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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

And This is a Good Thing, Because. . .?

Forget about conspiracy theories, as I write this during the first inning of the All-Star game, where Roger Clemens already has yielded 6 runs in the top of the first. Don't blame Mike Piazza's pitch calling (thankfully we've seen enough of Fox's low-grade hype on the Piazza-Clemens Hatfield-McKoy type relationship to last a milennium) on Clemens' misfortune. You try pitching to those American Leaguers in a bandbox and see what happens.

Sorry Houston, but what a problem you have on your hands tonight. Instead of lionizing a legend, you'll be praying that he doesn't get hurt.

But SportsProf digresses. In skimming the various newspapers on the Internet this evening, SportsProf noticed a headline in USA Today indicating that the Commissioner of Baseball may stay on after his term expires in 2006. Hasn't baseball learned that it shouldn't rain on its own great events with questionable news? True, Bud Selig's talk of contraction right after the D-Backs beat the Yankees in the World Series 3 years ago tops this, but Selig's announcement about his perpetuating his reign is right up there in the realm of absurdity.

Football has had two memorable commissioners, the visionary Pete Rozelle and the very able Paul Tagliabue. Basketball had the very steady Walter Kennedy, the affable Larry O'Brien and the master builder David Stern. And baseball has had, well, who?

None of the commissioners rivals the best the NBA and NFL have had to offer. Even Judge Landis, who allegedly "saved" baseball after the Black Sox scandal of 1919, was a flawed man (his views on the breaking of the color line were awful). Ban Johnson? Ford Frick? Bowie Kuhn? Fay Vincent (who gets lionized in comparison). Bart Giammati (not there long enough to judge)? Bud Selig?

Live in the present we must, and while we'd rather live with the type of Bud(weiser) that's for you, we baseball fans have to live with the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers as Commissioner, and on more than just a caretaker basis at that. And what amazes SportsProf about baseball is that it keeps on going, with its ups and downs, regardless of who the Commissioner is. Imagine the NFL without Rozelle or the NBA without Stern? They could well be far different from what they are today.

Now imagine baseball without a good commissioner? You'd have no World Series in 1994, declining attendance, post-season games that start so late that they go well past the bed-time not only of the average fifth grader but also after the average worker in America. Obscenely high program and beer prices, a steroids scandal, a franchise in woeful decay (Montreal), too many franchises, and as many if not more pitching injuries in 2004 than there were in 1954. The list goes on. You wonder what might have transpired with some meaningful leadership. We all do.

In fairness, the NBA has its problems too, and the NFL isn't perfect. But while NBA and NFL fans applaud the work of those leagues' commissioners, baseball fans simply tolerate theirs at best and ignore him at worst. There is no vision, there is an awful, mistrustul relationship with the players' union (perhaps the most successful union in the history of organized labor) that has persisted for more than a quarter century, and the game has lost its place as the national pastime to professional football.

So when Bud Selig says that he may consider staying on for two years, baseball fans should scream, at the top of their lungs, from the skyscrapers in New York to the farm houses in Iowa, that they just won't stand for it, that they want a commissioner, any commissioner, who can fire up the game and set it on a course for bigger and better things in years to come.

Not all of this is Bud's fault, of course, as the owners of the game have a model of governance that renders the commissioner a candidate for a clinical trial comparing Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. But with baseball attendance on an upswing (thanks, in some part, to new ballparks and to a surprisingly competitive MLB landscape this year), the owners should take stock in their game and its future. And take some bold steps while they have the chance.

And, when they do, they should reward the fans with a structure for MLB that lets the commissioner help steer the game back to preeminence. And after they set up that structure, they should convey the good news that the Bud Selig era is over.

Honor the national pastime, honor this game that defies time, honor the chalk on the baselines and the power alleys and the Green Monster, the ivy, the 7th inning stretch and all of the little things that make this game so wonderful. And, of course, honor the fans, whose fealty has been taken for granted.

Baseball is a great game, a game for boys and their dads, for families to go to and have a good time in great weather. The Lords of Baseball thus far, with all of their blundering (much of it well intentioned), haven't damaged the game beyond repair. The fans just won't let them.

So reward our faith, Lords of Baseball, trust us, hear our call, and give us a commissioner worthy of the title, the next Rozelle, the next Tagliabue, the next Stern.

And the first one in a long time to make a real bit of difference.


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