Green: Selig left Common Man to stew in game's demise
A purist's lament:
Baseball, once, was the Common Man's game.
It was simple: the major-league teams played through the season in what were legitimate pennant races. The eight or 10 teams in the two leagues played games starting in April and finishing in October.
At the end of the schedule, after 154 or 162 games, the team in first place in the American League played the team in first place in the National League. The postseason was confined to an event noted as the World Series. The first team to win four games in the best-of-seven games became what was known widely, as the World Champions.
All the other teams declared "Wait till next year."
This was how Babe Ruth and Hank Greenberg played baseball in a better era.
The World Series was gripping:
Whitey Ford pitching curveballs vs. Duke Snider. Jackie Robinson called safe on a steal of home plate to the wailing of Yogi Berra. Willie Mays running into deep center field to catch Vic Wertz monstrous shot over his shoulder at the Polo Grounds. Ruth calling his shot and then hitting a home run at Wrigley Field. Grover Cleveland Alexander trudging from the bullpen hung-over to strike out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded.
America reveled in baseball then.
The Common Man could relate to the ballgames. We all had played baseball. We carried our fantasies. Until the rude awakening, the day that we discovered that we couldn't play.
But we still loved our baseball.
Baseball was considered The National Pastime.
Ticket prices were affordable.
When I was a kid, a Common Man could cough up 55 cents to sit in the bleachers, a buck 10 for general admission along the first or third base line. And if you brought a couple of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in a brown bag, you could watch Ted Williams playing against Joe DiMaggio in a doubleheader. Two games for the price of one, a doubleheader played in five hours.
But best for the purist, the pennant races were real.
If Major League Baseball still had genuine pennant races, the 2014 standings through the top five finishers — the old-fashioned first division — would have been exactly like this:
Now we're stuck with the debris that Bud Selig left behind. The true pennant races and the genuine standings might have confused the figure manipulators and similar Sabremetric creatures.
The traditional World Series — Nationals vs. Angels — might have happened. Mike Trout vs. Bryce Harper was a purist's pipe dream.
Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Williams, DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Tris Speaker, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, Goose Goslin — these are names that reek with tradition.
But MLB trashed tradition during the power-lusting reign of a commissioner.
One year, early in his administration, Selig ordered the cancellation of the World Series during a bitter labor dispute with the players union. The next spring he decided the game must go on — with replacement players. Bud wanted to serve up sandlot baseball at big-league prices.
That spring 20 years ago was Sparky Anderson's finest moment in his Hall of Fame career as manager with Cincinnati and Detroit. He refused manage the fake major leaguers in a false season.
Sparky maintained the dignity that Selig lacked.
Two years ago at Comerica Park, before Game 3 as the Giants were clobbering the Tigers, Bud whispered into my ear: "Let's have a real World Series."
Bud went out last month following the weakest World Series in the history of the sport.
He staged a World Series pitting two fourth-place teams. There was Fox TV drooling about the Royals playing the Giants. The Giants' best from April through September, in a 162-game season, had been to tie for fourth in the National League with the Pirates.
This was Bud's swansong, an ersatz World Series between two wild-card pretenders. Giants vs. Royals — this was the World Series that Bud should have canceled.
He went out boasting and preening that Major League Baseball is thriving. He spoke about the prosperity created during his tenure, more than ever in his sport. He proclaimed that the club owners and the players became richer and richer.
And all that is wonderful.
Wonderful — if you happen to be a super-rich owner. Or Max Scherzer.
Does the Common Man — the shot-and-beer guy, or the average dude on the assembly line — give a hoot about Mike Ilitch's prosperity?
Don't think so!
Selig went out claiming MLB had created the most powerful drug enforcement policy in professional sports. He says, bursting with ego, that this policy is part of his legacy.
The truth is that Selig was tardy leading MLB into drug enforcement. The great home-run explosions — Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa — went on before Baseball ignored steroids and performance enhancing drugs. Baseball reveled in the attacks on Ruth and Henry Aaron and Roger Maris by Bonds, McGwire and Sosa.
We purists, the cadre of remaining traditionalists, shuddered at the obliteration of Ruth's statistics, of Aaron's and Maris' records.
Bud went out with self-praise for the sweeping drug suspensions of 13 abusers two years ago, in a dragnet operation. It was based on the testimony from convicted Biogenesis operator Anthony Bosch.
In essence, Bud went out after dealing with a drug dealer.
And oops, wait. Bud has not gone out. His promised swansong was not a swansong at all.
He did not leave Major League Baseball. He opted to linger. MLB retained him as commissioner emeritus at a peon's wage of $6 million per year. He gets a drop in salary.
But Bud is still there, after all, hanging around. Imagine, 6 million bucks to point out to Rob Manfred, the replacement, err, new commissioner where home plate is.
For sure, the Common Man ought to relate to that.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports columnist. Read his web-exclusive columns Saturdays at detroitnews.com