Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pity Bud Selig

Pity Bud Selig. The MLB Commissioner can’t win, even when he tries to do the right thing.

During the World Series, Selig was criticized on a number of fronts, from allowing FOX to start broadcasts at 8:37 PM in the east, to the shoddy umpiring, to allowing Game 5 to start in the rain in Philly. But the biggest beef concerned Selig’s decision to play Game 5 in full, regardless of baseball’s rule book, which provides for rain shortened games if the home team is leading after a minimum of 4 ½ innings.

The Phillies were leading, 2-1, after five innings. Fortunately for Selig, Tampa Bay scored the tying run in the top of the sixth. At that point, the umpires finally came to their senses and immediately stopped the game, which was being contested under conditions that were more akin to an aquarium than a baseball field. Under baseball rules, the game was “officially” suspended. When the skies in Philly finally cleared two days later, the game resumed in the bottom of the sixth inning.

But even if the Rays hadn’t tied the score, Selig insisted he would have suspended the game and resumed play when weather permitted, even if the teams had to wait until Thanksgiving. The commissioner said he made his decision prior to the start of Game 5, in spite of the clear language in the rule book.

Unfortunately, no one from MLB had bothered to tell the folks at FOX, who were as surprised as anyone by Selig’s announcement. While the Rays players were relieved, and the Phillies players - not wishing to win the World Series on a game that wasn’t played a full nine innings - were generally supportive, the fact remains that Selig was willing to play fast and loose with the game’s rule book.

The commissioner’s decision, while admirable, was reminiscent of a NASCAR race, where no one knows from week to week when the race will really end – after a caution, one more lap, or a green-white-checkered flag finish – until NASCAR makes an official announcement.

But the controversy surrounding the World Series wasn’t limited to Game 5. As part of the settlement of the last labor dispute with the umpires, MLB agreed to make post-season assignments on a “rotation” basis, regardless of competency. The men in blue get to share in the post season spoils, but the best umpires aren’t always the ones officiating the biggest games. The result was a number of bad and blown calls, in addition to a strike zone with more moves than are normally seen on Dancing With The Stars.

Shame on baseball for agreeing to such an arrangement. What’s next? A similar arrangement with the players’ association that would require every player to play a certain number of innings? That’s how it works in Little League.

This was the lowest rated World Series in the history of the event. MLB received a number of unsolicited suggestions designed to “improve” the ratings for baseball’s showcase event. Included among them are starting games earlier, shortening the season to avoid playing games in late fall, and reducing the break between half-innings.

None of the suggestions are new. And none of them has a snowball’s chance in Tampa Bay of being enacted at the present time. Baseball is too immersed in the goal of maximizing profits to do what’s best for the game. That’s true of the owners, the players, the umpires and the sport’s media “partners.”

Baseball isn’t alone in this regard. The same can be said of virtually all professional sports, including NASCAR. On the eve of last week’s Sprint Cup race in Texas, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. lamented the monetization of his sport. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Earnhardt said, “We have saturated the market with race after race…We’re driven by the ability to go make another dollar and make more money and there’s no way we would ever trim it down.”

The current state of the economy isn’t helpful to sports in general. But there are decisions within the control of every sport that would enhance its financial footing, not to mention its credibility. Just don’t expect anyone in baseball, from Bud Selig on down, to make them.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at

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