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An Open Letter to Baseball Fans


I  hope that in accepting Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig's Open Letter to Baseball Fans, the no fewer than five newspapers that decided to publish it—at least through Friday, June 16: the Arizona Republic, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and USA TODAY—remembered to charge Baseball's New York office the going rate for paid advertisements.
 

Because Selig’s letter is self-serving advocacy through-and-through.  And nothing but.

Nowhere is this more than in its fifth paragraph—which, for its mendacity, stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

"I am committed to protecting our game,” Selig reassures the fans.  “The Office of Commissioner of Baseball was created nearly 86 years ago to ensure the integrity of America's pastime.  I know my duty is to uphold that great tradition.”

These remarks are false—pathetically, disgracefully, despicably false.  But the second sentence most egregiously. 

When Selig first assumed the post of Interim or Acting Commissioner back in September 1992 (and it wasn't until six years later, in 1998, that he became Permanently Acting Commissioner), it was only after he, then the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, along with Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, had devoted a couple of years to engineering the ouster of then-Commissioner Fay Vincent in what at the time was universally recognized as a coup d’état within Baseball's ownership ranks.  The purpose of the Reinsdorf-Selig coup was to tear up the Major League Agreement (i.e., Baseball’s constitution) that dated back to the days following the rigged 1919 World Series which forever-after came to be known as the “Black Sox” scandal—several Chicago White Sox players having agreed to throw the 1919 Series against the Cincinnati Reds, in return for cash payments from professional gamblers interested in betting on the Series, once they fixed its outcome.  Among the structures and rules adopted by the owners in the hope of seizing the "moral high-ground" in the fans' eyes after the fallout caused by this gambling scandal in particular, the 1921 Major League Agreement established an Office of Commissioner, and granted the Commissioner the power "To investigate either upon complaint or upon his own initiative, any act, transaction or practice charged, alleged or suspected to be detrimental to the best interests of the national game of base ball" (Article I, Sec. 2(a)); the owners also agreed "to be bound by the decisions of the Commissioner, and the discipline imposed by him under the provisions of this Agreement, and severally waive all right of recourse to the courts as would otherwise have existed in their favor" (Article VII, Sec. 1).

The Major League Agreement lasted for some 71 years—from 1921 through 1992.  It was to eliminate the Office of Commissioner altogether that the Reinsdorf-Selig faction orchestrated the ouster of Fay Vincent in September of that year.  The net effect of this subterfuge 14 years ago was to destroy the Office, and to replace it with what Jerry Reinsdorf at the time used to refer to as a “CEO of the owners, not the players or the umpires”—the real prize in the Reinsdorf-Selig faction’s eyes.  "Once we establish his job is to run the business [for] the owners,” Reinsdorf explained, “not the players, umpires or fans, then that would give power to [ownership].”  (In “Even CEO Couldn't End Baseball Funny Business,” Dave Van Dyck, Chicago Sun-Times, August 20, 1992.—For a copy, see below.)

Those who lament the coming of World Wrestling Entertainment look-a-likes to Major League ballparks must remember above all else that the Vince McMahon Era has its roots in these fateful changes.

(And as for those fakers who applaud the coming of World Wrestling Entertainment look-a-likes?  You can keep them.  No thank you.)

Nor should fans look to Baseball’s CEO Bud Selig to provide them with a solution.  Because it has been the constitutional changes that his tenure embodies which are at the heart of the problem.

These days, Baseball has no Office of Commissioner, and therefore somewhere less than zero integrity for its pseudo-commissioner to protect.

The very people who now pretend to uphold its “great tradition” are the ones who destroyed it.  Profiting handsomely from its destruction.   

An Open Letter to Baseball Fans From Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, as posted to the Major League Baseball website, June 15, 2006
Major League Agreement (1921), as posted to the Business of Baseball website.  (Also see the splendid website of the Society for American Baseball Research.) 

"The Truth about Barry Bonds and Steroids," Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, Sports Illustrated, March 13, 2006
Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports,  Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams (Gotham Books, 2006)

Testosterone Dreams: Rejuvenation, Aphrodisia, DopingJohn Hoberman (University of California Press, 2005)

"On Bonds: You're Damn Right Race Matters," Dave Zirin, March 31, 2006
"Hating Barry Bonds," Bob Wing, MRZine, May 11, 2006

"Steroids Inquiry Must Start With Old Scars," William C. Rhoden, New York Times, June 14, 2006 [$$$$$ - See below]
"Put the law on the basepaths," Rick Martinez, News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), June 14, 2006
"Selig takes battle on drugs to fans," Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune, June 16, 2006 (as posted to Chicagosports.com)
"Mitchell Probe Widens," T.J. Quinn, New York Daily News, June 16, 2006
"Selig Writes Letter to Fans About Drug Issue," Tim Brown, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2006
"Bud's Letter to Fans: We'll Fight HGH Use," Brian Costello, New York Post, June 16, 2006
"Selig Admits Baseball's 'Problems'," Jack Curry, New York Times, June 16, 2006
"MLB to fund HGH detection study," Hal Bodley, USA Today, June 16, 2006
"Blame game: Hey, Bud, I believe it's mirror time," Carol Slezak, Chicago Sun-Times, June 18, 2006
"As Barry Bonds, so Mr. Horowitz," Richard S. Ginell, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2006

"Baseball and Steroids," ZNet, November 11, 2005
"Baseball and Steroids II," ZNet, March 8, 2006
"An Open Letter to Baseball Fans," ZNet, June 18, 2006

Update (July 17, 2007):

Friends: A cartoon by Investor's Business Daily's Michael Ramirez, a copy of which was also published on the editorial page of the July 17 Chicago Tribune (Sec. 1, p. 14). — Where is the slightest hint that, lurking in the background throughout the whole saga of Major League Baseball and performance-enhancing drugs, the individual Major League Baseball player depicted-at-left as a bloated, exploding, cancerous-looking body into whom the syringe injects its chemicals, is and has always been Major League Baseball?  When one of World Wrestling Entertainment's juiced-up celebrity athletes died violently, the first persons at whom the news media pointed their fingers were the principal owners behind the WWE.  So how come the same news media don't point their fingers at MLB's owners, their Permanently-Acting Commissioner Bud Selig and his top executives?

 

 

 

 

FYA ("For your archives"): I know. I know. I know.  I'm leaving out an awful lot.  So this will have to do. Particularly relevant would be the 30-months prior to September, 1992.  As Fay Vincent explained to the New York Times after his intervention in the lockout of the players in March, 1990, ended in a four-year agreement (though merely postponing matters until 1994): The atmosphere between Baseball's 28 owners and the Players Association had been "poisoned by collusion," the 1987 and 1988 rulings "of which the owners have been twice found guilty."  In Vincent's exact words: "It won't happen if I'm around; it just won't.  Until I went into those negotiations, I did not see the depth of the conviction among the leaders of the association and the players of that problem.  It is a significant problem, and it is receding, I hope.  It was a very important reality affecting these negotiations."  (Murray Chass, "Baseball Negotiators Cleaning Up Loose Ends," NYTimes, March 20, 1990.)  Well.  Chicago sports lord Jerry Reinsdorf never forgave Fay Vincent.  And Vincent is no longer around.  Still.  It took Reinsdorf another 30 months to engineer the ouster of Vincent, to free the owners of the 1921 Major League Agreement, to replace the Office of the Commissioner with the “CEO of the owners”—and to inaugurate the Vince McMahon Era of Major League Baseball that fakers like Dave Zirin seem to like so well.

Anyway.  I'm reproducing here one of the more damning interviews ever granted by Jerry Reinsdorf.  Particularly when read in light of the recent history of Major League Baseball.—With the advent of the Vince McMahon Era, who can honestly deny that the Reinsdorf-Selig faction now feeds on exactly the kind of fare that they ordered for dinner, 14 years ago?      

 

Chicago Sun-TimesAugust 20, 1992, THURSDAY , FIVE STAR SPORTS FINALSECTION: SPORTS; Pg. 103
HEADLINE: Even CEO Couldn't End Baseball Funny Business
BYLINE: Dave Van Dyck

If baseball has indeed become big business, then there is some office backstabbing going on.

Gossip in company corridors is that commissioner Fay Vincent is the target of a well-organized and powerfully led coup d'etat.

The coup leaders feel Vincent has overstepped his limits and favors the wishes of himself and employees more than his board of directors.

(In baseball language, Vincent has done what he wanted when he wanted and why he wanted and has favored the players, not the owners.)

Talk around the water cooler and steno pools is that the takeover bid is led by White Sox board chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who heads a powerful and influential group of baseball stockholders. The group feels it has the votes needed to get Vincent out of office on what could be a first-ever firing.

Reinsdorf will not confirm the group's existence nor its takeover bid nor his distrust of Vincent, but he does have ideas on how the company should be run: like Big Business, not Small Sport.

He thinks it is time to rewrite the governing Major League Agreement.

Reinsdorf's restructuring plans would have the commissioner become the CEO of baseball business. The board of directors would be the 28 franchise owners.

Like any other business, the CEO would report directly to his board and to no one else, especially the employees.

"We would announce him as the CEO . . . of the owners, not the players or the umpires," Reinsdorf says. "The players don't need a commissioner to protect them.

"Once we establish his job is to run the business (for) the owners, not the players, umpires or fans, then that would give power to (management).

"I don't know any business that has a CEO who would do anything he wants, irrespective of the board of directors. Apparently, the commissioner believes he has such powers."

Vincent's powers are being tested in court right now by one of his upstart underlings, the Cubs. Vincent was hired under the Major League Agreement, which he believes gives him unlimited "bests interests of baseball" strength.

Not only that, but the Major League Agreement states that the commissioner's power and compensation cannot be diminished during his term. Vincent's term runs through 1994.

But owners think they are a cunning lot, even though their botching of collusion would argue otherwise. So they have hatched a plot, not to "fire" the commissioner, but to "shorten his term."

The coup group believes it needs only a majority to rid itself of Vincent early. Perhaps soon.

The group does not want Vincent walking back into contract negotiations with players, feeling his "settling" of the player dispute two springs ago cost them millions of dollars.

Since owners want to reopen contract negotiations with players this December, they feel Vincent needs to be "fired" before then.

Does the Reinsdorf group have the necessary votes?

According to a Sun-Times survey, 12 franchises strongly favor his ouster; 10 franchises either are strongly or mildly for him, and six are fence-sitters.

Among those decidedly against Vincent are the White Sox and Cubs, California, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and the Yankees.

Among those strongly in favor of keeping Vincent are Baltimore, Texas, Colorado, Boston, Oakland and the Mets.

Most of those – and their colleagues leaning that way – like Vincent as a person.

The anti-Vincents feel his "best interests" powers not only have gone to his head in the Cubs and Steve Howe affairs, but will continue to do so with mandatory revenue sharing.

So battle lines are clearly drawn. And behind-the-scenes arm-twisting has started.

Vincent says, "I can't be bought."

Independently wealthy and an independent thinker, Vincent doesn't believe he is subservient to the owners. He defiantly refused one attempt by the Reinsdorf group to yield his "best interests" power when it comes to upcoming labor negotiations.

Just what is it the owners – who have been unhappy with low-key lawyer Bowie Kuhn, slick marketing salesman Peter Ueberroth and baseball purist Vincent – really want?

Reinsdorf, for one, wants a David Stern clone. Stern is the commissioner of the NBA, a league that has become so successful it virtually runs itself.

"The best commissioner in the history of sport (Stern) has no 'best interests' power," says Reinsdorf, who also owns the NBA Bulls. "He can't sign a TV contract (the owners) don't want. He can't move a team from the West to the East Conference."

Vincent believes, because of history if not because of personality, he has unlimited power.

If Vincent is guilty of anything, it is of doing what he believes is right.

He has said he believes, "When in doubt, do the right thing. . . . I believe I have been."

If that is the case, then the owners are wrong. They were wrong for hiring the wrong man for the right reasons.

Whatever happens in the end, whether Vincent stays, whether he is fired or whether his powers are voluntarily diminished, the feeling here is that baseball owners will never be happy with a commissioner, CEO or choir boy.

They are a diverse group, united only by success in business and desire to win at any cost.

They wouldn't even be happy with honest Abe Lincoln, who if he had been commissioner might have said, "You can't please all of the people all of the time."

 

The New York TimesJune 14, 2006 Wednesday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section D; Column 5; Sports Desk; Sports of The Times; Pg. 3
HEADLINE: Steroids Inquiry Must Start With Old Scars
BYLINE: By WILLIAM C. RHODEN.
E-mail: wcr@nytimes.com

FOR the last two seasons, steroid use in baseball has been framed as a simple story of giants, and one Giant in particular: Barry Bonds. Steroid use became a celebrity issue, with Bonds as its poster child.

Baseball's problem goes far beyond Bonds. This is not a superstar issue, but an everyday, kid-next-door issue, with average players trying to keep up, young players trying to make it, old players like Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Jason Grimsley trying to hang on.

Last week, federal investigators searched Grimsley's home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Just as baseball appeared to achieve a calm, just as Commissioner Bud Selig assured fans that baseball's steroids problem was under control, we have this. Grimsley, according to documents filed in the United States District Court of Arizona, admitted using anabolic steroids, amphetamines and human growth hormone.

Fay Vincent, a former commissioner of Major League Baseball, said he was surprised by the raid because federal agents had not seemed interested in aggressively pursuing illegal drug use by athletes.

''Somebody's taking it seriously,'' Vincent said Monday from his office in Connecticut. ''They're investigating beyond San Francisco and out into baseball, where there's obviously been a lot of problems.

''My guess is there's a lot more to come, and we're going to be very, very depressed about how much cheating, how much misuse of drugs was going on in baseball.''

Vincent was commissioner from 1989 to 1992. During the 1980's, on the watch of a previous commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, baseball endured an embarrassing cocaine scandal involving some of the biggest names in the game. In 1992, Vincent barred pitcher Steve Howe from baseball for life as a seventh suspension for drug and alcohol troubles. The players union appealed Vincent's decision, and Howe was reinstated.

Steroids were barely on Vincent's radar then. ''All I heard were rumors that Canseco was using steroids,'' he said, referring to the former Oakland Athletics slugger Jose Canseco. ''That was the earliest I ever heard of steroids; I had no idea what a steroid was.''

Now Vincent calls steroids baseball's greatest disgrace since the Black Sox scandal in 1919. How will the sport come out from under this cloud? Vincent favors holding hearings with no penalties attached. He would assure players that baseball has no intention of punishing anyone.

In March, Selig appointed George J. Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader, to investigate steroid use in major league baseball. But baseball's problems are so full-blown that criminal prosecution may be the only way to get to the truth. Baseball needs its own truth and reconciliation hearings to get to the root of drug use and to determine guilt or innocence.

Fans want the truth. Let's get at the truth.

We thought baseball hit its low point last season, when a parade of the biggest stars went, most ungraciously, before Congress to testify about steroid use.

''Baseball's got to get back on the high ground,'' Vincent said. ''It needs to establish some moral principals. The game's got to be played according to the rules, otherwise it becomes professional wrestling or a movie — it's entertainment, but it's not a game.''

Vincent has completed the first installment of a baseball oral history project (''The Only Game In Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930's and 1940's Talk About the Game They Loved,'' 2006, Simon & Schuster). In the spirit of oral histories, we should examine how athletes in each generation used substances — from crude homemade concoctions to steroids and amphetamines — to get an edge. Call players from each decade, beginning with the 50's, to testify about cheating, about when and how they used, and why they used.

''As somebody wisely said, 'Babe Ruth used a prohibited substance when he played — it was called booze,' '' Vincent said.

''All athletes in every sport have always looked for a competitive advantage. The track people have done it; I think it goes back to the Greeks. You're never going to get rid of that.''

We always say this, but let's prove it. The Mitchell investigation is covering a period of only 15 years. That will provide a snapshot. The hearings I envision would follow the intricate web of cheating in baseball that goes back decades.

''I really think there's going to be a lot more Grimsleys,'' Vincent said, ''because the feds are finally doing what they should do: they're investigating the misuse of these drugs by athletes.''

Vincent said he did not like the idea of more hearings like the one Congress held last year.

''Congress doesn't want to do that,'' he said. ''You get very popular guys up there saying, 'We're going to take the Fifth Amendment.' It becomes a circus. Everybody gets hurt — baseball gets hurt.''

Baseball has hurt itself for decades by looking the other way. Now it's time for the sport — from owners to players to trainers to the men and women who cover the game — to look in the mirror and examine the soul of their sport.

Vincent wants baseball to regain its moral high ground. At this point, I'll settle for truth and reconciliation.

 

 

 

 

 

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