Bud Selig catches a lot of guff from baseball nerds, whether it's because of the extra Wild Cards, the 1994 strike, or "This Time It Counts!" The man has also spawned a cottage industry of metaphorically rich photography.
But no one disputes that baseball is rolling in money right now. Major League Baseball Advanced Media is a behemoth. Attendance is up. Regional television deals are being signed for staggering sums. Selig would listen to your thoughts on instant replay, but he's busy diving into a vault filled with doubloons.
And there's another lasting legacy that Selig has been a part of: the ballpark boom. It's been an amazingly productive couple of decades for baseball franchises when it comes to building new ballparks. It's been an unfortunate couple of decades for municipalities subsidizing those ballparks, but now we're just splitting hairs. There are exactly two ballparks out of 30 that would qualify as problem ballparks: Tampa and Oakland.
When Selig took over as acting commissioner in 1992 -- just a temporary thing while they put an ad in the paper, surely -- here are some of the stadiums then hosting Major League Baseball games: Three Rivers, Fulton County, Riverfront, Cleveland Stadium, the Astrodome, Milwaukee County Stadium, the Metrodome, Stade Olympique, Shea, Veterans, Rockies didn't exist then; now Coors Field is the third-oldest ballpark in the National League., the Kingdome, Candlestick, Busch II, and Arlington Stadium. Most of those were boring concrete pits, at best. The
When I was growing up, I'd go to about 20 games at Candlestick every year and about two at the Oakland Coliseum. The games in Oakland were depressing, but not for the reasons you'd think now. The weather was better, the public transportation was easy, and the open area beyond center field made it feel like 16 times the ballpark than the multi-purpose Candlestick could ever be. The teams were often better, too. I was so jealous of the A's and their ballpark. Short sleeves at night in July -- could you even imagine?
The City of Oakland and Alameda County let Raiders owner Al Davis do unspeakable things to the stadium in their desperation to bring the football team back. It was a slow, depressing decline and fall of Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. Lew Wolff bought the A's in 2005, and he focused most of his efforts on figuring out how to move to San Jose.
But it's unlikely the A's will get the rights to San Jose. Selig has established a blue-ribbon committee to study the situation, and they've been diligently figuring out ways to wake up at the crack of noon and figure this whole mess out. They're stalling, probably because it's never going to happen.
Just when you thought the issue was going to peter out and the A's were doomed to stay in the Coliseum until they moved to Las Vegas or Sacramento, though, here comes a huge surprise:
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's blue-ribbon committee snuck into town Wednesday for a top secret meeting with East Bay officials and boosters at a downtown Oakland law office to discuss a new plan for an A's waterfront ballpark.
Although not stated at the meeting, the message was that - contrary to what A's managing partner Lew Wolff says - the town does have a viable plan and site, and if he is not interested in staying, then the team should be sold to someone who is.
Selig will get his new stadiums. There are two holdouts left, and they're surrounded. This is his legacy, more than the Wild Cards, more than the strike, and more than the attendance boom. If a new stadium doesn't happen in Oakland, the team will move. He'd prefer that it happen in Oakland before he goes the Montreal-nuclear route, though. It sounds like there's a chance, however slim.
After this comes Tampa. After that … Kansas City? Anaheim? Los Angeles? Selig will worry about that later. Right now, the focus is on Oakland and the secret meetings being held to keep the Athletics there. You might think it's a longshot until you realize that all of the other longshots have shiny new ballparks. There was a time when it was absurd to think that Minneapolis and Miami would ever enjoy a new ballpark, remember.
Bud Selig gets ballparks built. He's like Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction, but with ballparks, and perhaps slightly less debonaire. He's looking at downtown Oakland. Downtown Oakland's looking at him. It actually makes a lot of sense, especially if it's primarily a privately financed effort. Don't underestimate the potential of the A's to stay in Oakland after all.