ST. LOUIS — Bud Selig, nearly out of the abyss of the performance-enhancing drug scandal and reaching the point where he can truly celebrate the success of a cleaner game and a sport that is financially thriving, was all smiles before Game 3 of the World Series.
The commissioner of Major League Baseball is pleased with the progress of the sport and, because of it, he has been replaced as the most unpopular commissioner in major sports by Gary Bettman or perhaps Roger Goodell.
Selig can leave at the end of the 2014 season knowing he pushed the sport in a more positive direction, escaping the horrid attention of the steroid era, with most teams playing in a ballpark that is 15 years old or younger, and with television ratings rising.
It wasn’t always this glorious.
Selig was considered Mr. Magoo 19 years ago when a players strike canceled the World Series and when players suddenly returned from offseasons with increased hat sizes, bulging muscles, acne-laden backs, and piercing power.
Selig was accused of turning a blind eye on the steroid era because it quite honestly bailed the sport out of the negative publicity and perceptions created by the wasted 1994 season.
The sport’s biggest stars were shooting themselves up, popping pills, and drinking loaded shakes to increase their home run numbers or return quicker from injuries.
Meanwhile, Selig forced interleague down our throats. While the yearlong interleague schedule remains a disaster, the Houston Astros playing in the American League is strange, and empty ballparks in St. Petersburg and Oakland are depressing, Selig has recovered from his decadelong stupor to repair the game.
The sport is coming after steroid offenders, most specifically Alex Rodriguez, whose bizarre appeal of his 212-game suspension continues. Selig nearly bled trying to bite his tongue as he promised not to comment specially on Rodriguez’s allegations that Major League Baseball is unfairly making him a scapegoat and wants him to retire.
“I said months ago that I wasn’t going to comment and I think it’s best there,” he said. “I think there really is a lot of things I could say. Believe me, I will say this, I’m sorry for what you [the media] have to listen to every day. That’s all I say.
“Look I am not a lawyer in that area. I’m not a lawyer altogether, but . . . I’m very comfortable with what they did [in the Rodriguez case]. I’ve been in baseball now 50 years and I thought I had seen everything, but apparently I hadn’t.”
Rodriguez was once the game’s poster boy, along with Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra, but now Major League Baseball has made it clear that cheaters, regardless of their intentions, regardless of what they once were or their home run totals, will be vilified.
The suspension of Rodriguez was harsh, but it needed to be. Two- or three-time offenders should miss years, not months, and Selig recovered from his denials quickly enough to improve the major league brand. It’s not pristine, but definitely better than the ragged appearance of the late 1990s.
“I’m not leaving quite yet,” he said with a smile. “But I’m very pleased [with the state of the game]. The last six years have been the best years in our history. Our gross revenues have exploded. Every criteria, every barometer than one wants to use, is up. The sport has never been more popular and I just read [a report] on asset values and it certainly makes my 30 owners very, very happy.
“But that’s a manifestation of popularity in the sport. However you want to look at it, that is. Obviously asset values are up tremendously and that does make me happy, because that’s the state of the game.
“Look, there will always be problems. That’s why you gotta have a commissioner, whether it’s Tampa, whether it’s San Francisco/Oakland. I got used to that after 22 or 23 years, even the situation in New York [with Rodriguez] is not one you dream about, but the fact is, over all, the spot is doing wonderfully by any criteria anybody wants to use.”
Selig has a right to be proud of his recent accomplishments, but there are plenty of issues with the game: The four-hour postseason contests that tip midnight; his fascination with interleague play (as if a Detroit-Miami season-ending series is somehow more compelling than Detroit-Cleveland); and the limits of instant replay (something Selig was vehemently against for years). They are all matters that need to be addressed in the next 12 months.
But for now Selig can smile.
“I have some things I’d like to improve,” he said. “But we’ll see how things works out.”