Bud Selig brings to mind Richard Nixon. Like Nixon, Selig is concerned with his place in history, but has a way of fouling up.
Any list of the baseball commissioner's missteps could begin with the Minnesota Twins. Selig, remember, tried -- and failed -- to wipe the Twins off the American League map a year ago. That was before they went on to have a splendid 2002 season. Selig had intended to send Twins owner Carl Pohlad floating into retirement beneath a golden parachute. Instead, Pohlad's troops landed in the playoffs.
Then, of course, there was Selig's blunder at last season's All-Star Game, which he called off after 11 innings as if a monsoon were approaching. Selig's wave-off extinguished the possibility of a dramatic ending, the kind that Pete Rose delivered with a knockout blow in 1970 when he ran over catcher Ray Fosse at home plate to end the game in the 12th inning. That collision remains one of the most vivid plays in all-star history, in contrast to Selig's failure last summer to supply a bright idea when the managers told him they were out of players.
Such blunders left Selig with egg on his face, and he's been trying to wipe it off since. Now he's trying to do it by talking to none other than Rose.
Banned from baseball 13 years ago for gambling, Rose has nevertheless remained one of the most popular baseball figures. Radio shows and autograph-signings have been part of his forum, as have, more than anything, appearances at the 1999 World Series in Atlanta with the "all-century team" and this year in San Francisco. On both occasions, thunderous applause was showered on him.
In the wake of this latest outpouring of affection comes the report that Selig met recently with Rose to talk about the all-time hits leader's possible reinstatement to the game and his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. This is a game of a different sort, played by Selig so that fans might better approve of him.
Literally, he has heard voices.
He has heard those cheers Rose has received during his ballpark appearances. Selig has heard the applause of baseball fans elicited by mere mention of Rose's name.
He also has heard the voices of advisers as he tries mightily to improve his image. This Selig-Rose confab has to do with -- pardon the expression that has entered the language -- "image enhancement."
Bud's image. (Sounds like the name of a racehorse, no betting pun intended.)
Selig would like to parlay (oops) all the recognition he can from the labor agreement that avoided a halt to this past season (as if we could forget the summer-long threat of no baseball) into an appearance of beneficence for having offered an olive branch to Rose.
Whether Rose admits to anything and opens the door further to reinstatement is another matter. But by just turning the doorknob for Rose, Selig is trying to create the impression of a fair and just leader.
Selig might as well enjoy his trips to the bank as the owners' highly paid front man. He will be remembered as the first commissioner who unmistakably served as representative of the owners.
Say what you will about his predecessor, Fay Vincent, and before him, Bart Giamatti, who banned Rose, they stood for something more than partisanship.
Under Giamatti's watch, a report was issued that said Rose bet on baseball games regularly, including numerous wagers on his Cincinnati Reds to win. Now, according to an Associated Press report quoting a "high-ranking baseball official," Selig allowed talks with Rose to start last fall because of "just the passage of time."
This news of Selig's good fellowship is just now arriving with the passage of time, conveniently it would seem.
And more news is on the way, all designed to bolster Selig's profile.
Now, as part of "image enhancement," he will try to inject new meaning into the all-star game -- meaning it was never intended to have. In what would be overreaction, he would have it affect the season itself rather than stand as the glamorous exhibition game it was conceived to be. Selig would like to give home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the all-star game.
There's more. Selig wants to have the World Series start on a Tuesday and make the Saturday game a day game -- and try to pass off a common-sense change as a grand gesture of consideration to all the kids in America. They will be awake for the end of at least the Saturday game -- that is, if they're not out playing soccer.
Just as with the Rose business, these are examples of Selig checking the applause meter and acting accordingly.
To this point, however, Selig has shown no interest in improving his image in Washington. Rather, he has made clear his hope of overriding the good of the whole -- the good of baseball, to say nothing of the good of this city -- for the benefit of a single individual who wants this region to himself, the Orioles' Peter Angelos.
His is another voice Selig has heard, that of one of the masters he serves.
There may never be baseball in Washington in Selig's time short of a presidential proclamation or the threat of an act of Congress. There will be nothing but fields of dreams around here unless Selig gets the idea that he could be remembered as the commissioner who lost baseball's antitrust exemption.