The Same Old Game is the third issue of The Classical Magazine. In addition to this piece, it features writing by Carson Cistulli, Eric Freeman and more, as well as nine artists including Craig Robinson, Dmitry Samarov, and Amelie Mancini.
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KRIS LIAKOS: Hey Rob, did you hear that Bud Selig is retiring next year?
ROB IRACANE: I'm sorry, Kris, are you calling me from the year 2008? Because that was the last time I heard this nonsense about the "Commissioner-for-life" retiring!
KRIS: Oh, so you didn't hear that he was also supposed to retire at the of his last contract in 2012?
ROB: So what you're trying to tell me is that Herr Selig has had more farewell tours than the Who?
KRIS: Not a bad hang sesh for a guy that appointed himself interim commissioner "for a few weeks" until they found a permanent one. But Ol' Allan Huber Selig is gonna be 81 this year. Seems like this really might be the last hurrah.
ROB: It's wild to think that every baseball fan under the age of 30 doesn't remember Major League Baseball under the auspices of anyone but Bud Selig. Kids! There were actually OTHER commissioners of baseball before Selig came around AND NONE OF THEM ACTUALLY OWNED BASEBALL TEAMS.
KRIS: Halcyon days, indeed. You and I have been giving Bud the stinkeye for years. The occasion of his impending retirement seems like a good time to take a hatchet to some of his greatest missteps. It's like a roast but without any underlying love or respect.
KRIS: After the owners got caught colluding against rising free agent salaries for three seasons in the '80s, Bud (along with Jerry Reinsdorf) were commonly viewed as two of the owners most gung ho on the swindle. When Fay Vincent took over as commissioner he scolded the still-in-denial-mode old coots at a league meeting, telling them: "The single biggest reality you have to face up to is collusion. You stole $280 million from the players and got caught." Whoops. Selig spearheaded the no-confidence vote that led to Vincent, ahem, recusing himself from his commissioner-y duties. Enter Interim Commissioner For Life… owner Bud Selig?
ROB: We joke all the time that Bud Selig is nothing more than a used car salesman, a mere huckster. But that's far from the truth: he inherited a booming used car business from his successful father and then took over as manager. He was no salesman, he was just the fresh-outta-business-school kid who waltzed into the dealership, kicked up his shoes on the desk and watched the dollars pour in. Is his approach to commissioneering much different? He's the guy in the corner office playing the Bad Guy while all the other owners are the slick salesmen trying to get the boss to throw in undercoating for a mere $1,000 extra because you, the customer, are a "real nice guy."
KRIS: It's also worth noting that the whole collusion in the '80s thing was done pretty much on the order of then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth. So while Bud would move the position fully and irreversibly to the owners' side, he didn't start it. Those two are lucky that Bart Giamatti's ghost hasn't come in the night dressed in a tattered sleeping gown to suffocate them with a rosin bag.
KRIS: So when the owners couldn't sneak their way to lowering salaries, they adjusted their monocles and tried to do it through official channels, i.e. a salary cap. With the sting of collusion still fresh, the players told them to suck a dozen eggs and the march towards a strike was on.
And having an owner on the Commish Commode only exacerbated things. The league office provided no middle ground. It was owner territory. Vince McMahon would have provided a more mutually beneficial negotiating environment than Bud did. Six months into the strike the owners unilaterally instituted a salary cap. This was not good faith negotiating.
ROB: In the end, even after a labor lawyer appointed by President Clinton couldn't broker a deal, future Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor forced the sides to get a deal done, which led to revenue sharing, which made the owners richer, and a luxury tax, which made the players poorer. Selig knew all along that the players would never agree to a salary cap, but the luxury tax, which has only gotten stricter over the years, was his hidden ball trick.
So we can chant, "Collusion is dead. Long live collusion!" We can whistle past the graveyard all we want, but with young studs like Evan Longoria signing away their free agent years to make a living wage during their rookie seasons, and top teams like the Yankees crying poverty and inverting their pockets to show the lint falling out, it's essentially collusion. No, there is no salary cap, but yes, if a team spends too much money on salaries the other owners will punish them. No, player contracts are still guaranteed, but yes, if a player shows a sign of possible future injury, good luck getting anything longer than a one-year deal. Forget expanded playoffs and new stadiums, colluding without collusion is Selig's greatest (worst?) accomplishment as commissioner (for life).
KRIS: C'mon! Bud is serious about drugs! He implemented some tests and stuff. He's vaguely acknowledged that at some point a couple of guys may have cheated once and that is bad for American kids or something. Will you ever forget where you were when you heard that Juan Rincon was suspended for ten games? Selig testified in front of Congress like Oliver North's smelly uncle. PEOPLE DON'T TESTIFY IN FRONT OF CONGRESS UNLESS THEY MEAN BUSINESS.
ROB: If the United States Congress is so serious about players using drugs in sports, maybe they should pass some laws against using Advil and cortisone shots or whatever. Let the players all die off like crippled dinosaurs at age 29 like NFL running backs and members of Menudo. Maybe the only reason Selig caved so easily on this is because Congress threatened to nix MLB's tidy anti-trust violation. Want to make a bunch of super-wealthy white men scurry? Tell them their lifetime pass to monopolize THE NATIONAL PASTIME is about to get shredded.
KRIS: That, or realize that the most vocal and visible critics of baseball's PED "problem" are the rusty old hacks that write print newspaper columns and treat their Hall Of Fame vote like a nun's smacking ruler. People still listen to that stuff and it makes for bad pub if you want to keep pretending that a few lawless bad guys are guzzling these drugs in secret.
This most recent push to "clean things up" re: Braun, Rodriguez, and Biogenesis is at least exciting in one aspect. It reeks of Bud trying to polish up this aspect of his "legacy" before finally actually retiring. Like making an album with Rick Rubin or something.
KRIS: This is not an issue that matters much to me, but it gives us an opportunity to point out Bud being a hypocrite so WHEE! When the NBA approved ads on unis last year Bud said it was unlikely that MLB would follow suit because "uniforms are really important. They're history." Than he waxed nostalgic about the iconic Cubs uniform and how it reminded him of his youth. Someone should have interrupted him and held up a picture of the giant ugly Ricoh ad that graced the Tampa Rays uniforms in the 2004 season opener in Japan. Bud has a funny idea of history.
ROB: Besides, if uniforms were so important and historic, why do most teams have 82 alternate jersey combinations every season?
KRIS: Well if you sell all those to your fans, then you don't need a camera company logo on the sleeve. I dunno, we're going down a rabbit hole here.
ROB: At the time Selig threatened to contract the Twins, I was too naive to realize it was nothing except blackmailing the good people of Minneapolis-St. Paul to put up hundreds of millions of dollars of tax money to build a swank outdoor ballpark. Sure, the Twins and Expos weren't making big bucks, but the Twins were being run into the ground by a greedy, incompetent owner. And for all this small-market, touchy-feely bullshit about the Twins being underdogs, never forget that the most prized seats behind the dugouts at Target Field are surrounded by an impenetrable moat, just like at "Evil" Yankee Stadium. When Selig strongarms your town to build a new ballpark, there's no longer any difference between small market and big market.
KRIS: Look at how a guy like Jeffrey Loria gets to engage and prosper in a career based in borderline criminality under the guise of MLB owner. He effectively dumped one franchise where the municipality didn't want to build him a stadium for one whose local pols were corrupt enough for him to manipulate into doing so. None of which would have been remotely possible in any previous era. Only one in which the commissioner is actually an owner and facilitates this horseshit by giving a multi-multi-multi-millionaire crook a place to dump his unwanted team and an interest-free loan to buy a new one. THIS IS BUD SELIG'S AMERICA (AND CANADA).
ROB: Maybe if these cities had some guts and told Selig to go ahead and take the Twins, or the A's, or the Rays away then he wouldn't be so successful in getting politicians to commit hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare and tax breaks towards a building where men hit balls with sticks. Hey, North American cities: SPORTS BUILDINGS DO NOT CREATE JOBS OR BOOST THE ECONOMY. KEEP YOUR EXISTING ARENAS. BUILD A SCHOOL.
KRIS: Well that's what Montreal did. And they lost the Expos. Then everyone moved out and now it's a ghost town with tiny stale bagels blowing down rue after abandoned rue.
ROB: Besides, Selig is a hypocrite for ever once endorsing the ideas of relocation or contraction. When the Braves hightailed it outta Milwaukee for Atlanta in the '60s, it was Bud Selig who participated in the State of Wisconsin's antitrust suit against the Braves and the rest of the National League clubs. He even testified before Congress about how the move made him the saddest boy in the Midwest … until he realized that he should tone down his wailing and behave like a company man so the owners would be more likely to reward him with a future expansion franchise. So he went ahead and testified as state's witness BUT HE STATED THAT HE WAS NOT IN SUPPORT OF THE SUIT. What a conniving conniver!
ROB: Listen, I think it's a great thing to honor a brave man who overcame violent racism to become the first black big leaguer. My problem isn't that Selig is honoring him, it's that he's not honoring him in the right way. For five years running now every single damn player has worn 42 on Jackie Robinson Day instead of letting just one dude wear it as some kind of proud achievement. Like how Ken Griffey Jr. intended it when he came up with the damn idea! Instead we've got every Tom, Dick, and Manny running around in the same uni number, confusing radio guys and fans alike. Honor is like whipped lard: spread it too thin and you barely notice it anymore.
KRIS: It's true. Engaging in debate about the state of race in baseball during a time when the number of black players is declining is much more difficult than sewing on some jersey numbers and saying it's the same thing.
ROB: Television dollars rule everything around Selig. The artifice of extra wild card teams participating in a guaranteed play-in game is only the first step towards an entire extra round of playoffs: the NBA-ization of our fine sport! Water it down, let the money flow in, and never again crown a team like the old days: when winning 100 games actually mattered. How much longer until a World Series team has a losing record, anyway?
KRIS: Yeah. The initial expansion of the single wild card team grew on me pretty quickly, but I see no such thing happening with the play-in game. In many respects, it cancels out the (non-monetary) reason the wild card was instituted in the first place. We'll reward one team that had a great season but didn't win the division! Now we'll go out of our way to penalize that VERY SAME TEAM by putting them in a needlessly occurring sudden-death game against some schmoes that finished four games behind them. To quote your Italian ancestors, Rob: It-a make-a no-a sense!
Rob Iracane and Kris Liakos were the co-founders of the late Walkoff Walk. Since it was put down in 2011 they have written separately for places like Yahoo and ESPN but this trademark hatchet job on Bud Selig is their first cynical reunion cash grab.
Illustration by Aaron Dana.