“Nobody wanted to play more than I did, but I have to balance the concerns and hopes of the fans against the welfare of the players and the game. And every so often you get caught in a really difficult and sensitive situation. This is why they have a commissioner, because somebody has to make those decisions.” – MLB Commissioner Bud Selig
The first Major League All-Star Game was played on July 6, 1933 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. It was initiated at the insistence of Arch Ward, a sports editor for the Chicago Tribune, to coincide with the celebration of Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition. For over seventy-three years, the “Midsummer Classic” has remained a fan favorite, showcasing the top talent in baseball. The managers and the fans for the 1933 and 1934 games originally selected All-Star teams. From 1935 through 1946, managers selected the entire team for each league. From 1947 to 1957, fans chose the team’s starters and the manager chose the pitchers and the remaining players. From 1958 through 1969, managers, players and coaches made the All-Star Team selections. In 1970, the vote again returned to the fans for the selection of the starters for each team and remains there today.
In 2003, after a first-half season of “un-fan-friendly” baseball including controversies over steroids, corked bats, the lingering threat of team contractions and accusations of unfair trade practices, Major League Baseball’s marketing division attempted to restore the fans’ faith in the game and make amends for the 2002 debacle that had ended in a 7-7 tie after both leagues ran out of available pitchers. To add more meaning to the fledgling exhibition, the 2003 Midsummer Classic slogan read “This Time It Counts” and for the first time in professional baseball history, home-field advantage in the World Series would be granted to the winner.
However, it was the previously mentioned 2002 Midsummer Classic that provided one of the most disappointing endings to an otherwise stellar contest. The 73rd All-Star Game was the first played in Miller Park, the second to end in a tie, the tenth to go into extra innings (nine of which were won by the National League making them 9-0-1 to date), and the first to use sixty players.
The game will always be remembered for all of the wrong reasons. It started out as one of the most celebrated, but ended unexpectedly as one of the most disappointing. Baseball had fallen on hard times as alleged steroid abuse and an impending strike over revenue sharing threatened to distance even more fans from the game. Even worse, baseball had lost one of its greatest players the week before as “The Splendid Splinter,” Ted Williams died at the age of 83.
The opening ceremonies were spectacular as baseball highlighted thirty of its greatest moments and featured several of its greatest living participants. Never before had such an elite gathering of new and old talent been brought together on the same field at the same time. Legends of the game including Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays shared the spotlight with future Hall of Famers like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Barry Bonds. The stage was set for a wonderful exhibition as baseball’s best took the field.
Continental Airlines sponsored a new contest in 2002 called the “30th Man,” where fans were solely responsible for selecting a final player they believed to be deserving of the All-Star status. In the American League the top five were Johnny Damon (692,989), Jim Thome (666,825), Eric Chavez (266,110), Magglio Ordonez (179,951) and Darin Erstad (122,458). In the National League the top five were Andruw Jones (559,752), Brian Giles (488,725), Larry Walker (297,174), Albert Pujols (267,196) and Ryan Klesko (138,824).
The game itself had everything, great pitching, excellent fielding, powerful hitting and phenomenal response from the fans. However it finished amid a sea of boos in a 7-7 tie after eleven innings when both teams ran out of pitchers. American League manager Joe Torre and National League skipper Bob Brenly had used all nineteen hurlers in an effort to get everyone in the game. Their efforts to be accommodating would backfire and set a precedent for future changes. Even with all of the controversy, the 2002 Midsummer Classic offered some great moments.
With two outs in the first inning, Barry Bonds launched a long drive to deep right-center field. Torii Hunter glided into the gap, timed his leap and reached far over the fence (his elbow was well above the eight-foot wall) to pull the ball back into the park. Bonds, who had five hundred ninety-four career home runs, and the fans could hardly believe that he’d been robbed of another shot. As Hunter came jogging off the field, Bonds playfully intercepted the Gold Glove winner in the middle of the field, hoisted the Twins star with two hands and put him over his shoulder.
Lance Berkman, leading the majors with twenty-nine home runs and eighty-one runs batted in, hit a two-out, two-run single off Kazuhiro Sasaki in the seventh inning that rallied the National League to a 7-6 lead. The Houston outfielder delivered after Byung-Hyun Kim blew a lead in the top half. But Omar Vizquel, making a rare appearance at second base because the American League had five shortstops on its roster, made it seven all with a RBI triple in the eighth inning off Giants closer Robb Nen.
Then it happened. After two extra innings the game was called at a tie. Commissioner Bud Selig was left with few options and made the ultimate decision to call the game. It was the first tie in All-Star play since a game in 1961 was stopped by rain. When the game was called, the fans started the Bad News Bears chant of “Let them Play! Let them Play!” to no avail. Even worse, there was no Most Valuable Player picked. It was bad timing, too, since the trophy was renamed to honor Ted Williams, the Hall of Famer who died July 5. While the sport’s most memorable moments were shown earlier on the board, baseball also paused to remember St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile and Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck who had both recently passed away. Kile’s number 57 jersey hung in the National League dugout and Buck’s widow was in attendance.
The end result left intact the American League’s five-game winning streak. The National League led the overall series 40-31 and now had two ties. The game took three hours and twenty-nine minutes. Five other All-Star Games had lasted longer than eleven innings, the most recent being the National League’s 2-0 win in thirteen innings in 1987. Well aware of the public’s outrage, Commissioner Bud Selig immediately stated that, “This will never happen again.” He added at a later press conference, “Never in our wildest dreams did we conceive the game would end in a tie. With the health of the players, frankly, we had no choice. As much as I hated to do it, and with all the reluctance in the world, I had no choice but to call the game.”
During the postgame interview Paul Konerko, who tied the All-Star Game record for doubles with two, said of his accomplishment, “Somehow I don’t think this game will be remembered for that. Except maybe by me.” Not surprisingly, the sports press was far from sympathetic with Commissioner Selig’s dilemma and pulled no punches in voicing their displeasure. The managers and players quietly stood by the decision, although few were happy about it. As a result, Selig himself was the sole individual who took the brunt of the public’s displeasure. Fortunately for them, the coaches in the doomed contest, Torri and Brenly were already fan favorites and the players’ loyalty to both their skippers and the Commissioner garnered some respect.
Historically, the 2002 All-Star Game’s fizzle would be a blemish that would remain on the record of Bud Selig for years to come. Many of his supporters said that it was an unfair judgment and that anyone else who was put in the same predicament would have rendered the same verdict. Selig’s critics stated that it was just another botched decision in a long list of disappointments with the state of modern Major League Baseball. Being the senior caretaker of America’s national pastime is a perilous position. Much like a politician, Bud Selig’s story was the perfect example of sharing a stormy relationship with those you serve. It also illustrates the double-edged sword that comes with being the MLB commissioner.
Beyond the obvious jobs of coaches and players, there are countless support and administrative personnel facilitating the “behind the scenes” aspects of the sport. Since its inception, professional baseball has appointed one top executive, the Commissioner of Baseball, to oversee the entire operation and maintain the integrity of the game. Unfortunately, like most public officials, the commissioner is often forgotten in times of prosperity, yet he is the first to be blamed when problems arise. It is a job that requires not only a tremendous love for the game, but an even greater patience for the fans and the media. From Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to Francis T. Vincent, Jr., most commissioners have experienced disappointment expressed by the fans at one time or another.
One man, however, seemed to have taken this love-hate relationship with the public to another level. Unfortunately, this commissioner appeared to have inherited a broken version of the national pastime. “His” baseball, unlike any of his predecessors, had been corrupted by big money endorsements, self-centered athletes and performance enhancing drugs. Therefore, the game of baseball that he was handed to manage was all but a faded shadow of the glory days when players were worthy and the fans treated them with respect. Many purists still believe that both classes have declined in the modern game and as a result, much of the blame has fallen back on the commissioner. This poses the question. Why would anyone willingly take on such a role, fully aware of the burden that awaits him or her? And who would want to? The answer to both questions lies in looking at the man who did: Mr. Alan H. “Bud” Selig.
Selig was a successful car dealer from Wisconsin who purchased the fledgling American League franchise known as the Seattle Pilots for a reported $10.8 million dollars. When Milwaukee joined the major leagues in 1953, Bud became a faithful Braves fan and subsequently the largest public stockholder in 1963. Unfortunately, he would later watch his beloved Braves move to Atlanta in 1965 resulting in the loss of both his team and his investment. Recognizing the importance of baseball to his city, Selig later formed an organization dedicated to reestablishing a team in Milwaukee. (Ironically, several of his teams are included in this very study of baseball’s most embarrassing franchises.)
Following several heartbreaking failures, Bud was finally successful in 1970 when a Seattle bankruptcy court awarded the Seattle franchise to the investment group led by him, and the modern day Milwaukee Brewers were born. Amazingly, Bud’s college roommate was Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, who eventually acquired the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, so both men went on to become owners of professional sports teams within their own city. Like his political partner, Selig was always active in his community as a member of the board of the Green Bay Packers football team and the University of Wisconsin medical school. He was also the founder of “Athletes for Youth,” a trustee of the Boys and Girls Club, and helped establish both the Child Abuse Prevention Network and Businesses Against Drunk Driving.
After his appointment to the position of “Interim Commissioner” in 1992, Bud was officially named baseball’s ninth commissioner six years later on July 2, 1998. Following his appointment, Selig’s daughter Wendy took over as acting president of the Brewers club and his interest in the team was placed in a trust. First and foremost a fan, Bud entered the position of commissioner with the same tenacity that had led him in his crusade for a franchise in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, baseball was still reeling from multiple labor disputes and was suffering a steady decline in both ticket sales and television ratings. Over the last two decades, the National Football League had clearly become the most powerful and financially successful sport with professional basketball not far behind. Unbelievably, professional baseball had slipped from a perennial National Pastime to third on the list of popular American sports.
From the day he first entered the offices of the executive council, Bud had faced many serious and difficult issues. Initially, he presided over the 230-day strike that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. Eventually, he was able to help secure a new collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association, but afterward, many disgruntled fans felt that the Fall Classic’s cancellation was a major factor in the decline of baseball’s popularity. To this day, some believe that the game will never fully recover and may never again reach the romantic heights that it once enjoyed.
Some of Selig’s other contributions to the game were the implementation of new rules, as well as the institution of addition playoff rounds. Some of these changes were overwhelmingly popular or unpopular with baseball’s fans. These included the establishment of “Interleague Play,” which opened up the door for many American and National League teams to compete against one another for the first time in history; the Wild Card system which added opportunities for more teams to participate in the post season; and the validation of the All-Star Game by making it count for home-field advantage in the World Series.
Perhaps the biggest threat faced by Commissioner Selig was the rapidly growing dichotomy between rich and poor teams. Few people however, could be as uniquely well-suited to address this issue. As the owner of a small market team, Selig obviously understood the difficulties that the “Milwaukee’s” of the world have going up against financially superior teams like the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, this issue continues to plague Major League Baseball and, along with the debate over mandatory drug testing, has turned the spotlight on Selig to fix the problem at all costs. Over the last few years, many fans and the media have doubted Selig’s abilities, refusing to recognize that some of his policies have had a noticeable impact on fixing today’s “broken game” Fortunately for him, many others have applauded his efforts and baseball finally appears to be making a slow but steady comeback.
So far, Bud Selig’s legacy has been met with mixed emotions and it seems that for every fan who recognizes the benefits of change, there is a purist who denies them. Time will only tell if Selig’s legacy will be remembered in a positive or negative light. As of the publishing of this book, his term in office is far from being over and many issues still need to be resolved. Hopefully better days for baseball are on the horizon. However, much like the stymied participants in the 2002 All-Star Game, Commissioner Bud Selig can’t win either.