SI Vault
Edited by Richard O'Brien and Kostya Kennedy
May 06, 1996
The Buddy System
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May 06, 1996


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The Buddy System

Ever since Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig was appointed by his fellow baseball owners as acting commissioner 44 months ago, critics have noted that he is a walking conflict of interest. The needs of his Brewers, a financially struggling franchise in one of baseball's less lucrative markets, don't necessarily jibe with the best interests of the game. Would baseball's labor negotiators, for example, have battled so stubbornly over revenue sharing if a permanent commissioner—or an owner from a richer market—had been in charge?

Selig, it seems, has received favored treatment by the other owners. Last fall baseball's executive council conditionally awarded the 1999 All-Star Game to Milwaukee. The condition: The city must build a stadium before the '99 season. Selig already has the blueprints for Miller Park, but the project needs $160 million in public funding in addition to the $90 million that Selig has pledged. In an act of philanthropy unprecedented in its scale—at least for them—the other American League owners voted in March to extend Selig a $10 million line of credit to help convince the state to keep the project moving forward. Even Selig concedes the money is partly a reward for his work as acting commissioner. Further helping Selig, league president Gene Budig went to Milwaukee on April 15 and told the local stadium board to forge ahead with its funding plan or risk the loss of the All-Star Game and the estimated $50 million in economic activity it would be expected to generate in Milwaukee. "The competition for this event is keen," Budig warned. "We are holding 1999 for you but need assurance of a new ballpark."

Selig's role in disciplinary matters may be the most worrisome aspect of his commissionership. No owner should wield power over players on rival teams, yet it was Selig who, a month before Opening Day, fined Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle $50,000 for his tirade against NBC reporter Hannah Storm at last year's World Series (page 72). Selig ordered Belle to seek counseling and put him on warning. Though Budig will handle Belle's latest alleged transgression, throwing a ball that struck a photographer who was trying to take Belle's picture for SI, Selig's Series ruling presumably will factor into Budig's disciplinary decision. Belle is the best hitter on the best team in the Brewers' division. What if he were suspended for several games and the Brewers went on to win by a game?

Selig seems a man of integrity, and his passion for baseball is undeniable. Nevertheless, he continues to expose baseball's highest office to at least the appearance of a conflict of interest and—in trying to get his team a new stadium—is looking more and more like someone cashing in on his position.

Don't Let It Be

The management committee of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) will recommend to its membership that the service let be eliminated on a trial basis for some Davis Cup matches. The proposed change, which must be passed by majority vote at the organization's June meeting, makes sense: Play continues when balls nick the net during rallies, so why shouldn't it continue if the ball nicks the net on a serve? As the ITF says, Let calls give no advantage to either player and serve only to slow matches.

Face it, tennis: There comes a time to just let go.

Here Flips the Bride

It wasn't quite Charles and Di, but last weekend in Bucharest, Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci tied the knot in what can only be described as the gymnastics world's version of a royal wedding. Comaneci, 34, the darling of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, at which she won the all-around title and became the first gymnast in the history of the Games to score a perfect 10, and Conner, 38, a double gold-medal winner for the U.S. at the L.A. Games in '84, had been an item since shortly after Comaneci defected to the U.S. from Romania in '89. Together they've built something of a mini-empire of the mats, teaching gymnastics at their own gym in Norman, Okla., performing exhibitions around the world, providing television commentary and even bouncing their way through a syndicated fitness-and-cooking TV program.

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