The timing of Bud Selig’s pre-retirement news conference at Camden Yards Tuesday was delicious. It was 20 years to the day after major league players walked out and initiated the most disastrous labor showdown in baseball history.
The great work stoppage of 1994-95 turned the fans against both the players and owners, and the owner with the biggest target on his back was the acting commissioner, who would eventually become the permanent commissioner and run Major League Baseball for a total of 22 years.
Selig will retire in January and his replacement is expected to be elected Thursday at baseball's quarterly owners meeting at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore.
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He's a grandfatherly figure now, but Selig was the face of the hardline ownership stance in 1994 that forced the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in nearly a century, and stubborn union chief Donald Fehr didn’t get off easy, either.
The players and owners stared each other down until the owners forced the a settlement and future Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor quashed it – essentially forcing the owners to abandon their quest for a hard salary cap.
What would follow was a sharp downturn in fan interest that coincided with an upturn in steroid abuse and led to an explosion of offensive production that actually played a huge role in reforging the bond between the fans and the sullied National Pastime.
That’s why conspiracy theorists think that baseball – and Selig – looked the other way until the performance-enhancement scandal blew up with a series of major revelations and scandals.
Maybe ownership and the players union were culpable for allowing the druggies to take over the sport, but give Selig credit for turning the tide.
He made the eradication of illegal PEDs his top priority and commissioned the Mitchell Report, which – along with continuous pressure from Congress – put huge pressure on the players union to accept one of the strictest PED testing and disciplinary systems in professional sports.
Meanwhile, the impact of the incremental economic changes that came so painfully during a long series of labor stoppages began to narrow the revenue gap between the large-market and small-market teams and Major League Baseball enjoyed an economic renaissance that has boosted franchise values and total industry revenue from $1.2 billion in 1994 to about $9 billion now.
That’s how Selig went from being the doofus who settled for a tie in his own All-Star Game to the guy who is taking a victory lap this week in Baltimore.
Who would have imagined his successor would have such a tough act to follow.