There’s a new reality settling in over the landscape of professional sports this winter. Bud Selig has emerged as the best commissioner of the four major pro sports.
That’s not to say that Selig doesn’t have his faults — an egregious lack of instant replay looms largest — but the painless, almost silent manner in which Major League Baseball re-upped on its labor deal this offseason underscores the value of Selig’s stewardship.
Of course, it doesn’t take much these days to rise above the mess of leadership surrounding the other big sports. David Stern has bungled the NBA’s labor deal so thoroughly that the season looks lost for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. After the 1998 lockout, you would think that Stern might have learned from his mistakes and found a way to get a deal done with Billy Hunter and the players. You would think.
Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner, narrowly missed a harmful lockout of his own. But the stories you heard emerging from the board rooms and the negotiating tables didn’t center on what a good job Goodell did handling De Smith and the players’ union. Instead, we’re told it was the leadership of owners like Bob Kraft and John Mara that won the day.
And while guaranteeing 10 years of labor peace earns Goodell some benefit of the doubt, his one-man judge, jury and executioner routine regarding fines for illegal hits has drawn more criticism from players than the lockout ever did.
Gary Bettman shut down the NHL for an entire year to get it to where it is today. Yes, the league is in a better place now and it might not have been able to get there without losing a season down the tubes. But if you’re still curious about what fans think about the NHL’s commissioner, take a listen next time he tries to give away the Stanley Cup — if you can hear him over the boos.
Selig lost a World Series to a players’ strike in 1994, but since then the league has continued to grow and battle through its growing pains.
Baseball expanded to 30 teams in 1998 with the admission of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. 13 years later, the Diamondbacks have a World Series title to their names and the Rays have found a way to compete in the deadly AL East.
The new CBA signed in 1995 expired in 2002, but the league and the players were able to agree to a new one without a lockout or strike. The one that was set to expire in 2011 was agreed to over a month in advance of its expiration date.
Keep in mind there were no small issues being ironed out, either. Selig was able to negotiate revenue sharing, luxury taxes and alter the league’s postseason format. Twice.
Oh, and he also convinced players to allow drug testing. That’s no small feat.
Does Donald Fehr, the former MLBPA chief who was a part of the many of those negotiations, deserve some credit? Yes, of course. Does baseball’s lack of a salary cap make it easier to leverage the players to commit to some otherwise tricky issues? Undoubtedly, yes
But results are results. Baseball has stayed clear of the pitfalls that have tripped up the other three leagues in recent years, and Selig has steered the ship carefully through some dangerous negotiating waters.
You may not like that the All-Star game determines home-field advantage and you may not agree with an emphasis on “the human element,” but you have to tip your cap to Bud.
There are no dark clouds looming on the horizon. For now, Bud Selig is in the driver’s seat and it’s full speed ahead.