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It may be time for Selig to quit

Special to

July 14

Bud Selig called his ride home after the All-Star Game "the longest, loneliest drive of my life." What happened, with the game ending in a tie, wasn't his fault, because Sandy Alderson had warned the managers about running out of pitchers long before it started. People blamed Bud because he is Bud. He has become a walking monologue.

Jay Leno couldn't make Bud Selig up. David Letterman said, "I hate that man." Even Robert Novak expressed his profound dislike for Selig on "The Capital Gang," after mentioning that Chicago mayor Richard Daley has sworn off baseball, largely because of Selig's leadership. "People are angry," says Selig. "They're angry about the game, they're angry about steroids, they're angry about a lot of things." And their anger is targeted at Selig, the bull's-eye.

Bud Selig
Once the labor deal is finalized, baseball may be better off if Bud Selig steps down as commissioner.

The All-Star Game gaffe was the well-intended fault of Bob Brenly and Joe Torre to get all players into the game. But the fact remains that everything that surrounded the game was a disaster, from the pregame fixation on The Strike and steroids to The Perfect Storm that soaked Selig's Monday night gala to the chaos of beer bottles raining from the stands in Selig's prized now park. Then, for some unknown reason, when he blurted out the next day that two teams might not make their payrolls -- how'd you like to be Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and try to spin that report in your hometown? -- and had to be overruled by chief operating officer Bob DuPuy, Selig created another mess.

That Selig and Donald Fehr have allowed the strike cloud to hover over the game has hurt business and certainly has hurt the players. This is not a sweatshop; the union members are product. Owners should be promoting their product, and the union leaders should be insuring them against the backlash that befalls men making $10 million going on strike in the shadow of the World Trade Towers.

There is a deal to be struck, and it doesn't need a strike date deadline to make it happen. The draft is easy to fix, and if the owners don't want to be told how to run it by the union, they can just drop draft-pick compensation for free-agent signings and reshape a system they want. The other two issues of revenue sharing and a luxury tax are negotiable, but only if both sides realize this is about money, not religion. Everyone realizes that Fehr's religion is to protect the Yankees' payroll, as the Players Association has always been about the stars driving the union no matter how much the median salary strays from the average salary. But the longer this goes, the more the public dislikes the players, and that's a betrayal by the union -- not to mention crack-brained business strategy by the players. And no owner or player should underestimate what it would do to the game if it were shut down on September 11 because of mud-wrestling by millionaires and billionaires.

Selig, not economics, has been the principle negotiation focus of the Players Association, figuring that in the end, Bud won't put himself in the position of being the commissioner on watch for two strikes that canceled the World Series. That strategy has worked, but Selig's image has never been strong. He's still an owner, not an independent voice for baseball fans. He's not a politician. His record is nowhere near as bad or evil as the lampoons make it appear, but one essential aspect of leadership is speaking in a voice that reaches across all lines, and while Selig is a consensus-builder and capable of getting 30 separate, disjointed self-interests to the same table, it has been suggested that he is like James G. Blaine or Robert Dole: eloquent in back-room talk, but unable to speak with the international tongue required of leaders.

While it is clear that many owners are incapable of understanding their customers, there have never been more rumblings about the need for a new commissioner once the labor issues are settled. Has Selig had enough? "This has been extremely difficult," he says. "I accepted a responsibility when the owners extended my contract. It takes me to 70 or 71. There are a lot of things I want to do, like teach ... but I accepted a responsibility."

This has not been easy on Selig or his wife, Sue. "You wonder," says one owner, "whether or not Bud's just sick and tired of taking all the heat for baseball's problems. He wouldn't admit it, because he's like a public servant. But if he can get a meaningful settlement, maybe he'll want to take a bow and leave."

The question of reaching a meaningful settlement brings us back to serious doubts about the creative leadership of Selig and DuPuy, as well as the religious zealotry of Fehr and Gene Orza.

What both leaders have to focus on is that the players -- product, union members, whatever you want to call them -- need to be liked by the public. Does baseball have an Allen Iverson among its stars? Goodness, no. Is baseball's steroids use greater than that of the NFL? Don't be absurd. But the perception is that this is a sport rife with self-absorbed, steroid-bloated, greedy millionaires, all led by a man who might not be able to get the Wisconsin Libertarian Party nomination.

This is hardly all Bud Selig's doing, but when they get the labor deal done, it may be best for everyone concerned -- including Sue Selig and Wendy Selig-Prieb -- if Bud steps aside. Whether one of the game's leaders, like Alderson or Andy MacPhail, or someone outside baseball, like Bruce Reed, Joe Lieberman or Bill Weld, follows Selig can be decided in October.

But first, Selig and Fehr should put aside their personal and religious animosity, lock themselves in a room, get a deal that makes everyone money, and show some respect for the game and the players who are being killed in this process.

That is, if each side cares enough.

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MLB All-Star Game 2002

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