I listened to Ben Lindbergh’s interview with Bud Selig on his podcast. You can listen to it here. By the way, Ben’s music that he picks is definitely different than your typical podcast music, and it’s a great change of pace. Also, I really like Ben and Meg Rowley’s speaking styles, and I could listen to those guys for hours. Frankly, I love everything Ben and Meg individually and collectively put out there.
Anyway, the interview starts around the 29-minute mark. There was some BS and some interesting points:
-He gives himself a lot of credit for how revenue was increased — and therefore how effectively it reached the fan — by MLBAM (MLB Advanced Media; all the online stuff). I think I agree with this, even with my minor squabbles about how MLB promotes itself online and how much access it provides, since MLB.tv seems to be one of — if not the — most popular streaming service for professional sports. I haven’t done a ton of research into this, but just my gut tells me that MLB is doing a good job promoting its product to audiences online vs. the other major sports.
-He said Barry Bonds was not blacklisted by the owners. Grade-A, 100% BS. This was the most egregious example of him talking on behalf of the owners. He cited Bonds’ age (42 years old) twice as the primary reason he was not re-signed. He had a 1.045 OPS in his last year while playing in 126 games. The one defense he gave that I can agree is that Bonds by that point was ripe with controversy, and the owners were wise to simply stay away from it as the game was growing. But other than that, this was the biggest piece of BS from Bud. He’s an owner and a salesman.
-He seems confident there will continue to be labor peace. He did a lot of downplaying major issues in the game over the last 35 years, and this interview was in the context of him promoting his memoirs so there ought to be skepticism baked into this, but this is also something that I think he’s probably right about.
-Lindbergh speculates to Bud — and Lindbergh was quite kind to Bud while often giving him softballs — that it’s possible that it wasn’t just steroids that fueled the home run craze in the late 90’s, and Ben speculated that they didn’t have the bat- and ball-testing technology 20 years ago the way they do now. I thought that was an interesting point, Bud agreed (of course), and they moved on. I think it was fair and right to not spend too much time pressing Bud on the steroid issue, and Bud was adamant that they did all the testing the MLBPA would allow them to do. Believe what you want.
-Bud really talked up public funding for baseball stadiums as a huge benefit to the local municipality, citing a study for the Brewers that their stadium brings in $330M to the city. He also cites the revitalization of the Washington ballpark to the surrounding area. Perhaps he should talk about what has happened (or not happened) to the areas around the Trop and Marlins Park. But he could also say the same about the area around STP, to be fair. Later Ben clarifies that the study about the Brewers’ stadium was done at the request of the Brewers, for what that’s worth. I find this topic to be one of the most interesting of Bud’s tenure, especially since I am both an Atlanta Braves fan, a St. Pete resident, and someone who can’t decide which side of the fence I come down on since both sides’ arguments aren’t particularly compelling.
-You would have thought he was another current public figure with how much he talked about how there was no collusion by the owners in the 80’s. He paints a bleak, dire picture of the financials of the teams in the 80’s with some having significant profit-and-loss and cash flow issues. He emphasized there was a significant concern about player salaries rising to a point where the league and teams were no longer economically viable. Bud just talks like an owner the entire time. Ben makes a good point to point out that Bud refers to the owners as “we”.
I do find it interesting that the word “collusion” is thrown around so much about the baseball owners. I guess if a market of buyers corrects in any other buying environment, it’s hard to say that millions of people got in a room and agreed to stick it to the sellers. But it’s much, much easier to believe that a group of 24-32 baseball, football, or basketball owners (or governors?) do so.
But Bud paints this picture that the owners had been concerned about the direction of the league since the 80’s, and he even when he took over as acting commissioner in 1992, he told the owners to evaluate him based on the appreciation of the franchise, not necessarily short-term profit-and-loss. And he even told them that they should expect to even lose money from year-to-year.
Ben rightly notes that Bud might be the most popular (or perhaps better put, the least unpopular?) of the 9 commissioners baseball has had, and I think I’ll enjoy doing some research on if that’s true. Bud seems to want people to believe his legacy is he was an owner and commissioner who helped the game grow beyond what people expected while the owners had the value of their franchise grow exponentially, player salaries wrote precipitously, and fan engagement and excitement grew. If those are the only 3 things by which you would evaluate a commissioner (and after all, what else would you use as a criteria?) then you would have to give Selig a passing grade. Considering you don’t have to go very far on the internet to read about how Selig and Manfred are both idiots who have done more to hurt than help the game over the last 35 years, I thought this style of interview was especially helpful to formulate my opinion on certain topics and to hear from the man himself.