Earlier today, Allan 'Bud' Selig announced that he plans to retire as commissioner of Major League Baseball following the 2014 season, relinquishing the position he has held for 23 years. This isn't the first time he has discussed retiring. Back in 2008, after signing a four year extension, he declared his plans to retire when his contract expired in 2012. By that time, he had changed his mind and decided to stick around for a few more years. While he may change his mind again, it's safe to assume that this time, he means it. Not only did MLB release an official statement, but Selig will be 80 years old at the end of the 2014 season. For the first time since 1991, it looks like baseball will have a new commissioner.
Selig's time in office was eventful to say the least. He faced a players strike in 1994 that drove many fans away. Work stoppages are never good, and it hurt baseball's popularity as well as their bottom line. Business didn't really pick up until 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris' single season home run record of 61. Looking back, their achievements are tainted, but that entire season was so much fun. ESPN would cut in on at-bats, and fans would check daily where each man stood. While many were aware of steroid use at the time, Selig and other officials saw the money rolling in and chose to turn a blind eye. It was hard to argue with their logic; baseball was back.
Unfortunately, that will be what most people remember about Selig's time as commissioner, the work stoppage and PED scandals. But between the strike and the steroids, Selig oversaw many changes that were drastic at the time, and are often overshadowed and sometimes forgotten.
After adding two expansions teams in 1993, the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies, the league had four divisions with seven teams in each. Going into the 1994 season, a Central Division was added, allowing three division winners and one wild card team to earn a trip to the postseason. An extra round of playoffs and four more playoff eligible teams meant more fan excitement, more meaningful September baseball, and more money for the owners.
In another attempt to get the fans back to the stadium, MLB introduced interleague play prior to the 1997 season. For the first time ever, National League teams would face American League teams during the regular season. It allowed fans to see their team face local rivals that were previously impossible unless both teams won their respective leagues and faced off in the World Series. It allowed fans to see players they might not otherwise have a chance to see play live in their home stadium, and opened the possibility for new rivalries to be born. Baseball purists hated it, but fans packed the house and it proved to be a success.
And then 1998 happened. Baseball ruled ESPN. It ruled talk radio. It ruled the news. IT RULED THE WORLD. Ball games were the place to be. Fans loved Mark McGwire. They loved Sammy Sosa. They could not get enough of the long ball. While Roger Maris faced death threats as he approached Babe Ruth's record in 1961, McGwire and Sosa were celebrated, cheered on, and supported like national heroes. As said earlier, it is nearly impossible to look back, knowing what we do now, and appreciate the home run chase. But at the time, it was something truly special. The steroid stuff cannot be ignored, but it also can't take away how incredible that season was at the time.
After ignoring the problem until Jose Canseco wrote a book about it, Selig has done a lot to clean up the game since then. He commissioned the Mitchell Report, has worked with the Player's Union to implement stricter testing and harsher penalties, and he recently threw the book at Ryan Braun and threw everything he had plus the kitchen sink at Alex Rodriguez. Perhaps it was all too little, too late, but it's a step in the right direction.
While Major League Baseball has thrived here in the United States, interest has grown internationally as well. Seeing an influx of talent from other countries such as the Dominican Republic and Japan, Selig played a big part in creating the World Baseball Classic. The tournament allowed players from around the world to showcase their talents on a multi-national platform, and served as a reminder that although Americans consider baseball to be 'their' sport, talent can be found in all parts of the world. Players like Ichiro Suzuki and Livan Hernandez helped pave the way for standout stars today such as Yu Darvish and Yoennis Cespedes. The international talent pool has grown tremendously during Selig's term, and he did his part to encourage it along the way.
While he has made his fair share of poor decisions (the biggest one personally is giving the winning league in the All Star Game home field advantage in the World Series. I HATE THAT!), his reign as commissioner has been a successful one. He has done a lot of good for the game of baseball, and has left it in a much better place than it was when he took his position in 1992.
He made his owner buddies a lot of money along the way, and most of his decisions were made with that purpose in mind. He was certainly an owner-first, traditions-be-damned kind of commissioner, but it worked. Fans came back and spent their money. Owners took that money, and unless you are a fan of the Astros or the Marlins, they spent it on building a contending team. Once a team starts winning, more fans spend more money, and the cycle continues. Add in additional playoff spots, and more teams are in contention down the final stretch of the season. As a former owner himself, Bud Selig understood what made a team successful, and used that knowledge to build up an entire league. He may walk into the sunset in 2014, but with his fingerprints all over Major League Baseball, his legacy will live on for a long, long time.