No Perfect Game, Arrogant Bud Selig Keeps Hurting Baseball

| by Sports Nickel

By Matt Strobl

Speaking on Monday, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had a number of interesting and disturbing comments on the aftermath of the “perfect game that wasn’t”. 

Trust me...I'm a commissioner. And I have a book about baseball.

By now, most of the sports-watching world is well aware of Armando Galarraga’s bid for perfection, an effort that was spoiled on what should have been the game’s final out when first base umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe.  Donald was out by more than half a step, and all parties, including Joyce, have acknowledged the gravity of the blown call.

In fact, Joyce’s blunder ranks right up there with the worst calls of all time in terms of its impact on the game. Throwing a perfect game is one of the rarest and most difficult feats in baseball, and to have done so but have it remain unrecognized due to a preventable error borders on the inexcusable. 

That being said, Joyce’s handling of the situation has been exemplary. The way he took responsibility for the mistake has rightfully earned him respect from fans, players, and coaches.  Even the stricken Tigers appreciated the accountability, responding in kind with an impressive level of maturity.

Under MLB rules, Selig’s office had the power to review and overturn the call, but the commissioner elected not to use that power. There has been a raging debate on whether or not that was the proper move; for the record I believe that MLB should have corrected the call, given the unique set of circumstances and the way the play happened in near isolation from the rest of the game’s events.  But there are certainly strong arguments for both sides of the issue.

The problem with Selig’s decision isn’t really the result. The result, in itself, is defensible. What’s perplexing is why and how he made it.  Selig has stated that he is “very comfortable” with his choice, an odd turn of phrase considering how controversial it was. Then again, Selig has never been one to take the long view.  His tenure has been one marred with inaction, obfuscation, and a skewed perspective.  Despite that, Selig retains an unshakable confidence in himself, a steadfast support of his maneuvering that, to put it bluntly, ignores reality.

Let’s review some of Bud’s Greatest Hits for quick background on his deluded beliefs:

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, baseball was being infiltrated by steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Yet it took years before MLB made any real progress in deterring drug use. It took scandal upon scandal to force Selig into action, and the reality is that baseball had nothing to say about PEDs when they were fueling the home run races and record-breaking performances of the ’90s. Baseball had no qualms about its players cheating as long as it resulted in profit. It wasn’t until steroid use was caught in a harsh spotlight of public scrutiny that Selig stepped in to do anything about it, and even then he feigned ignorance.

In the late ’90s and early ’00s when MLB was considering contraction as a way of controlling alleged financial losses. The Minnesota Twins were put on the chopping block, thanks in no small part to the gross complicity of then-owner Carl Pohlad. Selig focused on the Twins despite the glaring fact that the nearby Milwaukee Brewers were in far poorer shape. Cutting the Brewers was never considered…it just so happened that Selig’s family owned the team. Coincidence?  Fortunately, the whole issue was tabled before the disgusting conflict of interest could be consummated.

All-Star Game Antics
In 2002, Selig was faced with a rain-soaked All-Star game extending deep into the night. Forced to make a decision (something he generally prefers to avoid), he inexplicably had the game declared a tie. The ending befuddled fans and players alike and stands out like an ugly scar in the record books. Worse, Selig then decided that in future seasons, the All-Star game would determine home field advantage in the World Series, a significant edge in baseball. Keep in mind that All-Star rosters are determined in part by fan voting…any rational person can see the inherent idiocy in using the game to determine anything, much less something important. Spotting idiocy, however, has never been Bud’s strong suit.

Then there are the assorted other stumbles we’ve endured over the years. Selig stretching the season into November so that inclement weather can help determine a champion. Selig presiding over strike-shortened seasons, allowing a labor dispute to degrade into a crippling embarrassment.  Selig mishandling the sale and moving of the Expos franchise. Selig failing to take a stand on critical issues, such as Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame eligibility and instant replay. 

And so on.

The point is this: Selig is really, truly not good at his job. He remains in charge because baseball is rife with cronyism and abhors change. Which brings us back to the Galarraga saga. It frightens and depresses me to hear Selig’s take on the fallout:

“I don’t want to be trite here, but it really turned out to be a great story. You had a pitcher who acted just beautifully. You had an umpire who did what a lot of people in life should do…You have the Tiger fans who acted well, and Jimmy Leyland could not have acted better. I understand all the sadness around it, but I was really proud of baseball. That’s as good as any sport has ever confronted a difficult situation.”

A “great story”?  He’s “proud of baseball”? An accomplishment of historical importance was wiped off the map by a single moment of inattention. The way all involved responded was nice, but this is pure spin. 

The statement highlights his indecisiveness, a flaw that has plagued his career for years. After all, Selig himself oversaw the implementation of instant replay for use on disputed home runs, and the use of the electronic Quest-Tec umpire evaluation system. Clearly, he not only recognized the need to reduce the impact of human error on the game, but actually took unprecedented steps to improve outcomes.

And yet, he went on to say this:

“I can remember as a kid in the 50s, listening to complaints about umpiring: ‘God, it’s awful. It’s terrible. What are they gonna do?’  Here we are 60 years later and we seem to be doing OK…This has gone on for 130 years. You learn after a while there’s nothing new. Grumbling about umpires has gone on since the day they first threw the ball in 1865 to ‘70…Most baseball people are really against instant replay. There’s no question about that. I could sense that the last three days.”

First, “this” hasn’t been going on for 130 years. “This” isn’t merely a bad call on an outside pitch; an umpiring gaffe of this magnitude has rarely (if ever) been seen in more than a century of baseball.  Moreover, we now actually have the technology to do something about it. 

Second, having most people in baseball oppose instant replay didn’t stop Selig from deciding to make it part of the game. That was unprecedented. But now, immediately following an incident that is the biggest, reddest flag I have seen in my time as a fan, he claims that expanded replay is unnecessary? That people don’t want it? If ever there was a play that demanded review, it’s this one. 

How Selig can flip-flop on this issue at this time is unimaginable.

Then again, passing the buck and deferring blame are his sharpest skills. Sometimes it’s not about what’s popular, but what’s right. If the game is willing to use replay for any crucial aspects of play, then it’s beyond absurd not to expand it to cover all game-changing (or history-changing) plays.

In fact, Selig’s decision was worse than an emphatic no on the issue of replay.  Bud finished looking into things by whipping out the old standby– “we’ll look into it further.” 

This sequence of events is a microcosm of what it means to be Selig. When faced with a crucial decision, he does as little as possible and fails to consider the long-term implications. So the next time the game faces a similar dilemma, Bud can simply do what he does best. Shrug his shoulders, appoint a useless blue-ribbon committee, mumble some platitudes, and move on. Or better yet, leave it for the next guy who takes the job. As usual, envisioning and contributing to the game’s long-term success doesn’t appear to matter.

“I’ve been at this the last 45 years of my life, and the last 18 [as commissioner], so I’ll trust my own judgment.”

I think you’re the only one who does, Mr. Selig.

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