It is very rare for sports league commissioners such as Gary Bettman and Bud Selig to come along and take their respective leagues down roads which would cause long term damage for fans of the sport. From labor disputes caused by unwarranted All-American expansion to the Phoenix desert dog fiasco, Bettman and the owners he works for have left a stain the NHL will not soon remove.
How about Bettman’s counterpart in the MLB, who took over as commissioner two years prior to him in 1992, and has remained on the job to this day as well? Since Major League Baseball has rebounded financially and has managed to remain labor dispute free since 1994, Selig for the most part has avoided criticism of his handling of some very vital issues which should loom over his legacy like a dark cloud. This is a look at the collusion commissioner’s contribution to the game, which has enriched owners at the expense of alienating fans.
Selig came into the Commissioner’s office already having been marked with scandal as the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. He was part of a group of owners who colluded to rig the signing of free agents during the 1985-87 seasons. The owners were found to be guilty of the allegations and fined collectively $280 million. With a work history such as this, it is no wonder MLB owners were anxious to shuffle Selig into the commissioner’s office, where he could really work his “magic.”
Prior to becoming commissioner, there was a miniscule conflict of interest problem Selig had to resolve, since one cannot own a team and be commissioner of the league simultaneously. To resolve this potentially sticky issue, Selig transfered ownership of the Brewers to his daughter, keeping it all in the family, of course.
One has to be downright batty to believe Selig no longer retained control of the franchise. With the conflict of interest matter “cleared up” by using optics, Selig was free to mount a destruction of baseball up and down the Eastern seaboard, and into Canada, which even Hurricane Sandy would envy.
The city of Montreal and the Expos ball club were the first city and team who would be in Selig’s crosshairs. Like any other disreputable politician, Selig desperately wanted to kiss some Washington DC butt and return baseball to the nation’s capital. This would mean finding an existing team to move into DC, since the league had already expanded to cities such as Miami, Denver, Phoenix and Tampa in five years during his tenure. Enter the guy who will probably go down in history as one of the most destructive owners in MLB history (and that’s saying a lot), Jeffrey Loria.
With Selig’s full blessing, Loria purchased a minor share of the Expos and through a series of cash calls increased his ownership share to majority owner. Once he became top pork dog of the Expos, Loria then had an open road to drive the team to the ground and prime it for a sale to the league.
Loria made demands for a stadium from a Quebec province which was closing down hospitals and from taxpayers which had been decimated by the corruption-ridden Olympic Stadium. Montrealer’s had already been duped and screwed over by the “Big Owe,” so Loria and Selig must have been well aware they were not about to fork over more cash for yet another bag job.
This pretty much gave Selig the out he was looking for to move a once proud franchise, which had been in Montreal for 35 years, to the nation’s capital. The Expos were sold by Loria to the league. Loria had his eye on some beachfront property and a whole new group of pigeons 1,400 miles south in Miami FL.
Once the Expos were in the grubby hands of Selig, it was just a formality of packing them up after the 2004 season and moving them to the DC area, where they would become the Washington Nationals. Thus, the Montreal Expos became the first casualty of the Selig era. A major one at that.
Rather fitting for DC, until the 2012 season, the Nats pretty much stunk up the joint. Not that Selig cares much, since the Nats were able to score a taxpayer financed stadium (Nationals Park) at a cool $693 million. All a city needs to do is show Selig some taxpayers’ money, and he is there in a flash, having little remorse for the residents of the city being left behind; in this case, Montreal.
The other part of the three way deal which left Montreal without a baseball team, would involve Loria purchasing the Florida Marlins from current Boston Red Sox owner John Henry. That would then leave Henry free to purchase the Red Sox. For the moment, everyone was happy with this deal, except the baseball fans of Montreal, of course.
Sacrificing the predominantly French speaking Canadian city of Montreal was no big deal to Selig, since he had the Toronto Blue Jays in the Great White North, a franchise which would receive preferential treatment by MLB over the Expos since their inception in 1977. It would not be surprising if the plan to move the Expos had been in place for many years in advance.
Fast forward to 2009 and the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal explodes. Numerous individuals lose a significant amount of money in the scam engineered by Madoff. All in all, $3 billion are lost by investors. One of those investors who lost a significant portion of his retirement savings was former Hall of Fame Pitcher Sandy Koufax, who reportedly was introduced to Madoff by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who allegedly was good buddies with Madoff. Wilpon’s extensive involvement with Madoff was publicized in this New Yorker article which is a bit sympathetic to Wilpon, who deserves to have no tears shed for him.
Koufax and numerous other victims are hung out to dry and the Mets franchise is left financially decimated thanks to the “business relationship” of Wilpon and Madoff. The Mets are left with a brand new partially taxpayer funded stadium and a minor league caliber team to play in it.
So how does Selig handle this mess in Flushing? He gives his full vote of confidence to Wilpon, leaving many Met fans longing for the return of the days of the despicable M. Donald Grant. With the Madoff scandal, Wilpon actually did the impossible: he made Grant actually look good.
Hold on – we are not done yet – as there are some taxpayers in South Florida whose pockets are wide open and ready for the picking. Ever since the Florida Marlins came into the league in 1993 they have had a very difficult time drawing fans. The difficulty with gaining a fan base had nothing to do with a stadium, since they started play in relatively new Joe Robbie Stadium which was built in 1987.
From college sports to the nightclubs and the beach, there is just too much competition in Miami for the entertainment dollar and not enough people with the big bucks. There may be individuals with big money in South Florida, but many do not live their full time and certainly do not go to too many baseball games.
When Jeffrey Loria purchased the Marlins, he went full tilt, lobbying hard to have the city of Miami finance a new stadium. Loria’s alleged motivation was not to improve the team, but to improve the value of his personal financial portfolio through the investment of taxpayer funds.
It has been established that when a franchise receives a new stadium, its value can increase by a substantial amount. For example, the Dallas Cowboys franchise increased in value by 12% in just two years with the addition of the new taxpayer funded Cowboys Stadium in Arlington TX.
After many years of trying, Loria and Selig were finally able to convince the fine gullible folks of Miami to finance a big chunk of the new Marlins Park. After Loria finally got his sweetheart deal, which increased the value of the Marlins, he went on a free agent signing spree before the 2012 season. After a poor season in 2012 with his big name free agents, Loria shipped off all his valuable goods to Toronto, leaving Miami fans miffed.
Following the trade, Loria would be quoted as saying, “we had a bad season, figure it out”. Oh yeah, it did not take long for Miami locals to figure out they have been duped by two of the biggest alleged con artists in all of sports, Loria and Selig.
From Montreal to Miami, the collusion commissioner and his minion Loria have left a trail of destruction which will not be cleaned up anytime soon. MLB would like nothing better than to continue to sweep all this under the rug.
In a recent press conference at an owners’ meeting Selig pointed out how much MLB revenue has risen during his tenure. Yeah sure…just what baseball fans in Montreal, Flushing and Miami really want to hear.
Besides, how does more money flowing into the pockets of a bunch of rich guys display that Selig has done the right thing for the fans of the game? It does not one bit – Selig is just using smoke and mirrors to try and shield the destruction he has helped to create along the eastern seaboard this past decade.
Forget about the steroid commissioner title, Selig will forever be known at the collusion commissioner, causing collateral damage few will ever emulate.