Selig Hokum by the Pound-Bud Knows What He Likes in His Baseball History
The other day-Thursday to be precise-commissioner Bud Selig addressed the World Congress of Sports. I have no idea what the World Congress of Sports is. It sounds like something Batman and Aquaman would attend, amid the requisite Ted Knight voiceovers. But Bud seemed to take it seriously, using it as a forum for his state of the baseball union address. The speech wreaks of Old Spice and recalcitrant hair being held in abeyance by slathers of Bud's best possum grease. The crinkle of taffeta is almost palpable (come see the softer side of Selig). Bud speechifies like one who has gussied oneself up. He displays his fanciest ciphering.
Prof. Selig begins with a history lesson cribbed from the oeuvre of Messrs. Costas and Will or possibly gleaned by fast-forwarding through Ken Burns' Baseball documentary:
There is no doubt in my mind that baseball is the greatest game ever invented. Its result is not determined by the expiration of a set amount of time. It is not a simulated war game in which two sides battle mightily over turf; nor is it a mad dash from one end of a field or court to the other in the pursuit of an accumulation of goals. In territorially based games, there are two goals or nets or baskets. In baseball, there is only one place where a score is counted: home plate, where play begins and also where play may come to an end...
The essence of the game, I believe, is near perfect. I often wonder if Alexander Cartwright truly understood the symmetry he had created more than a century and a half ago when he marked off ninety feet between the bases on Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. Also perfect is the distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate -- 60-feet, six-inches. Bart always wondered about the mystical multiples of three and four that permeated the game, such as four balls and four bases; three strikes, three outs, nine innings, and 60-feet, six-inches.
George Carlin does a better job of comparing baseball and football, and he's funny. Selig even tries to raise the game to mythic or elegiac status by channeling commissioner-cum-martyr Bart Giamatti and using his comparison of a base runner to Odysseus. Pretentious much? You see, they both want to return home. And both were almost eaten by a one-eyed monster. Hmm, the analogy seems to break down there.
Selig comes close to rehabilitating the much-maligned, one-time "inventor" of baseball, Abner Doubleday. But he got him confused with the former Met co-owner and had to chuck that portion of the script (I'm joking of course).
But Bud lays on the nostalgia so thick the audience needs boots:
Baseball has always served as a bridge that binds the generations. The ballpark is a venue at which fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren can congregate and share their experiences. How many of you still remember the first time you walked into a ballpark on the hand of a parent or grandparent and first experienced that great expanse of green? The experience has been depicted in films and described in books and magazine articles. The experience is one of our game's greatest strengths and one of its most powerful and enduring features. We must continue to build on the mythology that surrounds it...
The enduring failures of the Red Sox and Cubs are treated with near religious fervor. Throughout New England, the "Curse of the Bambino" has become a sacred creed. In St. Louis, the color red is godly, and, on the north side of Chicago, Wrigley Field is referred to as the shrine.
Those poor Yankees! Look at what they've lost in winning all those championships. What profiteth a man if gaineth the entire world and loseth his soul? (Well, he does still have the worldeth.)
Instead of building on the mythology how about selling the game today as it is played by the greatest players in the world? He seems completely out of touch with the game as it is played on the field today, alluding only to Sammy Sosa's 1998 season and to Barry Bonds' home run record as the sole accomplishments by a player today worth even mentioning (and Bonds was just a reference to the number 73).
I guess that's due to the players causing every problem in the game over the past 35 years:
As you know, Major League Baseball has been involved in an internal war with labor for thirty-five years. It has been owners versus players; the clubs versus the Players Association; and sometimes clubs versus clubs with the Commissioner in the middle. This conflict, which began with the players arguing for basic rights and continued through financial uncertainty where the clubs were compelled to seek financial relief and competitive balance, hopefully, can be put to rest. In fact, I believe the conflict must be put to rest for the game to proceed as a relevant and popular attraction...
The direct and residual damage caused by thirty-five years of bickering, accusations, and threats has been immeasurable. Just the perception of baseball as a troubled sport became a self-fulfilling prophecy and created a negative dynamic that affected every part of our game and our business. This new Basic Agreement, I hope, will provide the foundation for a lengthy peace in which we can promote the many positive features of baseball and work together for the betterment of the game.
Bud should get his history straight: the players and the owners have been feuding ever since day one. The players formed their own league in 1890. Whenever there has been an opportunity to do so the players have jumped to another league outside of "organized" ball. The owners have used their antitrust "exemption" and nifty tools like the reserve clause and hobbling, or rather banning, of escapee players to combat the uppity ones, who had the temerity to ask for a free market in America of all places. Commie Pinkos!
So what challenges does the game face as it careens wildly into the 21st Century?
One area in which we must never waver is in the effort to bring more kids to the game, whether through greater participation or through greater attendance and viewership...Nothing is more important than bringing kids to the game. Kids are our lifeblood; they are the future of the game.
Right, so what is he going to do? MLB has some nice programs for inner-city kids and they have Jackie Robinson's daughter teaching values to our youth. That's nice.
He then points to African Americans and Hispanics' indifference to the game. (Do we still say Hispanics?) "As the National Pastime, baseball should have a wider appeal to people of all ethnic groups."
But wouldn't promoting the game's young, mostly ethnic stars go a long way to attracting young and ethnic fans? You can start by at least mentioning Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez.
He then moves on to the "broadcast area." But his concerns are largely with ratings and cozying up to the networks to provide more graphics during the average game. He makes no mention of making games shorter and therefore, more easily digestible for the average fan. Nor does he mention putting some games on earlier at night, adding doubleheaders to the schedule, or broadcasting Saturday afternoon games throughout the year, all of which would increase the young fan audience. But they would potentially cut into baseball's profit.
As usual, he next takes potshots at the game he should be promoting:
For most of our history, baseball has been regarded as stodgy and old-fashioned, a dinosaur, big and slow and reluctant to change. And like the dinosaur, the game, critics presumed would soon disappear.
First, that's not actually true, unless baseball history dates back to 1981. Second, the owners have always been the stodgy ones. It's always been in their best interest not to change if the profits are up.
Then, he toots his own horn, right there on stage for everyone to see!
We have responded to the challenge over the last decade and have introduced more change to the game than we have seen in the previous 100 years combined.
C'mon, more than integration, expansion, rival leagues, the development of the American League and the World Series, the All-Star game, league divisions, the league championships, international players, etc?
Well, it was the critics who were always resistant to change, not the owners:
In baseball, because of the archaic and cumbersome league structure, which lasted through much of the 20th Century, and because of critics who were and continue to be resistant to change, it was treacherous going.
He must be referring to purists since his next topic is inter-league play, that Bud-induced panacea. Sure, knock your best fans to promote a stupid and annoying interruption that still has not been worked out to nearly anyone's satisfaction as yet.
Then he touts the wild card as the greatest thing since sliced dog doo-doo. "More than 90 percent of our fans love the Wild Card because more teams through September are battling for playoff berths." No, they love the wild card (if that's true) because they don't know any better. I don't dislike the wild card, but imagine the great pennant races we have been robbed of (Angels and A's last year for one) when both teams know that they will make the playoffs in early September.
"The most important change -- one that I believe will forever alter the economic landscape of the game -- is revenue sharing." Of course, it's clear that they botched this since teams are not forced to use the revenue money on the product that people see on the field. Instead baseball is creating welfare mothers, who have more incentive to keep costs down even to the point of compromising the quality of a team that is usually in dire need of improvement. That is apparent from one offseason under the new CBA.
Bud then points to internet delivery as the future of the game:
The internet and interactive potential for baseball, the richest sport in terms of games and statistics is unlimited. Our ability to make the game -- audio, video, statistics, highlights, historical games -- convenient and accessible to fans is here today and will grow exponentially in the next decade. From the mobile phone to the desktop PC, from Cincinnati to Tokyo, 24 hours a day, our great game is available.
Baseball is making its first forays into e-commerce and it's only five years behind the rest of the world (and two years behind the collapse of e-commerce). Right on time! It's nice to get these services on your PC, but unless they can make a good business case for baseball e-commerce aside from merchandizing, I'm not sold. Citing the number of hits on MLB.com (750 M) and number of updates to MLB.com database is pointless. It also reminds me of those e-commerce companies shenanigans before the went belly-up.
Next he points to the recovery after the last strike:
Throughout the second half of the 1990s, I often talked about the great Renaissance the game was enjoying, particularly in light of the difficult times brought on by the 1994-95 players' strike. Attendance fell off by 20 percent in 1995 and it appeared that a full recovery would take years, perhaps more than a decade. Fortunately, thanks to a number of terrific on-field developments, the turn-around came more quickly than we could have imagined. First, in 1995 there was Cal Ripken and his remarkable record-breaking streak, eclipsing the previous mark of consecutive games played set by the legendary Lou Gehrig. That was soon followed by the compelling 1998 home run duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, in which both sluggers broke Roger Maris' single season mark of 61 homers. Game attendance surpassed 70 million for four straight seasons, beginning in 1998, and single season attendance records were set first in 1998 and then in 2000. Major League Baseball's attendance is greater than that of the National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association combined, and, when you add minor league attendance, baseball's total routinely exceeds 110 million fans per season.
First, how can compare the attendance of all organized baseball where there are more teams and more games to that of the other team sports? It's apples-and-oranges. Second, baseball has yet to recover from the 1994-'95 strike. Attendance went up in 1998 because baseball expanded by two teams. Check out the per-game attendance since 1990:
He also compares New York's baseball attendance today to 1950, a ludicrous argument since the same could be said of Cincinnati (538,794 in 1950 and 1,855,787 in 2002). I doesn't hurt that the schedule was extended by 8 games either.
He finishes up by pouring on the ole nostalgia. Baseball led during the civil rights years and kept us together after September 11th. Selig has the temerity to read Jack Buck's post-9/11 poem. Buck is visibly spinning in his grave.
To sum up:
Baseball is a great game. It is interwoven into the fabric of our country. When I was President of the Milwaukee Brewers, I would often travel around the state of Wisconsin giving a speech about hope and faith, about how on the first of April of each year it is our responsibility as the stewards of the game to assure that the fans of as many clubs as possible would have hope and faith in their club's ability to succeed. That is the essence of our great game, and it applies not only to the nature of the game, but to the marketing of it as well.
"Stewards"? That's great. Kansas City lets any starting pitcher over the age of 25 leave in order to save as much cash as possible at the expense of the product on the field and that's stewardship? I'm confident that the owners will continue to shepherd "not only to the nature of the game, but to the marketing of it as well" in the right direction to make as big a profit for themselves as possible in the short term at the expense of the long-term health of their teams and the sport in general. Then in five years they will sell their team for 100% profit.
Good night, Mrs. Calibash and all the ships at sea.
[By the way, the title was an allusion to the classic Genesis album from the Peter Gabriel days. Hey, I'm just trying to emulate my hero, Peter Gammons.]