Selig so wrong, and yet so right

October 03, 2004|By David Steele

AS everybody knows, Bud Selig is the worst commissioner in sports. This Expos-Orioles-Washington fiasco seals the deal.

Typical of his stewardship that Major League Baseball had to take over operations of a dying franchise in order to straighten it out. Typical that he ran into a budding conflict and a potential lawsuit from another owner. Typical that the nation's capital and the country's seventh-largest market had to wait so long to get the team it deserved.

Isn't this even more proof of Selig's ineptitude?

Of course. Except for the part about the dying franchise getting straightened out.

And the part about the conflict, which got resolved. And the lawsuit, which was avoided.

And the part about the market getting the team it deserved, despite the long wait.

And, um, the part about it all being a fiasco.

Amazing, isn't it? Two years ago, this was how a lot of people hoped it would all turn out - that the Expos would not have to be contracted, that they would find a passionate, lucrative home to replace the indifferent, indebted one, that D.C.'s baseball drought would finally end, that the Orioles and Baltimore would be financially satisfied with the encroachment on their market, that baseball would stop mimicking the ABA or WFL and running one of its own teams out of desperation.

Nobody believed then it would all work out, though, and the primary reason for that doubt was Bud Selig. The owners' lapdog. The man who killed the 1994 World Series. The man who screwed up the 2002 All-Star Game. The man who couldn't even run his own team. The man who comes across, in front of the cameras and microphones, as someone emerging from a bomb shelter after 50 years. Bad suit, bad hair, bad articulation, bad ideas, a lot of blinking and squinting.

That's how he looked Wednesday for his portion of the big announcement, much the way he looked the night of the fateful All-Star tie.

Today, Washington has what it wanted. The Orioles have what they wanted. Baseball has what it wanted. Fans in general (with the slightest exception of Montreal and its 3,000 remaining diehards) have what they wanted.

Had any other single person orchestrated something like this, he'd have a statue dedicated to him outside of D.C.'s new ballpark, and a plaque erected at Camden Yards in his honor. He returned baseball to one city while preserving it in another, when it seemed apparent that neither could ever be done.

For accomplishments only moderately more substantial, Pete Rozelle and David Stern have been immortalized.

Judge Landis? Let's not go there. He kept the gamblers out (so the legend says). He also kept the blacks out (so the facts state). And since we've already gone there, baseball no longer is the most embarrassing sports entity when it comes to hiring minorities; it's now well ahead of the NFL and college football.

That happened on Bud's watch, too.

Of course, all of this hardly negates the sins of Bud Selig's past, such as the disastrous strike in 1994, which, among other crimes, nuked baseball in Montreal.

Except that the rest of baseball managed to survive the fallout. Fans still show up. Networks still throw money at it. Sponsors still chase it.

And, obviously, cities still chase it, as well.

The game took ferocious public beatings for ideas that were either insane in their conception, their presentation, their execution, their timing or all four.

Interleague play was destined to dilute the World Series. Wild-card teams were sure to water down the regular season. Radical realignment would destroy century-old traditional rivalries. Contraction was shortsighted, greedy and just plain stupid. And because no one seemed interested in learning past lessons, another lethal work stoppage was a foregone conclusion.

Yet ... interleague play and the wild card have been wildly successful. Realignment wasn't radical at all (one team, the Brewers). Contraction never happened. Neither did the next big work stoppage.

Guess who was on the scene for every victory.

If interest in baseball isn't back to where it was pre-1994, then it's closer than anyone would have guessed back then. It's closer than anyone would have guessed two years ago.

In fact, it's closer than it really deserves to be.

Or so it seems. Bud Selig has been in charge during some of the game's darkest moments - but also some of its brightest. Last week was one of the bright ones - not just because of the Washington-Baltimore happenings, but because that dumb wild-card scheme created a classic final regular-season weekend and the perfect appetizer for the month baseball still owns.

Still, even when all goes well with him and his sport, it always looks like it was an accident, like it happened in spite of him.

Maybe Bud Selig is just the luckiest commissioner in sports. As they say, it's better to be lucky than good.

On the other hand, to be that lucky, you have to be pretty good.

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