McAdam: Plenty for Selig, MLB fans to be proud of

McAdam: Plenty for Selig, MLB fans to be proud of
September 27, 2013, 10:30 am
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BALTIMORE -- Baseball commissioner Bud Selig made official Thursday what everyone had suspected for some time -- that he would be retiring when his current term comes to an end in January, 2015.
     
It's easy to suggest that Selig's reign, which will have lasted more than 20 years if you count his "interim" service time in the job, was somehow a failure.
     
Easy, and completely wrong-headed.
     
Which isn't to suggest that it's been perfect.
     
Let's get to the elephant in the room right away, shall we? Selig was too slow to respond to the scourge of PED use that nearly torpedoed the game from the mid-1990s until the first part of this century.
     
Like too many owners, Selig looked the other way, seduced by the number of tickets sold as bodies grew to cartoonish dimensions and homers left ballparks at a record clip.
     
His failure to act sooner resulted in a number of sacred records falling to underserving cheaters, while alienating a good portion of the fan base.
     
Selig wasn't alone in his blissful ignorance, of course. Former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Donald Fehr and his top lieutenant, Gene Orza, were obstinate until their constituency shamed them into a more responsible stance.
     
So though Selig eventually came around and helped push through the toughest testing program in American sports, baseball's steroid era will always be a blight on Selig's legacy. Understood.
     
But there's much more to be celebrated.
     
A more level economic playing field
     
Thanks to a revenue sharing instituted by Selig, small-market teams are more competitive than ever and are capable of retaining -- or at least competing for -- their own star players.
     
Look at the standings: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Oakland are in the playoffs. The four teams from New York and Chicago are not.
     
Small-market teams can now keep their stars. Joey Votto signed a nine-figure deal with the Reds. Joe Mauer did the same with the Twins. Adam Jones is staying in Baltimore, as is Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh.
     
A decade ago, those players would be choosing between going to the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers. Not any longer.
     
Baseball's revenue sharing program enables well-run franchises in smaller markets to compete for the playoffs and the best free agents.
     
Parity throughout the game
     
A popular canard is that the NFL has the most parity, that any team has a chance to win the Super Bowl, blah blah blah.
     
That, too, is untrue, owing more to the NFL's ability to hoodwink fans and media alike than any basis of fact.
     
Fact: Since 2001, baseball has had 10 different franchises in the last dozen series win the World Series. And with the San Francisco Giants failing to qualify for the postseason, this will mark the 13th year in a row that no champion has repeated.
     
Of the 30 MLB teams, fully 14 have, at the very least, played for a championship in that span. That's one team shy of half the franchises in the sport that have come within four wins of a championship in the last 12 seasons.
     
In football, by contrast, there have been just eight different champs in the same 12-year span, while 16 have reached the Super Bowl.
     
Now that the Pirates have ended their playoff drought, here is the complete list of MLB teams which have not qualified for the postseason since 2001:
     
Toronto and Kansas City.
     
That's it.
     
Popular innovations such as expanded playoffs and interleague play
     
Purists may dislike both, but there can be little argument that they have benefited the game and its growth.
     
The wild card format, introduced in 1994, has resulted in more late-season interest in most cities and maintained excitement in some years in which the division races were effectively over by Labor Day.
     
The second wild-card format, while not without its flaws or detractors, has further ratcheted up interest in cities that would otherwise be out of the running in the final weeks.
     
As for charges that the wild-card format has watered competition down and lessened the integrity of the pennant races, baseball, by percentage, still has, by far the fewest number of teams making the postseason.
     
Interleague play, meanwhile, has brought stars from the other league to fans and attendance figures show that it's immensely popular with the ticket-buying public.
     
Growth of the game internationally
     
Baseball continues to draw players -- and fan support -- from different areas of the globe.
     
More than ever, the game is populated by young stars from the Far East and Latin America and the Caribbean.
     
Season-opening series have taken place in Japan, and next year, Australia, while exhibition games have been hosted in China.
     
The World Baseball Classic, which has yet to fully catch on here, has expanded the game's global footprint while attracting international sponsors and interest.
     
Labor peace
     
This may go down as baseball's crowning achievement.
     
When Selig took the job, baseball's relationship with its players and their union, was, even on a good day, highly adversarial. Labor stoppages - either by strike or lockout -- were the rule rather than the exception.
     
Following the disastrous 1994-95 strike and cancellation of the 1994 World Series, however, baseball has had nearly 20 years of uninterrupted labor peace.
     
Once at odds, baseball's owners and union are now in partnership, working together for the good of the game.
     
Every other major American sports, by contrast, has had some interruption in play, though the NFL managed to contain its losses to the preseason.
     
A tougher stance on PED use and personal behavior
     
Baseball's PED program now has the most stringent penalties. Players found guilty of use are subject to, at minimum, suspensions that are almost one-third the length of the season (50 of 162). In the NFL, the penalty is a quarter of the season (4 of 16).
     
If you mess with baseball's enforcement and interfere with their prosecution? That gets you a 211-game unpaid vacation, more than a full season-and-a-third.
     
Then there's the Denver Broncos' Von Miller, who bribed a collector into providing a fake urine sample. The NFL came down hard on that -- a two-game suspension.
     
And remember those endless stories of baseball players driving drunk, arrested on gun charges and charged with domestic assault?
     
Yeah, me neither.
     
So it's easy to make fun of Selig. He's not exactly telegenic in a media age. He doesn't "do" e-mail and he cups his hand behind his ear and squints when he doesn't hear a question during press conferences, like your Uncle Harold at Thanksgiving Dinner.
     
But get beyond the optics and the flawed conventional thinking and you'll find an effective commissioner whose achievements far, far outweigh his missteps.

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