Winning the Commissioner's big trophy

Jared Wickerham

Last week, Mariano Rivera capped his farewell season with a pretty sweet trophy, the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Ward. And let's all be honest about this, friends: the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award would more accurately be named the Commissioner Buddy Thinks This Was Really Neat-O Award!

Beginning with the first Commissioner's Award in 1998, here are the 13 given out:

1998: Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa
You know, because the Commissioner had no idea anybody was using drugs.

2001: Seattle Mariners
The M's are the only team to receive the award, which came after they set a modern record with 116 regular-season wins. Apparently they were given extra credit for doing this immediately after losing Alex Rodriguez to free agency.

2001: Cal Ripken & Tony Gwynn
Okay, so Ripken's historic achievement was pretty obvious: he played in one million straight games. But what was Gwynn's, exactly? He didn't set any notable records, and it seems to me that Selig handed this one out to recognize Gwynn's long and brilliant career ... but isn't that the Hall of Fame's job? I'm not going to flat-out accuse Selig of bowing to political correctness. But I have to acknowledge the possibility.

2002: Barry Bonds & Rickey Henderson
Bonds was being honored for his record-breaking 2001 season, in which he hit 73 home runs and topped McGwire's record. Again, Selig was later shocked, shocked to discover that Bonds had probably been using baseball drugs.

Henderson did some things that nobody else has every done. Scored more runs, stole more bases, hit more leadoff homers, played forever (and ever, if you count his independent-league stints).

2004: Roger Clemens
Clemens hadn't broken any statistical records, and was actually still playing. At the time, he'd won a record six Cy Young Awards (and would later win a seventh). But it's not clear why Clemens got the hardware and Greg Maddux didn't. I guess it's just the Cy Youngs. Oh, and being such a super-good guy.

2005: Ichiro Suzuki
Awarded for his record-breaking 262 hits in 2004. This seems an appropriate use of the Commissioner's powers, even if hits is one of the less-important statistics that people still talk about.

2006: Roberto Clemente
I'm going to guess this was a response to suggestions that Major League Baseball permanently retire Clemente's number, which was itself a response to the permanent retirement of Jackie Robinson's number, which was itself part of Selig's ongoing and unsuccessful attempt to convince American-born blacks to watch and play baseball.

2007: Rachel Robinson
Jackie Robinson's widow -- who has now outlived him by 41 years -- was honored for her work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has reportedly provided $14 million in scholarships to needy students. That work has no doubt been admirable. One does wonder when Selig will stop using the memories of Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson to drum up good publicity for Major League Baseball. Not to mention himself.

2011: Ken Griffey, Jr.
Wow. Another Mariner! And another Lifetime Achievement Award for a player who will, in just a few years, receive baseball's ultimately Lifetime Achievement Award in the Village of Cooperstown.

2013: Mariano Rivera
It's pretty clear that Rivera's being honored not only for the saves, but also for really being a super-good guy. I do think this falls under the heading of, "We want to do something and we don't want to wait for six years."

Do you see any particular patterns in that list that aren't tied to skin color? I don't. There's really no rhyme and not much reason to Commissioner Bud's choices. Which makes them interesting, at least. Assuming that Selig actually retires next year, the new guy's going to have a lot of thinking to do on this one. Heavy lies the crown and all that.

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