SUNSET BOULEVARD – Into the Sunset... Bud Selig is walking away at the end of this year and our long national nightmare may come to an end. That’s not likely, though. Buddy’s keeping it in the family with Manfred, who has proven in the whole
Biogenesis mess that he’s willing to bend a few rules and blow a few bucks to get the result he wants. We’ll see what his legacy has in store, but first let’s look at the Legacies of the Baseball Commissioners:
With game fixing a legitimate threat to baseball when it was still very much in its cigar chomping, suspenders and hat wearing hooligan days, Federal Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis was brought in to bring an iron fist down on Shoeless Joe Jackson and John Cusack. He turned the Black Sox White again, turned his own hair white, and then made sure the entire league stayed white till the day he died.
Legacy: Not just racist, he seemed to have a knack for pissing off everyone, players and owners alike, and then he killed the Viper in that gross Game of Thrones episode.
Happy Chandler knew all about coups, orchestrating one himself to become the Governor of Kentucky, and then a US Senator, before replacing Landis and immediately allowing Jackie Robinson to play. This pissed off the racist owners, who drummed him out after his first term was up, but Happy Chandler went back to Kentucky, became governor again, and proceeded to integrate the public schools (though still a product of his generation, as an old man he found himself in hot water when he used the N-word in a board meeting).
Legacy: A great name, great accomplishments, and this video make him far and away the Greatest Commissioner of All Time.
Chandler was replaced by a company man, former sports writer Ford Frick, the kind of sports writer who ghost-penned Babe Ruth’s fawning autobiography. So, if you’re playing along, that’s a Federal Judge who saved baseball from gamblers, a Governor and US Senator who changed the game forever, and now a newsy hack whose wacky idea to create a third league was the best he had.
Legacy: He’s the guy who expanded baseball to 162 games, and then used that as an excuse to put an asterisk next to Roger Maris’s name. What a jerk, though his own name somehow lives on in the award for best broadcaster…hopefully like that asterisk, Frick’s name will eventually be removed and it’ll be known as the Vin Scully Award.
William Eckert’s reign of boredom lasted three years in the mid 1960s, long enough for him to not cancel games following RFK’s or MLK’s assassinations.
Legacy: I’m going to go ahead and blame Eckert for all those horrible, round, multipurpose stadiums built around then.
Bowie Kuhn’s tenure was full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and he tried to ban them all. The players couldn’t play without their sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and thus went on strike in 1981. The Reserve Clause was challenged and won by Curt Flood, and the Santa Clause with Tim Allen also defeated Kuhn.
Legacy: Kuhn is the guy who first introduced night games to the World Series, so you have him to thank when your kids can’t stay up to watch the games.
Descending from the heavens carrying his Olympic torch, Peter Ueberroth wiped the bad taste of Kuhn out of everyone’s mouths, expanded the Commissioner’s powers, decried cocaine use after hearing Grandmaster Flash’s White Lines, and ultimately looked the other way when a number of owners- led by irascible curmudgeon Bud Selig – were found guilty of collusion.
Legacy: For you Met fans, he’s the guy in charge when the ball went through Buckner’s legs.
Now it gets sad. The scholarly, eloquent, and sincere Bart Giamatti was commissioner for just 154 days, long enough to ban Pete Rose for life, then dying nine days later of a heart attack at 51.
Legacy: I just watched Amazing Spider-Man 2 and thought Paul Giamatti was unrecognizable, and under-utilized, as Rhino.
Still bitter about being told that collusion was wrong, Selig and some of his cronies never warmed up to the cuddly Fay Vincent, and when he ended their player lockout in 1990, they pulled the plug on the Commissioner’s office all together.
Legacy: The last legitimately independent Commissioner?
So what does Bud Selig‘s story tell us? He was born with horns and a vestigial tail, if he could grow a mustache he would twirl it. He led the Monopoly Man charge that cancelled the 1994 World Series, then looked the other way when PEDs – a direct result of that strike as players went home with nothing to do but work out unsupervised and try new meds – made everyone a lot of money. He let Frank McCourt become an owner with no money down, and helped protect his buddies the Wilpons after their part in Wil-Ponzi schemes. Still, he’s weathered it all and has now, miraculously, barring any crazy scandal over this last month, the chance to walk away on top.
Legacy: Stands for everything I hate about team owners: Greedy, whiny, two-faced, willing and able to work outside the law to get what he wants. Sort of like Short Matt.
A man with a Legacy second to none, Walter “Grinding Ax” Hynes, tomorrow.