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SUICIDE Squeeze
Frank Deford
July 08, 2002
Bud Selig has put his legacy on the line by tightening the screws on the players' union. If there's a strike this season, he'll be the one who takes the fall
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July 08, 2002

Suicide Squeeze

Bud Selig has put his legacy on the line by tightening the screws on the players' union. If there's a strike this season, he'll be the one who takes the fall

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The issue may be moot now, because thanks to the threat of contraction, the Twins could get the new stadium they need to remain viable. Still, Selig denies that there ever was any sweetheart payback. The Pohlad loan, he says, was short-term and duly reported to the other owners. Besides, the proposed contraction agreement states that if the Twins fold, there can be no windfall for the Brewers because the Twins' TV shares will be split equally among all remaining teams.

Selig's image outside the owners' council fosters suspicion at best, disbelief at worst. Perhaps it's a foolish measure, but in an online poll taken by The Toronto Star this year, readers were asked which commissioner they would buy a used car from, and Selig ran a dismal last, garnering only 6% of the vote. He's often, in fact, referred to erroneously as a used-car salesman, a profession that is only about a step up from telemarketer and drug dealer on the U.S. trust scale.

In any event, the quality that has propelled Selig to the top—his cozy, folksy insider's legerdemain—counts for nothing on the public stage, where a persuasive, prepossessing leader might mount his steed and unsheath his saber in defense of his game. So most of Selig's admirers defend the commissioner's lack of a commanding presence by making a virtue out of it, offering some version of "What you see is what you get." And yes, maybe that style is in nowadays. Selig's former co-owner, the man who would be commissioner, George W. Bush, has not been held back by malapropisms and rambling inarticulation.

Still, for all that Selig's stick-to-itiveness has banded his own troops together, what good is perseverance now, in the external battle? What good is tenacity in a press conference? What good is his virtuousness when he's pitted against somebody just as holier-than-thou? What good is his determination when the note is due tomorrow, with interest? "The union runs baseball," Vincent says. "Well, no. Now the banks run baseball. But Fehr knows that, so the effect is the same. He only has to threaten to take the players out in September, and the banks will force the owners to settle, because they simply can't afford to lose the postseason revenue, especially the television money."

Selig swears that this time he will hold his forces together. And there is a certain eloquence in his resolve. Maybe the union hates him so because it takes one to know one. Selig is the first ideologue the players have had looking back at them, trading zeal for zeal. Selig cries out, "People are always asking me, everywhere, even in the big markets, 'When are you going to fix the system to help give everybody a chance?' Well, I'm here to protect the fans' interest and the clubs' interest. Somebody's gotta have the courage to stop the way things are going."

Chuckling at the memory, Selig recalls a meeting in which Jerry Hoffberger of the Orioles got mad at Charley Finley of the A's. "Charley," Hoffberger said, "spare me the indignity of telling me it's raining out when you're pissing on my leg." Well, it is Buddy's analization that it is not precipitation that is falling on baseball right now. Lesser men with only talent, genius or education at their command might not have been dogged enough to stay out in the storm long enough to conclude that.

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