Baseball Magazine

MLB: Bud Selig Needs to Stop Tweaking Baseball

By Cbr66 @JKries

MLB: Bud Selig Needs to Stop Tweaking BaseballMajor League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who recently received a two-year contract extension from team owners, will be making another significant change to the postseason, adding two more wild-card teams to the playoffs.

Selig actually developed the idea to add two more teams to the playoff fold last summer, before the exciting finishes to both league’s wild-card races occurred last season. On the final day of the 2011 season, four different games determined which two teams would secure wild-card berths. The Tampa Bay Rays overcame a seven-run deficit in the eighth inning to the already-playoff-bound New York Yankees. The Rays moved on thanks to the late-season collapse of the Boston Red Sox, and their final-day loss to the Baltimore Orioles. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals won their final game handily, and moved on to the postseason after the Atlanta Braves lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in 13 innings.

The final day of the 2011 season was almost universally declared one of the most exciting days in modern baseball history. Granted, the exciting finishes would not have taken place had Selig not expanded the playoff format in 1995, adding a wild-card team to each league. While many purists grumbled over those changes at the time, the added layer of playoffs has become generally accepted as the norm to baseball fans, and is more in line with other leagues who have even more playoff teams and postseason series.

What has always separated baseball from other major sports, however, is its uniqueness and traditions. Baseball’s charms are obvious and have been unchanged for more than 150 years. Where other sports are bound to a clock, baseball could virtually have no end to a game. A game today would resemble a game from 1884, with only minor exceptions, while the other major sports have transformed from their origins, barely resembling their early incarnations. Baseball, for better or worse, changes on its own timetable.

My issue with Bud Selig is that the changes implemented on his watch seem to just benefit himself and the team owners, or he makes changes that he claims are in the best interest of the game, despite fans not asking for those particular changes. While speaking to reporters and fans this past weekend during the Chicago White Sox’s annual fan convention, SoxFest, Selig gave one of his familiar, grand declarations as if he were the last bastion of all that is good with baseball. When discussing the addition of two extra wild-card teams in 2012, Selig said,

“The game transcends our own selfish issues,” he said. “We want to provide hope and faith to as many places as possible.”

That sounds very noble Mr. Selig, but the majority of baseball fans don’t want the game of baseball to be bastardized any further. When Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard ’round the world” to vault the New York Giants to the National League pennant, it’s safe to say that that was one of the most exciting days in baseball, and that was without the now standard two layers of postseason baseball, before the World Series is played. Adding another round, even if it’s only one game, adds too much randomness to the outcome of the season, a season which had already had 162 games play out. Even the current five-game division series format adds an element of randomness. The hottest team seems to always come out on top, not necessarily the best team. While most can accept that, it further highlights why a ninth and tenth “best” team invited to the postseason shouldn’t eventually become champions in a particular season.

While some gratitude is owed to Selig for adding the wild card in ’95, leading to last season’s historic final day, it should’ve been proof enough that only the most spontaneous moments cause baseball’s excitement, not manufactured moments installed by an aging commissioner who is trying to tweak the game in order to gain the attention of an increasingly fractured viewing audience.

MLB: Bud Selig Needs to Stop Tweaking Baseball

Bud Selig in Chicago, at SoxFest

While Selig should be commended for the current financial health of baseball, its popularity continues to be on the wane. According to a recent Harris poll , America’s former favorite, baseball, is tied with college football for the second favorite sport among Americans, trailing the NFL as America’s game. Baseball’s popularity has been declining for several decades now, concurrent to Selig’s twenty years as the game’s commissioner. While it’s not necessarily important that baseball is the nation’s most popular game, it makes one wonder if the game is being properly marketed, and if the game’s integrity is currently of any importance to the current regime.

Some of the obvious reasons for the game’s popularity decline can be blamed on the strike of 1994, which ended that season prematurely, as well as the steroid scandals which continue to pop up despite sweeping changes. Americans also have more entertainment options with the explosion of the internet, increased programming choices, as well as more sports fighting for fans’ interest, such as mixed martial arts, international sports like soccer, and college sports. Fans continue to go to baseball games in record numbers, not because of Selig’s changes, but for the game itself, and Selig’s tweaking continues to peck away at the fabric of the game.

In response to the embarrassment over his decision to call the 2002 All-Star game a tie, Selig attempted to make the annual game mean something again. This is perhaps Selig’s worst decision affecting the rules of baseball, and it’s a decision that still impacts the game of baseball negatively. The winning league of the annual All-Star continues to determine which league’s representative team gets home-field advantage in that season’s World Series. This was done in response to players who chose not to show up to the All-Star game, and managers who favored their own All-Star players by resting them, and emptying benches to make sure every All Star gets some game action.

MLB: Bud Selig Needs to Stop Tweaking BaseballThe 2011 World Series underscores the problem with this still-ridiculous rule. While the St. Louis Cardinals absolutely deserved their championship last season, it might have played out differently if the team with the better regular-season record, the Texas Rangers, had home field advantage during the Series. In theory, a team that works hard during the season, and wins 110 games, doesn’t get home field advantage in the World Series if some second-tier “All-Star” from the opposing league hits a home run in an exhibition game in July. This continues to be unfair and a completely random act of a commissioner who has not properly respected the history of the game.

While interleague play has had its benefits since its inception in 1995, creating fan interest where there exists natural rivalries, it has also created awkward and uninteresting match-ups between small-market teams who fail to fill seats on any given night, regardless of opponent. While all of the other major sports have had mixed games between conferences and leagues, baseball was unique in this regard, and it now appears irreversible. Selig has now proposed sending the Houston Astros to the American League, evening the amount of teams in each league, and thereby creating the need for season-long interleague play. Enjoy that Pittsburgh Pirates-Oakland A’s series that nobody has been clamoring for.

While cherry-picking Selig’s poor decisions may seem unfair, his ultimate sin was his handling of the growth of performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. While the players’ union fought the league’s desire to implement stricter drug testing, Selig and his partners, the team owners, failed to acknowledge the growing problem of juiced-up players crushing balls out of the park in record numbers. His credibility with baseball fans had completely evaporated after U.S. lawmakers had to force baseball to change.

As baseball continues to recover from the steroid scandal that continues to stain the game, Selig’s meddling with the rules and traditions of baseball will hopefully be reviewed by a future commissioner who has more sense of the impact that those changes have on the game.

-James Kries

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