Sunday, August 4, 2019

Review of "For the Good of the Game"

Bud Selig will NEVER be on my holiday card list - I have disliked the man since he proposed contracting the Twins and Expos in 2001.  So why in the world would I read and review his new memoir?  I was curious on what he had to say on this and other controversial topics during his time as commissioner, and while I didn't agree with him often, I found the book a compelling read and have to give credit, it is a good book. So, with that said, here is my review of "For the Good of the Game." 

“For the Good of the Game: The Inside Story of the Surprising and Dramatic Transformation of Major League Baseball” by Bud Selig

Baseball, Professional, business, memoir, history, Brewers

Publish date:
July 9, 2019

336 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

From working for his dad as a used car salesman “for only one year” to becoming the ninth commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig lived a charmed life, capped off by being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.  His work in baseball, first as an owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (and being the key person to bringing the bankrupt Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee) and then as commissioner is remembered by Selig in this memoir.

Anyone who is familiar with the game knows that Selig was commissioner during two of the game’s most trying times – the 1994-95 strike that resulted in cancellation of the World Series and the era in the 1990’s and early 2000’s in which many players took performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) in order to gain a competitive edge and as a result, broke many of the sport’s most revered records. While Selig covers those topics thoroughly, there is much more to the book that does reveal the joy that baseball brings to him and the passion he has specifically for Milwaukee baseball.

This is evident in the very first chapter, as Selig talks about his anguish about having to be present at the ballpark when Barry Bonds would break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. He didn’t spend much time criticizing Bonds, but instead was talking about how much of a friend Aaron was to him, going back to Aaron’s time in Milwaukee, both early in his career with the Milwaukee Braves and the end of career with the Brewers. This line about Bonds’ breaking of the record with the controversy of PED’s and Bonds’ surly personality speaks volumes about Selig’s view on the record – “We didn’t get the genie back in the bottle in time to protect Aaron’s legacy.” 

Selig writes that he started addressing the PED issue back in 1997, before the great home run chase between two other players caught up in the scandal ,Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa.  He states that while he cared, he may not have been forceful enough between the language in that memo and subsequent actions. Selig compared his memo to the one his predecessor, Fay Vincent, sent in 1991 as “well intentioned but lacking teeth.”  This is how he addresses his critics who say that he ignored the issue while fans flocked to the ballpark watching Sosa and McGuire. He also placed a lot of blame at the feet of the players union, stating that they were always more concerned about the privacy of the players instead of allowing drug testing. He also used the 2005 Congressional hearings in which Sosa, McGuire, Rafael Palmeiro appeared as one to blame the union, stating in the book that “there were only so many times that I could say ‘We would have a much tougher program if the union would agree.’”

This is an interesting passage in the scope of labor relations, a topic Selig addresses frequently in the book. Along those lines, he does note that in reality, the commissioner does work for the owners as they appoint him to the job.  He admits that the owners had not been united and did not have great leadership for labor relations for 30 years, resulting in the strikes in 1981, 1985 and 1994.  He called the negotiations as a “one-sided nature” for those 30 years, yet fails to also mention that for decades before that, it was strongly one-sided the other way with the reserve clause. These are a few examples in which it appears Selig is either contradicting himself (such as his praise for Marvin Miller) or trying to appease everyone with his actions on these two matters.

What was also noteworthy to me was his lack of mention of some other topics during his reign that caused some controversy. One of these was the proposal to contract the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos – he briefly mentions this when talking about the struggles the Expos had to get a new stadium built with public funds. He didn’t even mention the Twins were one of the clubs on the chopping block. He has always avoided this topic, even when some give him credit for forcing the issue of a new stadium in Minnesota resulting in the building of Target Field.  

That is surprising, considering how much of the book was self-congratulatory in nature.  Some of that is expected as there were some good accomplishments during Selig’s time as commissioner, such as the wild card inclusion in postseason play, use of instant replay to determine close calls when challenged by a manager and yes, drug testing.  While that kind of dialogue will be present in any memoir, it was a continuous theme throughout this book. 

So with all of this seemingly negative critique, why is the book a solid four stars?  Because it is compelling – I enjoyed reading this. I spent an entire afternoon choosing to read this book instead of watching a Yankees-Red Sox game. If a book can capture my attention away from a great rivalry game, that means the book is very interesting and entertaining.  One doesn’t have to be a fan of the Brewers or Selig to enjoy this – heaven knows I was never a fan of him and even after reading this book, I am still not – but readers who are at all interested in this era of the sport, no matter how they felt about him, should take a look at the book.

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