AS BUD SELIG prepares to shrug off into the sunset this winter, the game he leaves behind is unequivocally, permanently changed by his time in office. Twenty-two years after he took over as acting commissioner, we're watching pennant-race baseball that would be nearly unrecognizable to fans a generation ago. With two months remaining in the season, Selig's fingerprints are all over the standings, the schedule, the game on the field and the maneuvers in the front offices.
After the trade deadline on Thursday, 19 teams still harbor hopes of being one of the 10 to make the playoffs. (And right there we've confused Clinton-era fans picking up the newspaper in the morning.) Selig helped drive the expansion of the postseason from four division champions to six, plus four wild-card teams squaring off in two one-game series. Whether or not you like the changes, there's no question that lowering the bar for entry has made it possible for teams such as the Indians, Mariners and Royals to consider themselves contenders this season when, under the old rules, they would likely be playing out the string.
Back in 1992, Selig's first year, only one of the division races—and by extension, playoff berths—was in doubt with two weeks to play. Put another way: Just five of the 26 teams entered the stretch thinking about October. Three times as many are likely to remain alive with two weeks left this season.
Driving revenue to small-market teams like Seattle, Cleveland and Kansas City is another of Selig's pet projects. An industry that, in 1992, didn't have revenue sharing now splits up not only the huge local TV contracts signed by the likes of the Yankees, Dodgers and Phillies, but also the billions of dollars in national-TV and Internet revenues. Teams that draft, sign and develop great baseball players now have a better chance to retain them, which is why Alex Gordon remains in Kansas City's outfield and Felix Hernandez is still an ace in Seattle. Selig, tapping into his experiences running the small-market Brewers, pushed his fellow owners to spread the wealth. Without that, the A's might not be leading the AL West, nor Milwaukee the NL Central.
Oh, yes, the Brewers and the NL Central. Selig moved the team he once owned to a division he helped invent to accommodate the 1998 expansion teams. He would later get the Astros to switch to the AL West after 51 years in the NL, and he presided over the move of the Montreal Expos to Washington, where they currently lead the NL East as the Nationals.
(You look pale, 1992 baseball fan. Need a glass of water? Sit down, and I'll tell you a story about the Marlins, a team that's won two world championships and zero division titles.)
The Brewers, Astros and Nationals, and in fact over half of all major league clubs, have found new home stadiums under Selig. He led the charge for teams to press municipalities, counties and states for taxpayer-funded ballparks which have changed the look of the game and the experience of attending one—for better and for worse. Nineteen of the last 28 World Series games have been played in Selig-era facilities. Those retro stadiums and mallparks, as much as any single player, are the face of baseball under his watch.
Selig's influence can even be seen away from the pennant races, in the lower reaches of the standings. Teams such as the Astros and the Cubs are undertaking long rebuilding projects that are underwritten in part by all that national revenue—which protects them from the economic impact of losing seasons—and are motivated by Selig-driven changes to the draft and the rules governing international amateurs.
So we'll watch Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen and David Price. We'll track the division standings and the first wild-card race and the second wild-card race. What we'll be watching, though, is the handiwork of a single man who used his ability to forge consensus to completely change what a pennant race means during his time in office. It's baseball, to be sure, but in so many ways it's really Budball.
This September we'll be watching pennant-race baseball that would be nearly unrecognizable to fans a generation ago, and Selig's fingerprints are all over it.
Faces in the Crowd
The Case for
Home runs hit by Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on July 22 after promising 22-year-old cancer patient Mike Kassalis that he would hit one for him.
Amount the Minnesota Audubon Society has asked the Vikings to spend on bird-proof glass for their new stadium, opening in 2016.
Points scored by Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore in a 112--108 double OT win against the Dream on July 22. It's the second most in WNBA history, behind Riquna Williams's 51 for Tulsa last season.
Pounds of weight-room equipment hauled 87 miles from Bills headquarters in Orchard Park, N.Y., to Pittsford, N.Y., last week when the Bills opened training camp.
Dozen cupcakes ordered by LeBron James's family and delivered to his Bath Township, Ohio, neighbors and the town's police department, as an apology for the "chaos" surrounding James's announcement that he would return to the Cavaliers this season.
ILLUSTRATION BY DARROW
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JORDAN JOHNSON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (MOORE)
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RICHARD BOLL/GETTY IMAGES (CUPCAKE)