Monday, July 8, 2019

Books: Bud Selig On A Life In Baseball





For The Good Of The Game: The Inside Story of the Surprising and Dramatic Transformation of Major League Baseball 
By Bud Selig
William Morrow; hardcover, $28.99; available July 9

For more than a century, the game of baseball was resistant to change, as everyone from the owners to the managers to the players, and certainly, the fans, were against it.


No one was aware of this more than Bud Selig, who became the ninth commissioner in baseball's history in 1992, and he ushered in more change in his over twenty years at the helm than his eight predecessors combined.

In his heartfelt, touching memoir, For The Good Of The Game, Selig goes inside the most difficult decisions and moments of his career, including the 1994 strike that canceled that year's World Series and the steroid crisis that took over the game.

Selig looks at how he worked to balance baseball's storied history with the pressures of the twenty-first century to ensure the game's future. This book, which is part baseball story, plus business saga, chronicles Selig's career and features an all-star lineup of the biggest names from the past forty years of baseball. He recalls the vital games, private moments, and the tense conversations he's shared with Hall of Fame players and managers and the contentious calls he's made.

Selig writes about what brought the game back after the 1994 strike and ushered in a new golden era, "In the aftermath of the strike, everyone enthusiastically returned to the game we all loved so dearly. One thing, though, was clear from the start: things were no longer the same. It's not so much that the game was permanently scarred, though there was some short-term damage done, for sure. It was more that for the first time the owners started to see that they could not rely on a union-based solution to fix the financial realities of the game. If the economics of baseball were going to be transformed, it was not going to happen through a magically elusive deal with the union; instead the owners had to pull the levers that they were in control of. The owners and the league had to look beyond the players and union for ways to increase revenue and ensure their teams' solvency. And so, that's exactly what we set about doing - and we started with stadiums.
"Memorial Stadium in Baltimore was popular with Orioles fans. They loved the neighborhood feeling around the park and the history of the place, which in addition to six World Series had hosted the NFL championship game in 1959.
"But while Memorial Stadium was a great home for the Orioles in the 1960s and '70s, it was a ballpark that was built for football as much as baseball. Edward Bennett Williams became interested in building a baseball-only stadium that would include suites and lots of fan amenities, allowing it to generate revenue streams that Memorial Stadium couldn't.
"When Eli Jacobs bought the team from Williams's estate in 1988, he made a new stadium his top priority. In one of the most inspired series of decisions any owner ever made, he put his partner Larry Lucchino in charge of the stadium. Lucchino reached out to architect Janet Marie Smith to design the park.
"They settled on a location adjacent to Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which, as a lucky coincidence, was very near Babe Ruth's birthplace. It was the perfect place for Smith to execute Lucchino's vision of a retro ballpark, bringing back touches like a brick facade on the outside and straight-line walls in the outfield, the first for a major league stadium since the Dodgers abandoned Ebbets Field. They lowered the outfield fence from the traditional ten feet to only eight feet in left field, which allowed athletic outfielders to show their skills night after night on ESPN.
"Even with these touches, it was with some sadness that they said good-bye to Memorial Stadium. When the Orioles moved to their new stadium, Rick Dempsey, the catcher, wrote a poem as an ode to Memorial Stadium. He called it the Old Gray Lady of Thirty-third Street. Frank Robinson, the Hall of Famer, was the only player who had ever hit the ball completely out of the park. It was the home field for some of the most popular players in the Orioles' history, most notably Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Boog Powell, Cal Ripken Jr., and Frank.
"Despite the wistfulness, Camden Yards was a home run for Baltimore. The area where it was built was soon bursting to the seams with hotels, restaurants, and tourists. Camden Yards became the blueprint for baseball's modern ballparks in many ways, and in the aftermath of the players' strike, it showed many of the owners how a new stadium could lift up the franchise...
"That boom would include the creation of twenty new stadiums. I'm just as proud of the work we did to help some of the greatest old parks - Fenway, Wrigley, Dodger Stadium - remain viable for future generations as I am of having played even a little role in helping Pittsburgh add the civic gem that is PNC Park or San Francisco make the absolutely vital transition from Candlestick Park to AT&T Park, where ball hawks float in kayaks in McCovey Cove.
"As much as changes to the economic system and drug testing, the string of gorgeous, neighborhood-changing ballparks that opened between Camden Yards in 1992 and Atlanta's SunTrust Park in 2017 turned Major League Baseball into a vibrant enterprise, one that has pushed the NFL for dominance in the marketplace."

Selig also reveals many things that baseball fans have been wondering, such as his true feelings on Barry Bonds breaking Henry Aaron's home run record; the unlikely vote that blocked Milwaukee from getting an expansion team in 1967; the first drug crisis in baseball, before steroids, PED's, and HGH infected the game; how he instituted the luxury tax and profit sharing to give small market teams a chance to compete, and the resistance he faced in the process; revolutionizing the game with the addition of the Wild Card, and the one owner who voted against it; and the Hall of Fame manager who persuaded Selig to expand instant replay usage and the one botched call that sealed the deal.

With a foreword from Doris Kearns Goodwin, For The Good Of The Game is one of the best baseball books you will ever read, about one of its most complex characters.

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