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In the Best Interests of Baseball? The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig Hardcover – March 10, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Since 1992, Major League Baseball's owners have adopted a revenue sharing program, realigned their leagues, restructured the playoffs and put aside some of the bitter conflicts that hampered efforts to build a fan base and deal with a well-organized players union. Credit (or blame, depending) for these changes largely belongs to baseball commissioner Bud Selig. As Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College and a leading sports-business authority, argues persuasively, Selig's consensus-building leadership style and status as (now former) owner of the Milwaukee Brewers made it possible for him to drag the most hidebound of sports into the modern era. Zimbalist applies his considerable knowledge to explanations of financial issues that go underreported by mainstream media: the benefits and flaws in baseball's revenue sharing plan, the machinations behind several franchise sales, the hidden tax implications of some of baseball's business practices and some intriguing solutions to the money gap between large- and small-city teams. Zimbalist's treatment of Selig is even-handed, though he takes a harder line when discussing Zelig's conflicts of interest (in his dual role as team owner and commissioner) and describing the ways Selig used his power to help cronies and punish owners who failed to toe the line. Readers expecting a successor to Helyar's Lords of the Realm will be disappointed-Zimbalist is an economist, not a storyteller. Still, this book is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the way the game has been run during an era of considerable upheaval.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
While this book's provocative title might lead the reader to believe that Bud Selig is the wrongheaded, compromised commissioner of Major League Baseball he often seems to be, author Zimbalist argues, not unconvincingly, that Selig's 14-year tenure has been spectacularly successful, if primarily on financial terms. Clearly, some of the success has been dumb luck--for example, the emergence of scintillating players like Barry Bonds, Ichiro, and Randy Johnson--but Zimbalist, a sports columnist and economics professor, also shows Selig to be a consummate diplomat among his fellow owners and an advocate for players (there have been no player strikes in baseball since 1994). Zimbalist also argues that Selig effectively metes out justice and stays open to ideas that spark fan interest, such as the wild-card races. In addition to analyzing Selig's performance, the text also places his reign in the context of the commissioners who preceded him. For those who follow the often-depressing business of baseball, this makes thought-provoking reading. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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It's a bold thesis with more than a grain of truth behind it; a tack one might expect from a labor guy, but Zimbalist knows his facts. Too bad the book itself is such a boring, repetitive mess, done in largely by its supposed coup, Zimbalist's interview with baseball's current Dark Lord, Bud Selig, who seems to successfully schmooze Zimbalist from seeing his thesis out to its grisly end.
Did Selig fool the state of Wisconsin into building him a stadium on the public dime by falsely claiming he would make his Brewers into a competitive franchise once again? Zimbalist marshals the facts to say Selig spoke from both sides of his mouth, but he doesn't come out and say it. That collusion thing the owners did in the 1980s, cheating free agent players of open-market opportunities? Commissioner Peter Uebberoth was the bad guy there; Selig was just taking orders. That cancelled World Series? Steroids?
"Selig might have acted more aggressively, more consistently, and more persuasively than he did," Zimbalist writes. "However, arguing that his actions were short of ideal is different from arguing that his actions were wrong or devious."
Too bad none of Selig's predecessors get off so lightly. Ford Frick may have seen baseball prosper during his time as commissioner, from 1951 to 1965, but he carried water for his racist bosses and lacked vision. Bowie Kuhn (1969-84) was a sanctimonious fraud. Even Happy Chandler (1945-51), widely praised for his role in breaking baseball's color barrier, had an "unrealistic and grandiose perception of his role" that perpetuated his downfall.
None of those guys talked to Zimbalist. Selig did, and Zimbalist found him gentlemanly. So in taking on the institution of baseball, this iconoclast takes pains to speak well of the man at the center of the whole thing, the wizard behind the curtain.
Apparently Selig resented Zimbalist's book anyway, probably because baseball in its present state can bear little scrutiny, and Zimbalist, in his back-handed way, manages to shed some serious light on what's wrong with the game, like small-market teams that live off of revenue-sharing while fielding weak, cheap teams.
But that's only half of Zimbalist's scattershot book, which starts with brief, sometimes amusing, often acid takes on the tenures of each of Selig's predecessors. A core conceit of Zimbalist's book is that these were hollow men down the line, pretending to serve the game and its fans while working exclusively for the owners. It's a point he keeps making again and again, so that you notice how much plummier he gets when it comes time to talk about Selig.
Zimbalist fails to carry the lessons of Selig's predecessors to that of Selig himself, except to observe that Selig is a good consensus-builder but beholden to the greedy owners. Is Selig really part of the problem? Zimbalist doesn't say one way or another, he just closes by noting "the tasks ahead are as challenging as those that came before," an appropriately mealy-mouthed ending to a book that lacks the courage of its author's convictions.