13 September 2007

Selig's Everywhere He Wants to Be

It must be great to be the commissioner.

Allan H. "Bud" Selig left his position as a team owner to try his hand at running Major League Baseball. He's the very face of the industry, and baseball's self-professed #1 fan. His name has been in the headlines several times recently, and not because he was doing anything inappropriate in a public restroom, either. Which is good.

One such time was when he endorsed the Houston Astros' choice of Cecil Cooper as their interim manager, and encouraged them publicly to make him the permanent successor to Phil Garner, who didn't deserve to be fired in the first place, I must add. Initially I thought this might be a way in for me, that perhaps Selig was looking for more managers who were born on December 20th, in which case, I'm set, you know? But it turns out that Selig thinks that there ought to be more ethnic minorities, especially blacks, holding managerial jobs, though frankly it seems to me more than a little inappropriate that he should be trying to influence a decision like this, especially based on race alone. Maybe MLB has some Afirmative-Action quotas we don't yet know about? In any case, I don't know that jackie Robinson would have approved of this sort of thing, or of the ridiculous tribute Bud started when he allowed 2,347 players to wear Jackie's #42 back on April 15th.

Selig, of course, chimed in important stuff, like when the Braves and the Cubs were both sold earlier this year. He spoke about starting the regular season in 2008 in Japan again. But he also had his name involved or at least implied in much more trivial matters, like whether or not the Red Sox manager is required to wear his jersey while out on the field, and allowing the Orioles and several other teams to play with pink bats to raise breast cancer awareness on Mothers' Day.

There have, of course, been lots of times where Selig's name has come up in a story about steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. He wanted Jason Giambi to meet with investigator George Mitchell. He responded to questions about Gary Matthews' alleged HGH use.

Selig also made a public appearance last month when the Minnesota Twins broke ground on the new stadium they plan to build. Or, more accurately, they plan for the taxpayers of Hennepin County to pay to build, as these will be footing about 75% of the bill, despite the fact that Twinkies' owner Carl Pohlad is one of the richest men in America. He could easily spend the $522 million the ballpark is supposed to cost (though that may increase, especially considering that they don't even own the land they want to build on yet) and still be worth over $2 Billion. Also, he's 92 years old. Didn't anyone ever tell him that he can't take it with him?

At this point, nobody has bought the naming rights to the new Twins Ballpark, but that's likely to change, if only because everyone else's new stadium seems to be at least partially funded with such a sale. Also, any monies the Twins would normally have contributed to the revenue sharing plan will be mitigated by those they spend on building the new stadium, so they will receive money from the revenue sharing agreement without actually sharing much (if any) of their own revenue.

If Pohlad wanted to, he could probably get PepsiAmericas Inc., in which he also owns controlling interest, to buy the naming rights to the ballpark, and then write that off as a business expense for the bottling company, saving himself several million more dollars. But I digress...

The irony here is that not too long ago, Selig and Pohlad were conspiring to get rid of the Twins entirely. Back in 2001, arguing that the Minnesotas couldn't possibly compete with that lousy, old, non-descript ballpark, Selig and the other owners threatened to contract the Twins, to basically disband the team, and pay owner Carl Pohlad a hefty sum for his trouble. This, of course, was a nonsensical and thinly-veiled extortion threat to try to get Minnesota taxpayers and, more important, lawmakers, to pony up the funds for a new ballpark.

It worked. So well, in fact, that Selig and Pohlad were both be there for the photo-op and to talk up how this new stadium will help them be competitive with the other teams in their division, all of whom either laready have a relatively new park or will have one soon.

Never mind the fact that the Minnesota Twins don't compete for fans with the Tigers, Indians, Royals or White Sox. The closest of those cities is over 350 miles away.

Never mind the fact that the Twins have won their division four times in the five full years since Contraction was first threatened, and had a winning record (83-79) in the other season, and might end up with a winning record this year as well (they're only two games under .500 right now).

Never mind the fact that their players have won two Cy Young Awards and an MVP trophy in that time.

Never mind the fact that Twins attendance has increased from 1.7 million in 2001 to 2.3 million last year and are on a pace for even more than that in 2007.

Never mind that their 2007 average home attendance rank (7th out of the 14 AL teams) places them ahead of Texas (8th), Baltimore (11th) and Division rival Cleveland (10th), all of whom already have new stadiums in which to play.

And all of this is true long before they'll get the new stadium they supposedly need so badly. Nevertheless, Selig, according to the AP, had the nerve to say,

"They couldn't survive in the Dome. The revenue streams just weren't there. It was as simple as that, and I think mostly people up here understood. From time to time there were a couple that didn't, but it's too nice a day for me to go back to that."

Well, clearly they survived pretty well in the last several years. I think that the people who understood what Selig means were basically Carl Pohlad and the other Twins shareholders, if there are any. They wer ethe ones who wanted this new stadium, because they are the ones who stand to gain from its presence in Minneapolis and the fact that the county taxpayers are mostly paying for it. Andrew Zimbalist and others have demonstrated that there really are no significant, long-term benefits to the taxpayers that would justify shelling out the kind of money required to build a sports stadium.

Selig at least admitted,
"This is a day that we've looked forward to for a long, long time. [...] I don't mind telling you personally I've looked forward to this."

Well, of course he's looked forward to it. He's not paying for it. Selig doesn't live in Minnesota, so not a dime of his own money will go toward helping Carl Pohlad to make more money he can leave to his children when he dies. And yet Selig will get to check off the building of the new Twins stadium as something of an accomplishment of his tenure as Commissioner, along with the building of the new stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit, Texas, Seattle, Chicago (AL), Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston, San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and San Francisco, plus soon-to-be-built parks in Washington, Miami, northern California, and two in New York.

Stadiums in Boston, LAnahfornia, Toronto and Kansas City have all either been recently renovated or are in the process now, though some of these just pertained to getting rid of the AstroTurf. Given that expansion teams Arizona, Tampa, and Colorado all had stadiums built for them in the last 15 years, that leaves only the Dodgers and Cubs who will not have either a new stadium or a newly renovated one by the end of this decade. That is a whole lot of feathers in Bud's cap, but even more of an accomplishment is that many of these stadiums are being largely paid for by the taxpayers themselves, who are shelling out their own money for the privelige of paying higher ticket and concession prices when the new places open.

What a country!

But Selig was conspicuously absent when Barry Bonds tied and then broke Hank Aaron's career home run mark last month. Back in February, Selig had said,
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: If and when Barry Bonds breaks that record, it will be handled in the same way every other record in baseball that has been broken has been handled."

Which made the situation about as clear as mud.

Selig, for example, was present back in 1998 when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single-season record, and everyone remembers that. People remember that Bowie Kuhn was there to see Aaron tie babe Ruth in 1974, even though he missed the record-setter in Atlanta, and they remember that Pete Rose's 4,192nd hit was witnessed by Peter Ueberroth in 1985, but they also remember that Selig did not make it to milestones like Roger Clemens' (or Tom Glavine's or Greg Maddux's) 300th win, or Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit, though it seems to me that i remember him being there when Tony Gwynn hit his 3,000th, but that might just be something I dreamed.

Nobody thinks that the Commissioner has nothing better to do than fly aorund the country watching players set milestones. The line's got to be drawn somewhere, and any time the event in question is something that a few dozen peopl have done (like winning 300 games or amassing 3,000 hits) I don't think there should even be a discussion, but 756 homers? Nobody had ever done that before, just like nobody had ever his 62 homers in a season before, and the Commish ought to have been there to congratulate him for it. Even if he thinks that Barry Bonds is nothing mre than a cleverly designed android, who's only this good because he's absolutely 100% synthetic, he still deserves to be congratulated in person for doing something nobody had ever done before. Innocent until proven guilty, you know?

But Selig, in an effort to save face for himself as he continues to construct his legacy, made himself scarce at that time last month. For good measure, he didn't attend the game when Trevor Hoffman's 479th Save was recorded either, if only so he could have some kind of precedent to which to point when asked about Bonds. Selig ssurely realizes that if Bonds is someday proven guilty of taking steroids or something, that he would look bad shaking hands and congratulating him in that picture, and if he's never convicted of anything, well, the great majority of public opinion is enough of a deterrent. And even if Bonds' name is somehow cleared, Selig can always point to scheduling commitments and other conflicts that kept him away at the time.

In short, he shows up where it serves him to do so: At a groundbreaking ceremony, chiming in against steroids or for Civil Rights, that kind of thing. But where he should be, where he by all rights ought to be, for good or bad, he's nowhere to be found. He could have made a great living in politics...

...but of course the money's here in the private sector.

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