Since Bud Selig took over as Commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1992, we have had four presidents, three popes and more than 20 Woody Allen movies. Thirty men who have played in the big leagues this season were not alive when Bud Selig got the job. Bud Selig's tenure is older than the term "email."
So now that we have a new Commissioner set to take over in January, MLB's chief operating officer Rob Manfred, we're in uncharted territory here. I'm only 38 years old, which means Selig's reign spans from my junior year of high school until darned near the age my father was when I was a junior in high school … to when I became a father myself. Bud Selig was 58 years old when he took over as Commissioner: That's how old Pedro Guerrero, Eddie Murray and Rick Sutcliffe are right now. That's how old Tom Hanks and Bryan Cranston are right now. That's how old Cameron from Ferris Bueller (Alan Ruck) is right now. Bud Selig has been Commissioner a long time.
There is plenty from Bud's tenure to praise and plenty to grouse about -- though I tend to view Selig's tenure as a success -- but no matter what: He's been around for so many years that it's almost surreal to imagine baseball life without him. I've come to think of him as part of the game, integral to it, just woven into the tapestry, the landscape itself.
But he isn't. And that's the important thing to remember about the Commissionership, and the owners, and the players, and the executives: All of them will eventually go away. They are not the game itself -- they are simply its temporary stewards, its guards at Westminster Abbey, its Ugas. The only people who never leave it are the fans; they are all that is eternal.
And from this fan's perspective -- as someone for whom baseball is woven into his life, like most fans, in ways that are comprehensive, irreversible and somewhat unhealthy -- the new commish has some key business to attend to, posthaste. Every fan has their wish list for the new Commissioner. Here is mine. I have six items. Well, I have more than six items. (I would also like a pony.) But these are the ones that fit in a column.
Get the A's situation figured out. Oakland is a grand, historic baseball franchise -- one that, by the way, happens to have the best record in baseball right now -- that has been spinning slowly in the wind for too long. For all the talk of supposed sewage coming up from the dugout, the Coliseum isn't a terrible place to watch a game now, but it's a neglected one: It's a stopgap measure for everyone, and thus everyone treats it like one. (Think of how much more of a slob you are when you stay in a hotel.)
This impasse has lasted more than a decade now, and for all the frustrations with the Marlins, at least they have a building they have to live in for a while. (Though the definition of "a while" tends to shift considerably these days; looking at you, Braves.) The Rays are the most unsettled franchise in baseball but all told, that's potentially an easier fix: If there's a city that wants a team and can get them out of that lease, they can have them. (This new Southerner would like Charlotte or Nashville, but Portland works too.) But the A's need to stay in the Bay Area, and they need a home that is worthy of them, like the 49ers now have. This might require no longer demanding that taxpayers fit every bill, which I know is sometimes hard when you're a huge private company that's used to getting its way. (Particularly when you consider what the Braves just pulled off.) But this is a wound, and it needs to be mended.
Be reasonable about the blackout rules. Look, I understand: It can be difficult to balance television contracts and the money generated by MLB Advanced Media (the owner and operator of Sports On Earth: Hi guys! [waves]). But this business of allowing teams to claim territory around the country, even if their games aren't in fact shown on local cable stations, is for the birds. As Ryan Fagan of Sporting News has pointed out, if you live in Iowa, there are six MLB teams you can't watch on MLB.TV. In Montana, you can't watch the Mariners even though they're 1,000 miles away. There are six teams you can't watch in Honolulu, and I know nobody has the option of tailgating there.
Again: I get it. Contracts are complicated. But the founding principle of the whole enterprise is that "the more baseball you give people, the more they will consume and the more they will want." (Lord knows it's true for me.) Right now, it is nearly impossible for anyone in Hawaii or Iowa -- 1/25th of the states in the country! -- to watch any team they might conceivably root for, in person or online. (Charlotte and Las Vegas have similar issues, by the way.) There's no way that's good for the game long term. Believe me: There's going to be plenty of future money to make from the baseball fans -- who, after all, are actively willing to pay for the product -- you're able to hook and hang onto when you allow them to actually watch the games you're going through all that trouble to play in the first place.
Please no DH in the National League. This is a purely emotional play, and I'm fairly certain I'm wrong about this. Everything is pointing toward the DH becoming universal. Interleague play has eliminated most of the differences between the leagues. The players union would love the extra job and the lengthening of veterans' careers. The only league in the country, from Little League on up, that doesn't use the DH is the National League. This is the direction of progress.
Forgive this lifelong National Leaguer for wanting to hang onto this one … little … thing. If you've grown up watching an NL team like I have, the DH will always look unnatural. It is like having a fourth outfielder: It is like someone standing in the infield holding a net.
I recognize that I'm wrong, and that I'm standing in the way of history, and that if you install the DH, future generations will find it ridiculous that we ever let Bartolo Colon bat so often. Just give me this one thing.
No more playoff teams. Ideally you'd make the wild-card game best of three, because having one game decide anything seems insane. (I'd rather the Division Series games go best-of-7 too, but I'm aware it gets sort of cold in November.) But if you don't do that, or even if you do, let's lock this where we are. The second wild-card has added excitement this season, and most traditionalists have made their peace with it … but let's cap this business at 10 teams, all right? Not only is this not the NBA or the NHL, it's also crowded enough in there. If you add more teams, you're going to be tempted to shorten the regular season, which is the way all links to the past are definitively cut. This is about right, at the moment. Bud turned out to be correct about this one. Let's not push it.
Let's worry more about labor peace than PEDs. Even if you think Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame -- and I do -- it's obviously better across the board if there are no PEDs in baseball. But that's essentially an impossible standard: You can do what you can to test and be vigilant, but until you de-incentivize performance -- which would be idiotic! Performance is why we watch! -- people are always going to try to find an edge. It is a fundamental tenet of humanity. It is why we walk upright and do not have gills.
Late in his tenure, Bud seemed to think that his legacy was going to be decided on how he handled PEDs. But that's too many old baby boomers whispering in his ear. Selig's legacy is going to be labor peace. After the nightmare of 1994 -- they canceled the World Series; just typing those words made me nauseous -- baseball was in existential peril: It legitimately looked like the game really could perish. Selig's strength was nursing the game back to health and improved labor relations -- in large part because the game was making so much money that it was easier to keep everybody happy. Major League Baseball, the league that lost its championship to labor strife, now has the best owner-union relationship in major American sports. And while the union has been weakened in recent years for a variety of reasons, they're still the strongest of any of the major American sports leagues' unions too. Nobody's completely happy of course. There are always hardliners. But everyone's generally contented and, most important, everyone's making money.
This is the most important thing to hold onto. This -- labor strife -- is the only thing, from PEDs to gambling scandals to the White Sox uniforms of 1976, that has ever truly threatened the game. It's the only thing that fans truly care about. We'll put up with scandal, and PEDs, and jerks, and four-hour games, and crazy ticket prices, and blackouts. The one thing we cannot abide is you not playing games. If you play games -- if you promise nothing will ever stop you from doing it -- we will always be there. That's the No. 1 important job for the new Commissioner: Keep playing games. That's all we want. That doesn't seem too much to ask. Does it?
Stop making the All-Star Game decide home-field advantage in the World Series. But you knew this one already.
Let's pour one out for Bud. Both despite and because of it all, I'll miss the old lug. But let's get down to work, Mr. Manfred. There's an amazing game going on out there. Let's keep it safe together.
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