Selig was MLB’s head man when the sport looked the other way as
brawny sluggers rewrote the record book with a boost from
performance enhancing drugs.
Later he become a crusader fixed on ridding the game of doping
cheaters, ushering in the toughest drug testing and harshest
penalties in North American professional team sports.
The 80-year-old baseball czar, whose 22-year MLB reign will end in
January with newly named successor Rob Manfred taking over, had a
similar arc when it came to labor peace with the players.
Selig was in the hot seat when a labor dispute with the players led
to cancellation of the end of the 1994 season and wiped out of the
postseason, including the World Series.
From that low point, Selig went on to forge a strong working
relationship with the Players Association that has led to a stretch
of 21 years of labor peace and agreements on drug testing, revenue
sharing and a host of other successes.
The millionaire car dealer from Milwaukee, whose folksy demeanor
suggests a rambling old uncle rather than a sports power broker,
expanded the playoffs, introduced the wild card in baseball, brought
in video replay and realigned divisions and the leagues with an
unerring ability as a consensus builder.
Selig and his lieutenants launched a cable TV network, plied new
media platforms and took revenues from $1.2 billion in 1992 to more
than $8 billion by 2013 during a tenure second in years only to
MLB's first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Selig joined the ownership fraternity when he bought the bankrupt
Seattle Pilots in 1970 and moved the franchise to Milwaukee, which
had lost the Milwaukee Braves and legendary slugger Hank Aaron in a
relocation to Atlanta.
As owner of the Brewers he became involved in MLB politics and after
the resignation of commissioner Fay Vincent, forced out by a no
confidence vote, Selig took over as de facto chief in 1992 as
chairman of the Executive Committee.
He was formally named commissioner in 1998 and experienced turbulent
times in his early years in charge.
On the heels of a long sequence of strikes and lockouts that had
players and club owners at bitter odds and often facing off in
court, labor strife led to a shutdown late in the 1994 season,
sinking the game to new lows.
After baseball returned in 1995, the power game, with sluggers
belting titanic, soaring shots with great frequency, began bringing
disenchanted fans back to the ball parks.
Power hitting took center stage in 1998 with a thrilling home run
duel between Mark McGwire of the Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the
Cubs that smashed the single season home run record and won mass
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Home runs kept coming at inflated rates, and sluggers looked more like
body builders as use of steroids and other performance enhancers began
to make a mockery of the record book.
In retrospect many felt that Selig and other MLB executives had turned a
blind eye to doping.
After McGwire obliterated Roger Maris's season record of 61 homers in
1961 with 70 in 1998, and Barry Bonds belted 73 in 2001 and barreled
along toward overtaking Aaron's career home run mark (eventually
surpassing him in 2007), Selig went on the attack against doping.
With Selig's prodding, a working partnership was struck with the Players
Association and together they launched in 2004 a mandatory drug-testing
program that developed into the strictest among North America's four
major pro sports leagues.
In 2006, Selig asked former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to lead an
independent probe into use of steroids in baseball and 20 months later
the Mitchell Report found doping was pervasive, leading to more thorough
testing and stricter punishments.
The campaign reached a zenith one day last summer when Selig handed out
bans to 13 players, including a record 211-game suspension (later
reduced to 162 games) to baseball’s highest paid player, New York Yankee
Alex Rodriguez, following a probe into the now-shuttered Florida
anti-aging clinic Biogenesis.
Advocates for clean sport lauded MLB and Selig.
Said Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency
(USADA): "I commend the commissioner for his leadership on this issue.
“Obviously they learned in the late '90s and early 2000s this (doping)
is the biggest threat to sport and to have the commissioner of one of
most popular pro leagues in the world to take a firm stand and support
it is really refreshing and give all clean athletes hope."
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Gene Cherry)
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