June 23, 2011

In the Best Interests of Baseball?

In rejecting the deal between FOX Sports and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bud Selig cited the oft-changing but influential “Best Interests of Baseball” clause. What is interesting, however, is the way in which this clause has been invoked (or not invoked) throughout baseball history, as well as Bud Selig’s evolving interpretation of it. Article II, § 2(b) of the MLB Constitution gives the Commissioner the ability to make decisions and “act in the best interests of the national game of Baseball.” Section 3 outlines the specific punitive actions the Commissioner may take once he deems conduct is against the best interests of baseball, including: “(a) reprimand; (b) deprivation of a Major League Club of representation in Major League Meetings; (c) suspension or removal of any owner, officer, or employee of a Major League Club,” as well as fines and permanent ineligibility.

In the context of the Dodgers, it seems almost ironic that the Commissioner is citing the “best interests” clause, simply because it was Bud Selig himself who allowed the McCourts into Major League Baseball in 2004. If he would have done his due diligence then – and discovered just how unqualified and untrustworthy Frank McCourt was as an owner – we would not be in this mess today. But I cannot fault him for correcting a mistake, nor can I fault him for rejecting the Dodgers’ TV deal, because it was simply another instance of McCourt looting the team for his personal benefit. That said, it seems particularly intriguing in light of Bud Selig’s past opinion on the “Best Interests” clause.

In 1994, The Sporting News published an op-ed by Bud Selig, when he was still the President of the Milwaukee Brewers and only the chairman of Major League Baseball’s Executive Council, entitled “One of Baseball’s enduring myths.” A well-known historian of the game, Selig goes through baseball legends, such as Babe Ruth’s called shot in the 1932 World Series, until he arrives at a different type of legend: “the myth of the all-powerful commissioner.” He writes: “The truth is, the Major League Baseball commissioner by definition has never been all-supreme or omnipotent except where public confidence and integrity are concerned. The notion of an almighty commissioner directing the business of baseball is incorrect.” Selig asserts that the “source of this misunderstanding is the commissioner’s ‘best interests’ powers.” He then details how it is “wrong” to interpret it broadly, because the only “intent of the “best interests” clause was to protect the integrity of and ensure public confidence in the game.” 
 
Selig notes how the “Best Interests” clause was established after the 1920 Black Sox scandal; it gave Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the League’s first commissioner, enough power to clean up the game after the infamously tainted World Series. In many ways, it was essential at the time it was created. There was no centralized authority to oversee baseball, which was undoubtedly needed, as the public was disgusted with the sport and gambling ran rampant. Selig, however, wrote that these powers “were infrequently exercised and uncertain in scope,” and have, in essence, “impeded the process rather than promoted the interests of baseball and its fans.” He then praised the 1992 Restructuring Committee for clarifying the role of the Commissioner and centralizing his administration of the game.  Boy, how times have changed.  

Bud Selig, of course, wrote all of this before he became Commissioner. His thinking has clearly expanded. He has yielded his “misunderstood” power however and wherever he sees fit. While the clause used to focus on players and teams, Selig used the “best interests” clause to force the sale of the Texas Rangers to Nolan Ryan – which, in effect, deprived other potential owners like Mark Cuban from having a shot at the team and personally harmed many debt-holders from seeing any return on their investment. His decision made creditors and lenders part of the game of baseball, when they had never been before. Selig cited “the best interests of the game” when he became Commissioner and allowed his daughter Wendy to take over the Brewers. He used the clause, directly or indirectly, to end the 2002 All-Star game early, for realignment, for the wildcard, and for revenue sharing.  At the same time, he has not used it for instant replay, the Arizona All-Star game, or a salary cap.
The “best interests” clause has been Bud Selig’s best friend. To pretend otherwise is a farce, much like Frank McCourt’s theory that his TV deal is in the best interests of the Dodgers. I support Bud Selig’s decision about the Dodgers. I just think it is important to note how his power as Commissioner and the “best interests” clause have evolved to advance his own interests in baseball – for better or worse. 

2 comments:

  1. "His thinking has clearly expanded." No kidding. But, agreed, McCourt is ruining a great franchise and needs to be stopped. You know who I feel for? Mattingly. Tough enough to do the job as a rookie, but now he's got not making payroll looming out there. If there's one thing that might be "a distraction in the clubhouse," that would be it.

    - Manhattan Man

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  2. I totally agree about Mattingly. His bullpen is a mess, through no fault of his own. His year started with the Bryan Stow disaster. He has had to deal with the McCourt divorce drama for a year. And now he has his owner, who cannot make payroll, about to sue MLB. Fox Sports said today that they do not support any lawsuit to force the TV deal through. So, for once, I apparently agree with Fox about something.

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