Baseball owes a lot to Selig's contributions
MILWAUKEE -- There is one real way to measure leadership. Are things better now than they were when the leader took over?
In the case of Commissioner Bud Selig, the answer is a resounding yes, on all fronts. After 21 years of his leadership, baseball is more competitive, more prosperous and simply better than it ever was.
Selig officially announced his retirement Thursday. He will step down in January 2015. Twice before, he has been scheduled for retirement. Discussing his planned retirement during those occasions, he would frequently say: "But my wife [Sue] doesn't believe me."
He isn't saying that now. This is the first, and, one presumes last, formal announcement of his retirement. He has earned the retirement. Selig will be 80 years old in January 2015. He wants to write. He wants to teach. He has endowed the Allan H. Selig Chair in the History of Sport and Society in the United States at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin.
Selig can look back at a range of innovations and improvements that have made baseball a better game than it was in 1992. And these innovations and improvements came at Selig's insistence.
A vastly increased system of revenue sharing, and the luxury tax, have channeled money into small-market franchises, and have dramatically increased competitive balance in baseball. Over the last decade, 26 clubs have appeared in the postseason.
Selig came by the pro-parity position as a result of his experience as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, operating in baseball's smallest media market. Selig knew firsthand the difficulties of competing with a small-market franchise. He has always said that baseball owes its fans "faith and hope." The more franchises whose fans have faith and hope, the better the game is.
The expanded postseason format and the addition of the Wild Card teams were harshly criticized by traditionalists when they were first introduced. The fear was that the playoffs would be diluted. Instead, as we see again this year, the Wild Card has only added another level of drama to both September and October.
The same was true of the introduction of Interleague Play. The purists hated it. But the fans liked it, and continue to like it, as reflected in attendance figures well above average for conventional regular-season games.
From a purely business standpoint, the game is also in much better shape than it was in 1992. At that point, baseball had gross revenues of $1.2 billion. In 2012, the game had gross revenues of $7.5 billion.
The game has been allowed to grow, on all fronts, because it has had labor peace for the past 18 years. Baseball's labor-management relationship has taken on the aspects of a genuine partnership. Both ownership and the players' union deserve credit for that. This sense of a shared undertaking replaces the adversarial relationship that resulted in frequent work stoppages. And those stoppages resulted in fans becoming alienated from the game.
And baseball, through Selig's relentless efforts, has become much more inclusive in its hiring practices. The legacy of Jackie Robinson is not merely a rhetorical matter with this Commissioner. He fully understands that baseball's most important moment occurred on April 15, 1947, when Robinson first took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
If Selig had never been Commissioner, he would still be regarded with great affection and respect in Milwaukee. He worked tirelessly to bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the departure of the Braves to Atlanta. He succeeded when the former Seattle Pilots came to Milwaukee in 1970.
And he kept baseball in Milwaukee against long odds. When the changing economics of the game demanded a growth in revenue, Selig pushed for the building of what became Miller Park. It was a long and often bitter political struggle. Today, that park, with its retractable roof, makes the continued existence of the Milwaukee Brewers possible.
"There would be no Major League Baseball in Milwaukee without Bud Selig, and there very well might be no Major League Baseball in many of our smaller cities without the economic changes instituted by Commissioner Selig," said Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio. "Teams from small and mid-size cities can compete as a result of his innovations and the expanded postseason. Equally important, the Commissioner has championed diversity issues to ensure equal opportunity to participate in the national pastime.
"Personally, I have relied on the Commissioner's wisdom, guidance and experience for nine years. I appreciate the wonderful example Bud has set by giving back to what he loves -- the Wisconsin community, the country and the game of baseball -- and by working tirelessly and passionately to promote the best interests of the game for everyone."
As someone who has known Selig for more than three decades, I can safely say that through it all, the Commissioner has remained a true baseball fan. His love of the game has influenced his every attempt to make it a better game. And baseball has become better on numerous levels, because Selig has been its Commissioner.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.