MLB Commissioner Bud Selig will close his office door for the last time on January 24th, 2015. This means that the 2015 MLB season will see a new commissioner for the first time since 1992. Selig will be replaced by Rob Manfred, former Executive Vice President of Economics and League Affairs and, more recently, Chief Operating Officer. Manfred will inherit command of baseball at the professional level, a position most sport fans would drool over. But nowadays it seems as if our national pastime is past its time.
A few key topics dominated Selig’s tenure as commissioner. The problem that may be reaping the most attention today is the ever-growing length of games. According to an August 16th New York Times article, “Thirty years ago, the average time of a game was 2 hours 35 minutes. This season, through last Sunday’s games, it was 3 hours 2 minutes 47 seconds, which would be the longest on record.”
Instead of watching baseball, fans have wasted away in front of the TV staring at motionless pitchers and batters who feel the need to step out of the box and adjust their batting gloves every time they see a pitch.
Selig took this opportunity to institute a new set of instant replay and challenge rules for the 2014 season, causing even more time-outs and commercials as well as boredom on the part of fans.
It’s no wonder that baseball is falling on the list of the most popular sports in the nation. According to CBS News, the 2013 Super Bowl boasted over 111 million viewers. An average of 15.5 million tuned in for each game of the 2014 NBA Finals. The average for the 2013 World Series…under 9 million. America’s pastime is America’s third-favorite sport.
But what about the die-hard fans? Surely they still have every reason to follow the sport, if only to root for their teams. Well, some teams have become increasingly harder to root for. Fans supporting small market teams barely ever get a taste of the excitement of a playoff race.
I would be remiss if I did not concede that Selig did, in fact, try to address the gap between small and big market teams. The luxury taxes introduced during his time in office were designed to do just that. How did they work out? Well, no team has won the World Series outside of the top ten markets since the White Sox in 2005.
Selig did have some positive influences on the game, don’t get me wrong. But his laurels cannot disguise the fact that he was, and always will be, the commissioner of the Steroid Era. And unlike the marathon game lengths, this can never be reversed.
Since Selig became commissioner, five players have joined the immortal ranks of the top ten home-run hitters of all time. Of those five, four tested positive for PEDs (Bonds-1, Rodriguez-5, Sosa-8, McGwire-10). Despite getting caught, they will remain on the list, albeit with an asterisk. And this will be Selig’s legacy.
With Selig’s disciplinary code for addressing PEDs, doping made all too much sense for the players. Have a break-out season, sign a huge contract, do a few commercials, possibly win a championship, and maybe make a run to be one of the best to ever play the game, all for what? A suspension. Oh, and if you’re A-Rod, you can still finish up the season.
The truth of the matter is steroids are ruining the game. To place these frauds alongside the names of Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays-the real best players to step on a diamond-is an absolute disgrace. And the punishments are even more so.
To make matters worse, they distract the fans from the few honest heroes left. Have you ever had a conversation about how Jim Thome is number seven on the big list? Probably not. But I bet you can’t even count how many conversations you’ve had about Barry Bonds.
Until the MLB really cracks down on PEDs, the trend will continue. Professional athletes are supposed to be role models, whether they ask for it or not. Today’s children are growing up learning that you can cheat, and be celebrated regardless.
Major League Baseball is in desperate need of shorter game times, a more even playing field, and, to be perfectly candid, integrity. Manfred, time to step up to the plate.
Photo: Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun