As principal owner of the San Diego Padres for the past 10 years, I have not supported everything Allan H. "Bud" Selig has done as commissioner of baseball. We have agreed wholeheartedly on some issues and sparred on others. But after a decade of participating in the councils of Major League Baseball, I can come to only one conclusion: In the executive category, Selig belongs in the Hall of Fame.
The Post's recent series on franchise relocation, Washington's prospects for getting a team and related issues ["The Last Cartel: How Baseball Does Business," June 27-29] rather acerbically questions Selig's integrity, character, motivation and agenda. You do the man a huge disservice.
I understand that when there are only 30 major league teams and more communities that would like franchises, someone's ox is going to get gored. The commissioner inevitably will be blamed -- especially in our nation's capital, where politics is a blood sport.
A more dispassionate assessment should leave little doubt that Selig's paramount concern always has been "the best interests of the game," which is his purview to protect. He has made heroic efforts to bring fiscal sanity, competitive balance, and growing national and international popularity to baseball.
In three articles totaling 14,000 words, you afforded only one paragraph to "what are regarded by some as his biggest successes. They include interleague play, a wild-card playoff system, enhanced revenue-sharing among teams and a new rule limiting the amount of debt a team can carry."
Formidable achievements all, and I would hasten to add: an unbalanced schedule that enhances division rivalries; streamlining Major League Baseball's central office, eliminating the duplication of effort and expense of separate league offices; standardizing the strike zone; speeding up games; bringing baseball into the Internet age; and paving the way for new ballparks in 15 cities since 1992. (Selig was instrumental in finalizing the public-private partnership that built Petco Park, the cornerstone of the largest redevelopment project in San Diego's history and already one of the most successful in the United States.) Additionally, baseball's annual attendance has reached record levels on Selig's watch, and measures are finally being taken to deal with the problem of performance-enhancing drugs.
In my opinion, Selig's crowning accomplishment was negotiation in 2002 of a landmark collective bargaining agreement without an interruption of the championship season, which everyone agrees would have been calamitous. Fundamental reforms in that agreement will help bring economic stability, debt reduction and competitive balance to the game. Moreover, it represented a new climate of labor relations that bodes well for baseball's growth, globalization and popularity in the 21st century.
Your series noted that on important issues, Selig will not take a vote until he knows the outcome. "Owners and baseball officials said Selig is a master politician who uses tactics ranging from jaw-boning to ego massage to keep owners in line. He works the phones constantly and talks to most owners before coming to a decision, gradually building consensus. Selig controls all committee appointments, including the eight-owner Executive Council, which makes most major decisions."
Funny, but that sounds to me very much like official Washington, where I always assumed "master politician" was the ultimate compliment. I call what Selig practices "effective leadership." It does not always produce eloquent sound bites or flattering press coverage, but this commissioner has perfected the art of creative compromise to accomplish what he believes is best for the game he loves. For that, I tip my cap.
The job is not easy. The commissioner serves at the pleasure of those he governs and sometimes needs to discipline. We are a fractious group -- all opinionated and accustomed to being the boss and to winning. We naturally fall into big-market, middle-market and small-market factions, because "the best interests of baseball" do not always look the same from Cincinnati and San Diego as they do from New York and Boston.
Several years ago, Selig appointed four independent members to his Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics: political commentator George F. Will, former U.S. senator George J. Mitchell, Yale University president and economist Richard Levin, and former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker. They produced a report that analyzed the game's dysfunctional economic structure, particularly as it relates to competitive balance. That was an issue players and owners agreed was vital to the game's future.
Their visionary document, which also got short shrift in your series, identified systemic flaws in baseball's century-old economic model -- which predates, among other things, broadcasting -- and made many astute recommendations for reform. It provided guiding principles and philosophies for the new labor contract. Selig could not get them all enacted in one collective bargaining cycle, but he made more progress than his predecessors had in several decades, and he has an impressive blueprint for the future.
Selig has owned and operated a small-market club in a community, Milwaukee, that experienced the wrenching loss of a franchise. Your series portrayed him as a prophet without honor, which is patently unfair. He has earnestly tried to balance the interests of vastly different markets and to do what he believes is right.
I look at Selig's record of achievement -- including getting the wealthiest franchises to share, albeit grudgingly, an unprecedented amount of their revenue -- and am amazed at how much flak he takes and how little credit he gets. I have to agree with George Will, the erudite baseball aficionado, whom you quote from a recent speech as calling Selig the greatest commissioner in MLB history and designating the current era as baseball's "golden age."
The writer is chairman of the San Diego Padres Baseball Club.