Steinberg: Selig deserves gratitude as he leaves

Bud Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball, announced he is retiring from that position at the end of the 2014 season. Selig found his early years filled with controversy and was held as a villain with players and the public.

He endured to leave Major League Baseball in a unprecedented position of labor peace and player/owner prosperity. He purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots franchise in 1970 and moved it to Milwaukee. Under his watch the team won "Organization of the Year" awards seven times. He was a hero in Milwaukee.

He was convinced to become Acting Commissioner in 1992, which became permanent in 1998. He walked into a troubled time for baseball. The 1994 year saw a season-long strike that embittered all sides. Attendance dropped dramatically as did television viewership and memorabilia purchases. The fans were disgusted and he was seen as a Nero fiddling while the sport burned.

Since then there has been uninterrupted play. This is the longest period of labor peace in baseball since the first collective bargaining agreement negotiated between management and the Players Assn. While the steroid-fueled, home-run race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa brought the fans back, the continuation of this peace allowed the League to market on branding and creating ancillary revenue streams.

This resulted in the gross receipts of baseball increasing by six times, from $1.2 billion to $7.5 billion. Revenue sharing between teams has clearly operated for competitive balance. Fiscal reforms in respect to debt and other issues shored up the stability of franchises.

Selig expanded the postseason format, instituted interleague play and created the wild card playoff berths which have sustained more interest in more teams through the end of the season. He brought baseball into the modern era by founding MLB Advanced Media, which expanded their reach online. He created the MLB Network to drive audiences and revenue. Local television packages have expanded exponentially.

In many ways, the most difficult issue facing baseball has been the use of steroids, HGH and other ways to enhance performance. Every part of baseball was slow in reacting to an epidemic that threatens to challenge the credibility of standings and statistics by undercutting the level playing field. But he set up a comprehensive and more aggressive Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program through collective bargaining.

The response to the Biogenesis scandal was much more direct than in the past.

Baseball has been active in charitable and community programs. Jackie Robinson's jersey was retired in 1997 and April 15 is "Jackie Robinson Day" throughout the League.

Little of this would be possible were it not for a new paradigm of cooperation between the League and the Major League Baseball Players Assn. From Marvin Miller through Don Fehr to the current Michael Weiner, players have been blessed with the brightest and most talented leadership.

Can you remember those days when most owners were claiming poverty and lack of a future for their franchises?

It has been a long time since those voices overshadowed the play on the field and baseball has much to thank Bud Selig for.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.

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