A prominent Congressman has called for his resignation. Angry investors have sued him for fraud and racketeering. Others accuse him of breaking the rules to financially benefit himself and a crony. He's been jeered by sports fans and mocked in late-night host David Letterman's Top Ten list. (No. 1: Throws like a girl.)
For such a heavy hitter, Baseball Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig is in a terrible slump.
The 68-year-old owner of the Milwaukee Brewers is under fire from many quarters as he continues what he characterizes as his campaign to save the national pastime. But some would say the game needs to be saved from Selig. His crusade to usher in salary caps, increase revenue sharing and eliminate struggling teams has once again put him on a collision course with the powerful players union.
On Friday, the Major League Players Association executive board voted to set Aug. 30 as a strike date, the second potential work stoppage on Selig's watch. The first one was a marathon affair that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and a public relations nightmare -- the kind Selig says he's prepared to weather again.
"As much as I abhor the thought of a work stoppage, and it would be gut-wrenching, preserving the status quo may be even more gut-wrenching. There are too many clubs that can't make it with this system," he said. "That's a fact."
Not everyone believes it, though, and even those who say Selig may be right worry that his stewardship is ultimately hurting the sport. "If baseball were a stock, it would be at an all-time low right now," said Fay Vincent, the former baseball commissioner who was forced out with a push from Selig. Warren Bennis, a University of Southern California management professor who has served on advisory panels to Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Carter and Reagan, said if he were feeling generous he'd give Selig a grade of C- or D for managing the crisis: "I think he's been a complete disaster."
Baseball insiders say Selig has been personally wounded by such comments as well as collateral questions about his credibility and intentions. The criticism only intensified after he called a halt to last month's nationally televised All-Star Game as it was tied 7-7 in the 11th inning. The decision triggered catcalls from the crowd at Selig's home field -- Miller Park in Milwaukee -- and inflamed baseball purists around the country.
Most agree the man handpicked by fellow team owners to oversee the sport has done much to help it bounce back after the 232-day strike in 1994-95. Adding wild-card teams has made pennant races exciting later into the season, and promoting rivalries with inter-league play has helped draw record crowds for the last two years. His administration initiated limited revenue-sharing among owners and negotiated baseball's richest national television contract, a $2.5 billion deal with Fox.
But Selig also has the knack of taking what should be the sport's shining moment and bumbling into controversy. That's what he did last fall, just 48 hours after one of the most exciting World Series in history, when he announced that baseball would kill off two teams through "contraction."
"It's painful for me to watch Bud get skewered on all these things," said Jeff Smulyan, former owner of the Seattle Mariners. "Bud is much better one-on-one than he is standing in front of the camera. I don't think his fundamental nature comes through that well."
Selig wasn't born for the limelight.
As a teenager, he was so shy he couldn't look you in the eye, said brother Jerry. His glasses, mop of hair, and habit of cupping his hand to his ear so he can hear makes him look like the history professor he once aspired to be. Friends and foes alike, however, say the rumpled manner hides a cagey insider whose love for the game can't be matched. He was introduced to baseball by his mother, a Russian immigrant and long-time fan who would take him to see minor-league games. His fondest memory is the 1949 trip they took to New York to watch games at Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium.
Selig wanted to play the game but couldn't hit a curve. So he became the ultimate fan.
As a teen he ingested statistics and lore. While a student at the University of Wisconsin, his radio was constantly tuned to the play-by-play of the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and the old Milwaukee Braves. After graduation and a short stint in the Army he went to work at the family's car dealership. Married straight out of college, Selig took his two daughters on annual baseball road trips. When the Braves went public in 1963, he plunked down $30,000 and became the team's largest public shareholder. And when his first wife divorced him in 1975, she all but named baseball as his mistress.
"That's what he did, 24/7," said Sari Selig Kramer, 44, their daughter, who carries in her wallet a snapshot of her as a 3-year-old at a game with her dad. "He was either at the game, talking about the game ... That's all we knew."
His tie to the game was so visceral that Selig said he felt "raped and devastated" when the Braves left for Atlanta in 1965.
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