Less Terrible is a Cubs DNA feature where one of our staffers picks two hated MLB personalities and tries to decide which one is less terrible. This column literally started on a dare as a way to give you, dear reader, a chuckle and a way to vent with us. This installment takes a look at the last two Commissioners of Major League Baseball, both who are deserving of scorn for misstep after misstep and damaging the sport, former Commissioner Bud Selig and current Commissioner Rob Manfred. Will either be deemed less terrible? Let's find out. I wish I couldn't write this particular entry for this series. Baseball deserves a Commissioner who loves the sport and all of its players, who understands what makes it beautiful and wants to see it succeed. I get so jealous watching Adam Silver run the NBA, because he fully gets what makes the teams, the sport, and especially the players tick. It's like he actually likes and respects the game of basketball or something.
But no, Major League Baseball has spent the better part of the last 28 (!!!) years under the "leadership" of Bud Selig and Rob Manfred, one who became Commissioner via hostile takeover and the other via... ownership Stockholm Syndrome, maybe? Whatever it is, I'm here to examine whether either of these two can really be considered less terrible than the other.
Normally, we would have a set menu of questions to determine whether either of these two human manifestations of Satan could really be considered less terrible, but given their positions and their profound impacts on the sport of baseball, the teams and every single player, we're going to scrap our usual questions and give these guys three measures of their own. Take your BALCO "vitamins" and juice your baseballs, friends, because here we go!
Question 1: Were their changes to the game any good at all?
Bud Selig made a number of changes to Major League Baseball that you probably take for granted or otherwise don't even notice now because they've become ingrained in how we view the sport. The Wild Card, dividing each league into three divisions, moving the Brewers and Astros into opposite leagues, and expanding the majors to create the Rays, Rockies and Marlins (not to mention moving the Expos to DC and rechristening them the Nationals) all happened during Selig's watch and have become normal parts of the sport. While you might not love the Wild Card game, let me tell you as one of the olds that watching only four teams make the playoffs each year was pretty brutal during those times when the Cubs were good.... but not good enough.
I won't say everything Selig did was innocuous, however. He was responsible for that asinine rule giving home field advantage in the World Series to the team whose league won the All Star Game. Remember how the Cubs were the best team in baseball in 2016 but didn't have home field advantage in the Series because Johnny Cueto sucked in the All Star Game and the National League team lost? How is that even fair? Thank goodness that rule has finally be done away with and the team with the best record gets home field advantage.
Beyond reversing the dumb ASG rule, Rob Manfred hasn't actually made any changes to the game that have made much of an impact at all. At least, not any that he's willing to discuss (we'll get to that in a second). Oh sure, he did away with the four-pitch intentional walk, and that was... fine. Restricting the number of mound visits per team is also a good thing, because while I love Willy, he trots out to the mound way too often when left to his own devices.
Don't be mad, mi friend!
That said, all those changes Manfred promised to sate his obsession with pace of play have either not been made or are so unbelievably dumb that I don't even want to talk about them. The concept of not letting teams finish out an extra inning game, for example, and putting a runner on second to try to hurry the game to its end is just something I can't even process.
And then there's Manfred's balls...
Study after study has shown that the balls have been different since the 2015 season, yet Rob Manfred refuses to admit that he ordered any changes in the baseballs to increase offense and make the games more exciting (that's really the "pace of play" he's talking about). If he'd just admit it, I might consider it a positive thing! At least then pitchers would understand why their ERAs are skyrocketing unless their names are Jacob deGrom.
Question 2: Who's been better in the Big Moments?
Selig took over as Commissioner in 1992 (quite literally--he led an ownership group that ousted Fay Vincent) and almost immediately faced a number of big moments where his leadership was put to the test. In 1993, a number of racist comments made by Reds owner Marge Schott came to light and Selig suspended her from baseball for a year. While that might not seem like a harsh penalty now, in the early 90's it was a controversial decision to suspend someone for their comments.
He wouldn't fare as well a year later when faced with the players' strike, when he ultimately canceled the World Series. You might remember that? Baseball had a hard time recovering? But we'll talk more about that later...
Selig showed much stronger leadership nearly a decade later in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when he fostered a sense of unity around the league during a week-long delay of all MLB games to give the nation time to catch its breath. When play did resume, MLB had a unified feel that I'd never seen before and haven't seen since. Selig didn't hit the home run in New York or run out onto the field carrying an American flag at Wrigley, but he successfully created an atmosphere that made those moments possible.
Rob Manfred's biggest moments have come simultaneously, right here in 2020. First, as we struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, Manfred has been a near-colossal failure in providing the type of leadership necessary to get MLB up and running during this uncertain time. Ol' Rob has been a clear shill for the owners, who have repackaged the same proposal to the players union approximately 152,895 times just wrapped in a different bow to try and disguise that it's the same turd. It wasn't until the players began a very public campaign to call this out on social media that Manfred finally got on a plane and went to talk to Tony Clark face to face to get some real movement going. Even then the owners pretty much ignored Manfred and shut the players down. Because no one respects him. Manfred finally has the season on course to start, but only because he used what little authority he has to basically steamroll the players to go with the agreement all parties signed in March. We'll see how far the owners' "good faith" goes in the next few years, eh?
Then when civil unrest broke out due to the racist actions that led to the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, it took Manfred nearly a week to get his act together enough to even issue a formal statement, much less start organizing any actions to address racism in MLB. This is a man who helms a sport that is increasingly less accessible to young African Americans and other kids in disadvantaged communities because of how expensive it is to play, an issue he also still has not addressed due to his obsession with pace of play. Let's just say he whiffed once again.
Finally, Manfred has done a poor job handling domestic violence around the league, something that should never be tolerated. MLB continues to dole out harsher suspensions for substance violations than for DV violations, and allows people like Roberto Osuna to play in the postseason in the same year they've been formally charged with abusing women. It's not okay, and Manfred just isn't getting the job done.
Winner: Bud Selig
Question 3: Whose controversies were less embarrassing?
Bud Selig transitioned to Acting Commissioner of MLB from owning the Milwaukee Brewers. This is important to remember as you look back on his legacy of trying to do Things that Benefited the Brewers. First, Selig attempted to contract the league in 2001, and more specifically the Minnesota Twins, under accusations that he was doing so to give the Brewers a larger share of the MLB market pie. Selig also forced the Astros to play two home games against the Cubs in "neutral" Miller Park, AKA Wrigley North, in 2008 during Hurricane Ike when both the Rangers and Braves ballparks were available. The Astros were swept and the losses helped the Brewers sneak into the Wild Card game that year.
Okay, I don't mind that Astros decision so much.
Selig was also accused of playing favorites among MLB owners, most notably favoring New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon in several decisions due to their personal relationship. The most glaring example being Selig's rejection of the L.A. Dodgers television deal that would have brought the team out of bankruptcy, while approving a similar deal for the Mets. But hey, no one associated with the Brewers would do anything shady, right?
Speaking of steroids, you absolutely cannot discuss Bud Selig without talking about his knowledge of and possible underground promotion of PED abuse during his tenure as Commissioner. After the 1994 strike, many fans tuned MLB out and a home run record chase between two behemoths on rival teams while several players around the league hit the ball farther and threw the ball harder was just was the league needed to rejuvenate interest. After all...
I'm not absolving the players, who were grown men and knew exactly what they were getting into. But not only did Bud Selig allow rampant cheating during his tenure, he allowed it at the probable expense of his players' long term health. Because let's face it--if you look at football (Lyle Alzado), baseball (Ken Caminiti), and pro wrestling (too many to count), you will see name after name of athletes who have suffered irreversible and catastrophic health impacts from the use of PEDs. Shoot, Jose Canseco's Twitter feed alone should serve as a cautionary tale against steroids.
Cheating during the Manfred era has been just as problematic, but has come in a much trashier form. Yes, we all know now about the Houston Astros winning their World Series using an elaborate sign stealing scheme involving cameras, trash can banging and who knows what else. What we don't know is exactly how much Rob Manfred knew about their little system, and whether he was helping sweep their dirty little secret into the bin to keep his 2017 darlings looking squeaky clean.
I also don't personally trust the "results" of the Red Sox investigation, nor the one-man punishment that was doled out after the relative slap on the wrist Manfred gave the Astros. I'm going to need to see a little more proof that the 2018 Sox were real, especially after that 2019 drop off.
Winner: Rob Manfred, by a tube of The Cream.
I always try to pick an ultimate winner of these things, but this time I just can't. Fans and the sport of major league baseball have been losing under the "leadership" of these two for nearly 30 years with no improvement in sight as long as Manfred stays at the helm. If nothing else, I will say that Rob learned well from his mentor, because he's blazing a path that's just about the same as his predecessor.
For whatever that's worth.
Ultimate winner: Absolutely no one. QED