimate replacement w/ technology.

Umpires will, on occasion, make a mistake and need their performance monitored for quality, but an occasional helping of blissful ignorance (no-IR) is good for the digestion.

PED Wars*

Don’t tag Bud with this depressing development.

As a legacy, PEDs is everyone‘s inheritance, from Little League to MMA, Hong Kong to Halifax, anyone who’s partaken, pushed, protected (union lawyers & player reps) or piped-down when they could’ve & should’ve spoken up.

Selig did not introduce PEDs to players nor rationalize their cheating role. His burden to bear is the delay in taking action on a clearly present plague (90s), and then when action finally occurred in ‘06 (Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program), implementing an out-dated mode (urine) and even now seems half-measured (spring-only blood draw).

Players union (MLBPA) has been the roadblock to resolution and bears blame for current insufficiency of testing (See Also: NFLPA), leaving open the window of opportunity. It’s why leadership is key: higher-ups who possess the know-how, character and wherewithal to use their bully-pulpits to push for progress, as unpopular as it may be at the time.

Record Book Jumble*

Professional baseball goes way back, the year 1869, to be exact.

History then has always been a big part of MLB, with fans and owners alike (Charlie O. Finely the exception (orange ball)). Even while names like John Clarkson and Buck Ewing rarely make Sportscenter, the fact is, sometimes they do. Other games have their colorful pasts and some teams honor it proudly (Packers), but in no other sport has history been as much a part of fan life, daily musings and (pre-Selig) League policy, as it has in MLB.

The stories, pictures, records, they all bring it home. Championship, individual, team, seasonal, career, however you break ‘em down, it’s those markers in time, name and number that are the bread & butter, the heart & soul of America’s oldest merriment.

But history’s a dirty word to some in 2014.

Formerly an honored guest, it’s fallen on hard times, displaced by obsession w/math, science and PC. While JFK certainly put a premium on “systematized knowledge (See; NASA),” he was the last President to promote the importance of embracing our past.

This state helps explain why Bud will be handing to Rob one sticky-wicket in the mess that’s been made of the MLB – Elias record book. Nobody wants to touch this one. Ford Frick (1951 – 65) took flak for asterisking Maris’ 61 (‘61), but at least he cared to act.

There are record books, and then there are record books, and baseball’s is the grandest. Since PEDs began making waves in baseball’s sea of numbers in late 80s, some of the most cherished marks have capsized: s/s hits (262 / Ichiro ‘04); s/s HRs (73 / Bonds ‘01); s/s slug-% (.863 / Bonds ‘01); s/s OB-% (.609 / Bonds ‘04) and career HR (762 / Bonds).

Putting the book right in striking or asterisking known or reasonably suspected PED’ers will face stiff opposition, a fight Selig shied from. Some may even claim an intellectual property right to holding their ill-gotten marks. But nobody said the job of Commissioner was easy. And then MLB doesn’t really have a choice.

Until the record book is set right, baseball is just wrong.

Pete Rose*

While leaving the record book in sorry state may be his biggest breach, holding firm on the Rose lifetime ban is Bud Selig’s single biggest achievement. Nothing else comes close. And you can expect his successor Manfred to hold the line on Rose as well.

Consider that the ban is as much a part of baseball as home runs, both of which, coincidently, took off in the same era (Roaring ‘20s). Remove it, and MLB sinks.

........B.Giamatti.1989.R.Stewart.wc.cca.HS-fair.use81k

Not forgetting his sudden death in 1989 shortly after negotiating and instituting the Rose ban, Bart Giamatti did, nonetheless, have a slightly easier time of it than would Selig on the fan front. Pete hadn’t yet built up the large following back then that he has today, a number that grows with every autograph he signs, and Pete signs a truckload.

Beyond the “hustle,” the gritty game he exhibited in play days, Rose has become a cause célèbre for anyone with a gripe on baseball, government or authority in general.

The ban’s purpose: maintain a standard that sends a clear message that, if connected to MLB, don’t bet on the game, ever, for if you do and are caught, you’re banned, forever.

........P.Rose.wc.cca.Kjunstorm.1.11.08.4.5m.Vegas-CP

Those who love the game of baseball know that no one man, no matter his glorious play or keen managerial talents, is bigger than the game itself: not Ruth, not Gehrig, not Jackie, not Mantle, not Clemente, not Jeter, nobody.

Besides, the polarizing, semi-tragic figure that Pete Rose has fashioned himself into carries more cachet outside baseball than in it. Yet, he seems to’ve taken-up the reverse image of Groucho Marx’ famous line and made it his mantra. Pete: “(wants) to belong to (a) club that (won’t) accept (him) as a member.” Something tells me that’s not what the legendary comedian had in mind.

* Manfred-watch topic

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: M.Mullen & B.Selig / 10-31-10 / wc.cca / JCoS / 3.6m; R.Manfred / 7.15.14 / wc.cca / fanfest / A.Pardavila / 3.5m; B.Giamatti / wc.cca / R.Stewart / HS-fair-use / 81k; P.Rose / wc.cca / Kjunstorm / 1.11.08 / Vegas CP / 4.5m

Posted: 8-28 @ 1:43pm EST

Edit: 8-28 @ 4:38, 5:10pm; 8-29 @ 12:40am

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