Bud Selig a GREAT Commissioner ...
... with one whale of a lousy "brand"


Sports-political commentary below.  Click on, mate, if that ain't your thing.


Personally I'm kind of a slob.

And to me, glitz and glam are mostly affectations, the putting on of airs.  Folks who preen over the knobs on the kitchen cabinets, or coo about the leather in their cars, or primp their hair, make me roll my eyes.  But I go way too far that way; my lawn is often uncut because my house has no "pride of ownership."  Pride is a double-edged thing in the first place.


This is not political, and I hope you can take it in a philosophical spirit.  It's not about who is good and who is bad; it is about BRAND.  It is about the associations we make with companies on a subconscious level.

There was an interesting article recently about Donald Trump wanting his employees to look great.  Mitt Romney might have been on the short list for Secretary of State because he looks like one.  Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, by contrast, look pretty weird, and they are not on the Cabinet.  Neil Gorsuch looks like an artist's conception of a famous judge - compare Robert Bork's appearance?  Do you ever wonder JUST HOW MUCH it affects Neil Gorsuch's fate right now that he does not look like Robert Bork?

Supposedly Trump's first big deal was to renovate condos - he made them into places you could show off to your friends and make your friends jealous.  Again, worldliness, pride, envy, exclusivity, superiority.  Annoying to me, but laden with cash.  His kids talk about being young and watching him go down the sidewalk, pointing out cracks - "doesn't that look terrible?"

Annoying - but.  Sometimes that first impression, that subliminal reaction to superiority, swings the ball game.  I don't LIKE Donald Trump's "brand."  That doesn't mean it produces no money.  As a person I can say that Trump's "brand" is one of my five least-favorite in the world.  As an analyst I can acknowledge its effect.

But this article is not about the President.  It is about "branding" in the abstract.


Bud Selig's "presentation" was 1 on a scale of 1-10.  2, tops.  And James posits that this kept everybody from realizing how good Selig was at his job -- the physical appearance, the crass speech, the kludgy tactics -- moved Selig from "9" in people's minds to "2."  One of the all-time extreme examples of the power of impression.  

Selig's brand was Used Car Salesman.  But always remember: brand and reality might be two different things.  Never let a company's Brand fool you; its marquee is not the end of the investigation.  And grandma put it simply:  Don't judge a book by its cover.

(Also, most sabermetricians favor the littler guy in any macro dispute; the littler guy here was the player's union.  James writes, "  It is contrary to the nature of any sportswriter to speak well of the game’s authority figures.    That’s not what they’re there for.   You can’t punch out a cop, you can’t cuss out your school principal, but you can take a shot at that blasted commissioner any time you want to.    My view is that Mr.  Selig more deserves to be honored than to be condemned.")


A few of James' points of order on Selig's legacy:

1)  Selig inherited the Donald Fehr situation, the 1994 strike, and negotiated 20+ years of peace.  Nice that we have a 2017 season starting on time, no?

2)  Selig did drag his feet on steroids, but he inherited that too, and did get it 'solved.'  This one James considers a push.

3)  Stadiums became vastly better.

4)  Baseball did great transitioning into advanced media.

5)  MLB greatly increased its revenues.

6)  Selig revolutionized umpiring, taking it from howl-inducing to very, very good.

7)  The Commissioner's office has been re-defined from "Judge Landis" paradigms to a situation in which is it less authoritarian and more influential.

8) Selig ended the era of "Baseball is Perfect the Way It Is.  You can't change the game and mess with the holy."

James writes,


 What really made Selig a great commissioner is that he realized that he did not have the power to do anything much without the agreement of others, and from that point on he worked to build partnerships.   Selig changed the relationship with the players from a combative relationship to a co-operative arrangement—and also changed the relationship with the owners in a similar fashion.   Ueberroth and Vincent, in particular, tried to make policy for baseball, and then tried to force all of the owners to go along with what they wanted.  

If you can think back about it, you will realize how true this is.   The Commissioner’s office had become The Office of The Rules Enforcers.   The Disciplinary Committee.   The Fuzz.   They were the heavies who suspended players, sanctioned owners.   They were the guys who ordered Dick Allen to stop writing messages to the fans in the dirt, and the guys who suspended George Steinbrenner.   Their punishments were Whatever The Commissioner Thought Sounded Right.  

ALL Commissioners get trapped in that—almost all of them.   NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is seriously trapped in that mode.   This long-running effort to "get" Tom Brady for not co-operating with the commissioner’s investigation into Deflategate. . .what was that about?   

It’s about the Commissioner’s office fighting to maintain the power of the Commissioner’s office.   Every time he wins one of those petty battles, he loses a little bit of power, a little bit of authority, and little bit of good will.   He weakens his office by fighting those battles.   By willingly sharing his power with the owners, Selig got the owners to buy in—and thus strengthened the power of his office.   I don’t know if you know what I mean by that, but if you had worked in the game for the last 15 years, you would.    

Selig realized that the era of the authoritarian commissioner is over, and it ain’t coming back.   To do this was a massive step forward for the game. 


That, to me, is Selig’s greatest legacy—the growing acceptance by the baseball community of the fact that we have to fix the things that break.   Grandpa is dead; I didn’t kill him.   The 1950s have been over for quite a while now.   We need to keep moving forward.


I don't say that's the gospel truth, but it's intriguing to think about.  My own opinion is that Selig got an awfully unfair shake, and for some awfully regrettable reasons.  He was an easy, fun, and classic target.

Of course, there is a case to be made against him.  Would be interested in seeing points lined up on the credit and demerit sides of the ledger.


Dr D



SonicBOOM!'s picture

Con: spiriting the Seattle Pilots out of town, three days prior to Opening Day, to pitch up 2000 miles each in Milwaukee as the Brewers.

Arne's picture

A question that occured to me: was Ueberroth the last MLB commissioner to have an athletic look/stature? Vincent and Selig didn't look athletic at all. It probably doesn't matter vis a vis a comissioner's effectiveness, but it's odd. David Stern looked like he'd last played basketball in grade school.

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