On Sunday, Commissioner Bud Selig will step down after 23 years at the helm, passing the torch to Rob Manfred. Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk makes the case that Bud Selig is the "greatest commissioner in the history of baseball." While some may disagree with that notion, baseball fans have enjoyed labor peace for two decades, greater access to games online due to MLBAM, and the sport itself has enjoyed record revenues topping $9 billion, equaling the mighty NFL.
How has the Bud Selig era impacted the Royals? The Bud Selig era coincides with the worst stretch of baseball in Royals franchise history with 18 of the 26 losing seasons in franchise history occurring over that stretch. That awful stretch has its roots in several causes - the death of the Kauffmans and the limbo the franchise spent years in before being sold, the wave of new stadiums, the rise of regional sports networks, the inflation of player salaries, the offensive explosion fueled in part by performance enhancing drugs, and poor drafts and scouting by the Royals coupled with stingy management. Some of these are attributable to Commissioner Selig, but some of them are not. Let's take a look in the ways Bud Selig had the biggest impact on the Kansas City Royals.
He Killed the 1994 Season
The demise of the 1994 season wasn't all Bud Selig's fault - it was the MLBPA that went on strike after all. But it was the owner's hardline demands, including a hard salary cap, that led to a work stoppage that would eventually cancel the last month of the season and the World Series. Selig had been thrust into power by hardline anti-union owners like Jerry Reinsdorf, and 1994 was the war they had been looking for.
Unfortunately, this came at the expense of a thrilling Royals season. The Royals, having hovered around .500 much of the year, went on an amazing 14-game winning streak in late July and August to pull within one game of the division lead, and were right in the mix for the newly created Wild Card. Less than a week after the winning streak was snapped, the players went on strike, never to play again that year. We'll never know how that season would have ended up, but who knows, maybe we could have a magical season in 1994 as well?
He Handpicked David Glass to Own the Royals
In 1998, the Royals Board of Directors, headed by Chairman David Glass, approved a $75 million offer to purchase the club by New York attorney Miles Prentice. Prentice had corralled a large investment group, 75% of the capital coming from local investors including Buck O'Neil, Tom Watson, real estate magnate James B. Nutter, and banker R. Crosby Kemper. Prentice said he was committed to keeping the team in Kansas City, although he called for renovations to the stadium.
However at the owner's meeting in 1999, Commissioner Selig convinced fellow owners to kill the deal. The owners voted 29-1 (with only the Royals dissenting) to table the issue, effectively ending Prentice's bid. Baseball officials claimed to be concerned with the size and stability of the ownership group and the ability of the group to raise capital to fund the team, although some thought that owners were concerned Prentice wasn't "one of them." Baseball officials said that David Glass, who had exited bidding because he did not think he had the support of fans, should be the next owner of the Royals.
In 2000, they got their wish. David Glass was unanimously approved by Major League Baseball as owner of the Royals after a bid of $96 million. What would follow was a decade of anger by Royals fans as the team was run on the cheap with losing seasons before the team would finally start to see success under Dayton Moore.
He Improved Revenue Sharing, Bringing a More Competitive Royals Team
There is no doubt that the Royals enjoy greater revenues than they ever have before. Revenue sharing was introduced in 2002, to address the growing inequities in baseball. For example, by 1999 the top seven teams averaged more than double the revenues of the bottom 14 teams. Large market teams were making millions of lucrative regional sports networks, while small market clubs cried poor. Revenue sharing forced larger markets to share the pie.
However, the system at first, encouraged free-loading. Small market teams were not obligated to spend their checks on player personnel. In fact, they had a disincentive to maximize profits, because being profitable would mean they would have to pay into the revenue-sharing system. The Royals were "Exhibit A" for the problems with the system, collecting revenue-sharing checks, but continuing to field a non-competitive ball club on the cheap.
The system was later tweaked to remove the disincentive among the smaller market clubs to keep revenues down. The latest Collective Bargaining Agreement also ensured that teams receiving revenue sharing checks must prove they are spending the money on improving their team, in addition to fixing other flaws in the system. These changes have not only allowed the Royals to become more competitive, it has forced the Royals to become more competitive by requiring them to spend money on player personnel.
Bud Selig was the Commissioner that helped usher in this new revenue-sharing model, and oversaw the amendments to the system that helped produce greater competitive balance. Granted, he was part of the system that allowed the system to become wildly unequal in the first place, and the MLBPA played its role in changing the system, but Selig was in charge and the game of baseball is much more competitive today than it was fifteen years ago.
Bud Selig leaves with a mixed legacy of ups and downs. He will forever be known as the man who cancelled the 1994 World Series, and infamously called the 2002 All-Star Game a tie. He oversaw divisional realignment, the expansion of four new clubs, the introduction of two Wild Cards to the playoffs, the implementation of instant replay, the development of MLB Advanced Media, and the most lucrative national television deals the sport has ever seen. Judged by just money, he has been an unqualified success. Judged by fans, he has a much more tarnished legacy.