Defending Commissioner Bud

J. Meric

I ran across this Bud Selig takedown and, for one of the very few times in my now-considerable time on this earth, I'm going to defend Commissioner Bud for just a few minutes. See, the Houston Chronicle asked Selig a few questions about the Astros' move to the American League this year, and Selig had the temerity to justify -- nay, to trumpet -- yet another of his grand accomplishments...

"The American League is very attractive," said the 78-year-old Selig, who plans to retire Dec. 31, 2014. "We had a division number of six (teams) in the National League Central. And all the National League clubs had complained to me for a long time: 'Commissioner, this isn't fair. The other (divisions) are either five, and one division only has four.' … And it made no sense."

It's true. It made no sense. It never made any sense. From the beginning, and we're going back more than 15 years now, the Diamondbacks were supposed to be the team that ultimately moved to the American League. Why they just didn't begin in the American League, I don't exactly know. Something about then-owner Jerry Colangelo and Cubs fans in Arizona, but that made no sense to me.

As for why the Astros aren't moving now ... Basically, it's because it's very difficult to force an owner to do something he doesn't want to do. It takes a large number of votes from the other owners, all of whom are reluctant to vote against a single owner's wishes because they're all afraid it might happen to them someday. Which is why most of the votes are unanimous, or 29-1, or 26-2 with two abstentions. It used to be easier to get things done when there was a meaningful difference between the leagues; with only eight or ten or twelve or fourteen votes to worry about, you could do some lobbying, some horse-trading, whatever. Now that's a lot harder. Now the Commissioner tries to line up support for whatever he's got cooking, and if he doesn't have it, there's just no vote. And for whatever reasons, there just wasn't ever enough support to put the Diamondbacks in the American League where they were supposed to be.

But even that would have been complicated. If the Diamondbacks were in the American League West, somebody would have to have replaced them in the National League West. Somebody from the National League Central. The Houston Astros. Which would have left them traveling nearly as far as they're now going to travel as members of the American League West. Without the big attendance bonanza that figures to come with playing the Rangers a dozen times a year.

Selig said the primary reason for the Astros' AL relocation came down to simple geography. With St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, the Astros were the odd team out. According to the commissioner, the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Reds have "tremendous" rivalries. The Astros did not, he said, because of their isolation.

"The teams left in the National League Central all had a geographical (base) - there was a relationship. Houston was sitting down there; there was no relationship," said Selig, who stressed he made the decision in the best long-term interests of baseball. "And I understand they've been in the National League for a long time, and I'm sympathetic to that. But we had to move a team, and … the fact of the matter is when you looked at all the other things that could happen, the only logical thing was for Houston to move. … I didn't have an alternative."

Well, again that's not precisely true. Geographically, Selig had any number of alternatives. Geographically, the Diamondbacks could have switched leagues, the Astros divisions. Geographically, the Rockies could have switched leagues. This isn't about geography. It's about politics. What's that quote ... Politics is the art of getting things done? Maybe I just made that up. Politics is also, at its heart, simply a series of battles between competing interests, with little room for principles. This move was pure politics; it's probably true that Selig didn't have an alternative, but the reason was politics rather than geography. He just didn't have the votes for another National League team to switch leagues. Had the votes for an Astros switch because there was a new owner, with little political capital of his own ... oh, and by the way the new owner was indemnified to the tune of $75 million for making the switch. My guess is that $75 million was, shall we say, overly generous.

If you're an Astros fan, that's worth knowing. Just as all of us should know that a vast government conspiracy didn't kill Kennedy. If you're an Astros fan and you think nothing justifies the Astros leaving the National League, then you can stop reading right now (and probably already have). But if you're an Astros fan who thinks that occasionally one franchise and its fans must make a small sacrifice for the greater good, then it's probably time to stop castigating Commissioner Bud and start getting used to life in the American League. It's really not so terrible over here. We promise.

For more about the Astros, please visit Crawfish Boxes.

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