By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The best news of the latest collective bargaining agreement to be reached between Major League Baseball players and owners is the demolition of the what was the worst rule in pro sports: the MLB All-Star game determining home-field advantage in the World Series.
It only took 14 years for logic to prevail, but we’re back to the innovative notion that the team with the better record will get home field on the sport’s biggest stage. The jettisoned exhibition rule was a panicked, reactionary response from then-commissioner Bud Selig following a tie in the inconsequential game in 2002. As the baseball gods would have it, just a few days following the new CBA, Selig on Sunday was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame for his service of not burning baseball to the ground or something.
I’m not here to argue against Selig’s Hall credentials, even though he’s just the fifth former commissioner elected, joining racist megalomaniac Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ford Frick, Bowie Kuhn and Happy Chandler. Instead let’s discuss some irony.
Selig was chosen by the clunkily named Today’s Game Era committee, which per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel “considered former executives, players, managers and umpires with at least 10 years of service whose contributions came primarily from 1988 to the present.” And what is today’s game post-Selig?
It’s an increasingly advanced data-driven game, and we know that wasn’t a Selig germination. It’s one in which pitchers and hitters may be the best specimens ever to play. About that…
Baseball, as fun and beautiful as its followers know it to be, is constantly shadowed by the tacit suspicion that anyone we are watching on the field might be on performance-enhancing drugs. This is Selig’s legacy. Of course he didn’t invent steroids, nor were they first used under his watch, but Selig presided over baseball’s steroid era, the stupidest time in sports in terms of revisionist history and hypocritical hot takes.
That Selig quietly condoned the chemical inflations of stars like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds for the sake of revenue inflation is well understood. And that’s fine if you don’t consider that Selig conveniently turned narc once we all got wise to what was happening and acted like this scourge on the game was a surprise to him like some clueless parent’s sweet son who never leaves the basement getting popped at school with reefer.
“Yes, it was terribly painful, broke my heart,” Selig said of the 1994 strike that cost the game many fans and left it scrambling to win back eyes and dollars. “But it served as a great lesson and we took it. The same thing with the steroid thing. Yes it was painful, yes it had its ups and downs. But we solved that problem. We now have the toughest testing program in American sports.”
“The steroid thing” — maybe no flippant, tone-deaf phrase could better describe the Selig steroid era.
And today with that stringent drug testing policy, players every year get popped for peeing hot and lose 50 games or more to suspensions. Several others are presumably secretly working with smarter, smoother versions of Victor Conte to constantly be ahead of the testing system. Selig cultivated this culture while the players — the labor — feel the brunt for doing what he helped show kids in the 1990s was what you needed to do to make the pros.
Those punishments extend to the Hall of Fame candidacy of the steroid era players up to any current ones who have allegedly or definitively tested positive for PEDs. For essentially following marching orders, Sosa and McGwire will never make the world’s most self-satisfactory museum. The greatest hitter in modern baseball history and holder of two of its most important hitting records, Bonds is a massive elephant outside the room of plaques. Steroid users who entertained the fans and generated the gobs of cash that lined their pockets and those of the ill-fitting suits like Selig’s are persona non grata while the symbol of bumbling management falling upward in every office gets credit as a grower of the game (that can’t get kids to watch anymore).
So with Selig enshrined in Cooperstown, how can self-righteous scribes claim they need to keep suspected cheaters out in the name of game sanctity? You can’t reward the kingpin and in good faith shut out the dutiful players who did the legwork of hitting all those dingers that brought the fans back when the game was at its direst.
That would be like insisting for more than a decade that an exhibition game directly impacting your sport’s championship was important and right. And then being championed for it.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.