For the Good of The Game – BUD SELIG with Phil Rogers
Harper-Collins Publishing (c) 2019
Love him, hate him or anything in between, if you’re a baseball fan there’s no denying that Bud Selig was an important and influential figure in the game for the past four decades or more. From the being the owner of the upstart Milwaukee Brewers to the commissioner of MLB during its most tumultuous decade (the ’90s, decade of ‘the strike’ and steroids) , Selig had his imprint upon the game in a way unrivaled of late. So if you’re a baseball fan, you’ll want to read his memoir, For the Good of the Game.
The book outlines his youth in Milwaukee and how his mother shaped his love of the game, his rather half-hearted following in his father’s footsteps into a car dealership which turned very fortuitous for young Bud. There he met Hank Aaron, a customer, and got to be an insider with the then-Braves ballclub. And a heartbroken fan when the Braves shipped out to Atlanta, leading Selig to spearhead a group determined to bring back baseball to Beer City, USA. Of course he succeeded and most of the book deals with an insider’s view, first of the league through the eyes of a small-market owner, then as the boss of the whole kit and caboodle. As such, it’s eminently entertaining and interesting, whether or not you agree with Bud’s takes on happenings and the changes he brought about.
The book’s greatest strength is that Selig is Selig in it. He was known for being blunt and headstrong and his book is nothing less. He never pulls his punches, and for that we’re all the richer. I mean, the book begins with him detailing how much he dislikes Barry Bonds and how having to watch Bonds take the home run record away from Aaron was one of the low points of his professional career. For Selig it was a mix of professional and personal. Professionally, he felt sure Bonds was cheating through PEDs and was bad for baseball. Personally, he found Bonds unlikable and Aaron one of the best men he’d met in the sport – and a Milwaukee hero to boot!
We find that Selig was always concerned with drugs in the game and frustrated by other owners lack of concern in the ’80s as player careers and in some cases, health, were being compromised by a blizzard of cocaine in clubhouses and even more so when the extent of steroid use became clear in the ’90s. He pushed hard for stiff penalties and met constant resistance which he details. While he has a particular disdain for Bonds, his opinion of the likes of Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco and Roger Clemens isn’t much higher, though he correctly assesses that Alex Rodriguez may have fallen further than his cohorts but has since done a far better job of restoring his name and reputation than the others.
We read his take on Pete Rose and his Cooperstown status and who should or should not be Hall of Famers. He tells us how free agency impacted the game from the perspective of a small market team… no coincidence he’s more complimentary to Robin Yount (a lifetime Brewer) than to Paul Molitor (a Brewers superstar who left for a bigger-money, more winning Toronto team in ’93). We read about why the 1994 strike ended the season and how he butted heads with a number of other owners. And as the commish, he met presidents.
Selig clearly did not like Bill Clinton, and felt let down by “Bubba” when he got involved in the strike but couldn’t get it resolved. On the other hand, he liked George W. Bush a great deal; and why not? Bush was, first and foremost, a fellow owner and baseball-guy. Some of his stories about George the baseball man and the touching comraderie the two shared after 9/11 are intriguing looks back at American history that extend beyond the realm of just sporting interest.
What Bud doesn’t touch on is how he feels about the changes Rob Manfred has been instituting since taking over the job… one might speculate that he wouldn’t be thrilled with ideas like pitch clocks or having phantom men on base in extra innings, but then again, Selig demonstrates he’s nothing if not pragmatic. From expansion to changing the All Star game to adding wild cards, he’s generally been displeased by change but welcoming to it as a necessity “for the good of the game.” Manfred is mentioned in the book, of course, and it may be worth noting that he came from a background of law, not baseball itself, unlike Selig.
If there’s a weakness to the book, it’s that Bud can’t stop being Bud. It’s very clear that when it came to any dispute in the game, he was always on the side of the owners and always felt the players union was an enemy both to him and to the sport itself. One can imagine that if Gene Orza or Tony Clark were writing the book, things like the end of the 1994 season and write-off of the World Series would read differently. But that’s OK. We see the pressure Selig was dealing with and how he saw the situation, and with that his actions seem far less questionable than they did back in the day.
In short, my opinion of Selig was that he grew into the role of commissioner as he went along and in time would be viewed as one who did more good than bad for MLB in his tenure, mistakes not withstanding. Reading this book only reinforces that idea, and may, I hope press Rob Manfred to be able to say the same at some point in the future.
In short – a great read for any baseball fan, especially for ones who wonder why the league has evolved the way it has and where it may go from here.
♦♦♦♦ out of 5.