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A New Blue review

Selig ends up ahead in a game of risk

November 03, 2011|BILL DWYRE
  • Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig takes part in news conference prior to the start of Game 7 of the World Series on Friday. Selig may be a magnet for criticism, but he understands how important the Dodgers are for baseball.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig takes part in news conference… (Jamie Squire / Getty Images )

On the day after he won the war and gave the Dodgers back to Los Angeles, Bud Selig took on an entirely new persona.

Toast of the town.

During his nearly 20 years as commissioner of baseball, he has been called many things, but hardly anything that complimentary.

To many in this generation of sports critics who have a pair of pajamas, a laptop and a basement to type from, he is known as "Bud Lite," or "Bad-Hair Bud." He is an easy target because he is 77 years old, doesn't look or speak like a movie star, hails from a burg called Milwaukee and is most effective out of sight of cameras and TMZ.

We live in an age of Kardashian shallowness, and Selig's roots are deep in the soil of hard work and slow-moving compromise. He is snail mail in a texting world.

The pajama typists love to point to the 2002 All-Star game that he called off when they ran out of pitchers, or to his stewardship during the steroid era of baseball. That the All-Star episode was little more than a blip is seldom given that perspective. Nor is the fact that Selig took on the steroid issue effectively and creatively with the Mitchell Report.

We just finished watching one of the more exciting and compelling World Series ever played. That is a credit to many people in the sport, including the top guy. With Selig, much of the public seems unwilling to go there. It seems to want its commissioner of baseball as part Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and part Robert Redford.

What Selig did with the Dodgers should be an image game-changer. How and where he closed the deal is even more revealing, and fitting.

As of early evening Tuesday, there was no deal to have Frank McCourt agree to sell the Dodgers at auction. But in New York, negotiations were percolating.

And where was Selig? He was sitting in a banquet room at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, there to make the keynote address at a function sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, Los Angeles Council. It was called the Good Character Gala, and Selig's topic was "Character, Leadership and Values."

Could it have been more fitting?

As attendees dined and the program began, activity heated at Selig's table. Cellphones buzzed. Proposals were exchanged. Selig relayed decisions.

"It was about 9:30 when we got the word," Selig said by phone Wednesday afternoon, after flying home to Milwaukee. "It was pretty hectic."

Then he had to get up and make a speech.

"That was a little difficult," he said.

So, presumably, was sleeping Tuesday night.

For Selig, the successful conclusion of negotiations with McCourt had to be a career highlight, in a career in baseball that began more than 40 years ago, with the acquisition of a team for his city to replace the departed and beloved Milwaukee Braves. That eventually led to his interim role as baseball commissioner, starting in 1992 and becoming permanent in 1998.

His own ownership experience from back then probably played a role in the steadfast path he took on the need for McCourt to sell. One of the things he was noted for as an owner of the Milwaukee Brewers was his practice, after nearly every home game, of walking the parking lots around Milwaukee County Stadium as fans left, then stopping at the stadium's on-site sheriff's station to check on any accidents or arrests.

One can only imagine his reaction when he heard of Bryan Stow's beating on opening day at Dodger Stadium last spring.

The risk he took against McCourt should not be overlooked, especially because it was taken by a man who operates by careful decision-making and consensus-building.

He had his sport's "best interests of baseball" clause on his side, a document signed by all owners, including McCourt. But he also faced the uncertainty of how a judge would see that, and what legal tactics might stick.

Had a judge disagreed and diluted in any way that "best interests" clause, Selig could have been at the center of the destruction of the key operating element of the sport. Had a judge even agreed with the "best interests" clause, but decided other owners should testify about their treatment in crises by Major League Baseball, Selig would have allowed an unwanted door to be opened for baseball.

Worse, for Selig, had a judge allowed McCourt's lawyers to put him on the witness stand and do what they are paid to do -- embarrass with a barrage of questions -- Selig might still have won the judgment, but lost hugely in credibility and perception.

Selig's stand was risky business. Wednesday, he addressed that.

"There comes a time in your life as commissioner," he said, "when you have to do things, even when there is no great percentage in the certain result. I did what had to be done. It was a gamble I had to take.

"The Dodgers are a legendary franchise. I had to remain as strong as I possibly could."

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