Longtime MLB Commissioner Bud Selig will step down and retire at the end of the 2014 season. That means we're going to spend an awful lot of this summer hearing about who his successor could be. (Spoiler: Probably an old white dude who is already within the game in some capacity.) Whomever it ends up being will almost surely be boring given Baseball's labor peace, don't rock the boat Seligian policies of the last few decades, and the lack of anything resembling a Donald Sterling among the ownership the commish is supposed to keep an eye on.
A Commissioner shouldn't be boring, though, labor peace or no. That's why we're making our cases for some non-baseball folks who we think would make for a perfect MLB commish in a post-Selig world.
Papa John Schnatter
by David Roth
Say what you will about Bud Selig. Say that he looks like what the Cryptkeeper would look like if he'd become a successful actuary instead of an undead punsmith. Say that his monomaniacal crusade against performance-enhancing drugs and all those who have maybe ever used or wanted to use them has mostly looked really overdetermined and bad -- for him and the sport he runs -- in the last few years. Bring the Cryptkeeper thing up again, as it is fairly accurate. But you cannot say that Bud Selig has not achieved.
Major League Baseball is more profitable than it has been at any time in the past. There is something like parity, and the league's more egregious egregiousnesses -- the New York Mets' ownership situation, the slow-motion self-satire of the Miami Marlins, the perverse mis-incentives at work in things like Super Two eligibility -- are nothing compared to past disgraces. Selig deserves some credit for this. He was able to capitalize on the ingredients that make baseball great, and create a product that both works and sells better than what came before, despite not really being much better. His successor, given all that, should be clear.
It's Papa John Schnatter.
Let's leave aside the quality of the product that Papa John is selling, if only because it's easy to get sidetracked discussing things like The Big Wheezer Family Deal or specialty pizzas like the Nature's Mistake or the Buffalo Chicken Weep Machine. It is possible to spend hours sobbing and digressing about the ways in which Schnatter has taken one of the best and most enjoyable things to eat on earth and turned it into a thing that tastes like a long layover at a bus station.
These are extremely bad pizzas, pizzas that taste like heavily salted couch cushions. And yet Schnatter, simply by making them available at low prices and going on television, staring into the camera, and talking about "one-hundred percent real meats" and green peppers as if they were his beloved children, seems to have convinced Americans that he cares deeply about these particular oversalted couch cushions. That he puts his heart and soul and ethics into each gummy, cheese-squelched bite. That these pizzas cannot possibly be this shitty, because he would never stand for something like that.
And then Schnatter grins that weird spasmodic grin of his and drives off in his vintage car with whatever athlete has been dragooned into strained banter and well-compensated brand affinity. You see the logo, and maybe hear Papa John muttering about how prohibitively expensive -- how unfair -- it would be for him to offer even basic benefits to his many employees.
This is the essence of politics in our age, it seems to me: the ability to convincingly project deep concern about a thing while simultaneously performing its opposite, or even its undoing. A commissioner needs to know how to do this: how to talk about high-handed power moves as if they were sober-sided decisions made to save what needs saving about Our Game. Papa John, who has already convinced people to eat pizzas that taste like hangovers feel, can do this.
Schnatter is strange, stilted, and has the blaze-orange complexion of the vain and famous, but he does seem to have made a good many people believe that he is dedicated to making a far better product than the one he sells, and that he cares about things he transparently doesn't care about. Swap "the best interest of baseball" in for those dewy rhapsodies about Real Vegetables and we've got ourselves a commissioner.
* * *
by Marc Normandin
Sure, the First Lady of the United States of America might have a thing or two on her plate at the moment, but she can be totally freed up in another couple of years assuming she isn't planning on running for office somewhere herself. We know Michelle Obama is into sports and staying fit, as evidenced by her Let's Move! campaign, which encourages America's youth to eat right and stay active in order to enjoy a happy, healthy lifestyle. Baseball might not be the breeding ground for steroids that it was during Selig's heyday, but the problem still exists, as evidenced by the recent Biogenesis suspensions and the belief of players themselves that roughly 10 percent of their peers are still breaking the rules for a physical advantage.
Selig might never have been up to the task of getting players to universally put down the illegal PEDs and do things the healthy and fair way, but the First Lady has managed to make school lunches and children healthier and stronger through her campaign. If she can get candy bars away from schools and kids, she can get PED-laced gummy bears out of the pockets of Alex Rodriguez.
What better way to convince America's youth that they should strive to stay active than by having their heroes on the diamond do things the right way? Do you know how many baseball writers are dying for a chance to suggest that Baseball should think of the children? Through First Lady Commissioner Michelle Obama, they could finally deliver that line without a hint of trolling attached.
Plus, if that wasn't enough, it would probably infuriate all of the George W. Bush for MLB Commissioner supporters out there -- he used to own the Rangers, you know. And it would give him more free time to paint portraits, so everyone wins with Obama in charge.
Still not convinced? I present my final piece of evidence.
* * *
by Bill Hanstock
Having already revolutionized and innovated American football during one glorious summer in 2001, there can really be no better candidate to turn around Major League Baseball than the inimitable owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
It would truly be a match made in heaven. Vince's major downfall with the XFL was that he felt the need to personally attack the NFL. If he were given free reign over MLB, he could be free to promote, innovate and rewrite baseball while holding sway over the only game in town.
The late Bill Veeck vexed fans (almost a pun!) with his promotions and bizarre attention-grabbing moves, like the infamous Eddie Gaedel contract and at-bat and the time he had martians "invade" a baseball game. Vince would blow all Veeck's most head-scratching moves out of the water in his first week, then dig in and start his REAL work. From the moment Vince McMahon first power-swaggers to the podium at his first conference, things will be different in Major League Baseball. (Ha ha, just kidding; there won't be a podium. He will ride into Michigan Stadium on a jetpack while his entrance theme -- "No Chance In Hell" -- blares from 10,000 megawatt speakers.)
Just some of the innovations you can look forward to under Commissioner Vince McMahon:
A drug testing program more effective and strict than any of the four major sports (no, really)
Each baseball stadium will have a public, on-camera "General Manager" who will stand on home plate before every game and tell the crowd what they are about to see, "Tonight, on this very diamond."
30 days each season, home teams will have games scheduled, but their MYSTERY OPPONENTS will not be revealed until the visiting teams' music hits
(Yes, every team will have special theme music)
MLB COO Barry Bonds
Forget the batter's circle. That's going to replaced by "Gorilla position," which is hidden from the crowd. There will be a curtain and entrance ramp by each dugout, accompanied by an elaborate TitanTron video, 45-second entrance and LOTS of pyro for every plate appearance
There will be an extra hour of television time added to necessitate all of these changes, of course
More in-dugout interviews. I mean "promos"
Dual-screen videos during at-bats featuring pre-recorded comments of the batter trash-talking the pitcher, or vice versa
Everyone mic'ed up, all the time
Every now and then, Vince McMahon, Triple H or John Cena would be sent in to SPECIAL GUEST PINCH-HIT or SPECIAL GUEST RELIEF PITCH. (Generally after a player is laid out by an opponent prior to a match.) (Because that would also happen.)
All-Star Game replaced by Hardballmania (registered trademark)
T-shirt cannon girls occasionally getting in catfights
Announcers required to make poop jokes a few times per game
It's clear to see that MLB would be greatly improved under the guiding hand of Vince McMahon. Also ruined, but sometimes if you want to make an omelet, you have to break some sports.
* * *
Neil deGrasse Tyson
by Steven Goldman
In 1970, acting with the audacity that had earned him the nickname, "The Amnesiac Gambler" during the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, Lt. General Allan H. "Bud" Selig swooped into Seattle and absconded with the Pilots, a much-missed team that gave us Ball Four, baseball caps with Douglas MacArthur-style oak-leaf clusters, and a major-league stadium named Sicks', dragging them to Wisconsin. There they assumed the name Milwaukee Brewers. This was an appellation under which the nascent American League fielded a team in 1901, something which must have confused everyone since they were actually the St. Louis Browns.
At the age of 102, the still-vital Selig engineered a coup against then-Commissioner of Major League Baseball Fay Vincent, ending a system of independent leadership of the sport that had endured, for better or worse, for 72 years. Other than losing a World Series or two this has generally worked out for the game. This is particularly true in the area of Internet exploitation, which Selig either propelled or acquiesced to, depending on who is telling the story. Let's face it, though, it's the latter -- by the time the millennium rolled around, Selig was 110, and by then the inability of the typical senior citizen to stop their VCR clock from blinking "12:00" was already a cliché. Given that by then Selig had lost the ability (or simply ceased to care) to comb his hair -- since the 1980s his scalp has appeared to be in the process of being slowly devoured by a wig Andy Warhol discarded after inadvertently wearing it through a car wash -- it seems unlikely that the Commissioner was equipped to fully grasp the intricacies of the digital era.
The nuances of performance-enhancing drugs and baseball are similarly complicated, if not more so, which is perhaps why when Congress came calling in 2005 he simply acquiesced to the proffered narrative that a generation of ballplayers had Hulked out due to exposure to magic beans -- he simply lacked the knowledge, energy, and haircut to fight back. That's why the next Commissioner must be a vital, committed rationalist who has already shown he can successfully combat climate-change deniers, recalcitrant creationists, and those who would insist that Pluto is a planet and not Mickey Mouse's dog. We're talking about a guy who possesses the gumption to get an involved discussion of the theory of evolution aired on FOX. FOX! That's like getting "Sunrise at Campobello" remade starring Hillary Clinton as Eleanor Roosevelt and aired on FOX. It's just not happening.
But the "Cosmos"remake did happen courtesy of America's astrophysicist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Look, Major League Baseball is a business, but you can shake any tree and have a dozen MBAs fall out. MLB, as a business organization, probably has more of those guys than they know what to do with. What they don't have is an intelligent, charismatic public face for the sport who knows how stuff works. When some posturing demagogue says, "How do you explain Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle having their best seasons at an advanced age if not for injectable plutonium? How is it you haven't banned Jose Bautista for life simply because he didn't start popping 50 home runs a year until he was 29? The only plausible explanation is he's a cyborg out to destroy the game's sacred statistics!" Dr. Tyson has the scientific stature to lift a skeptical eyebrow and say, "Senator, I note here that you have a B.A. in bagging groceries. I have a PhD from Columbia University on advanced interstellar mechanics. Which of us would be in a position know better, hmmmm?"
Dr. Tyson also digs baseball, frequently tossing out tweets like
Not that anybody asked, but a baseball thrown 90 mph has about the same energy as a 0.22 caliber bullet fired from a handgun.
The one that gets me is "when we still dreamed." Dr. Tyson concluded his "Cosmos" with President John F. Kennedy’s September 12, 1962 speech promising that America would put a man on the moon. These days, we can't quite get it together to go to Detroit, let alone the moon. We can't afford to repair our roads and bridges, and our anti-intellectual, politically polarized animus has reached such a high level that we can't even agree on who should tell us if our roads need fixing. Everyone is a used-car salesman, just like our present Commissioner. If your doctor says you need heart surgery, it's because he wants to get paid for treating you. If the engineers say the bridge is about to fall, it's because they want work building bridges. People are inherently dishonest that way, all the time, and so there's no point in ever trying to make anything better because "better" is just another word for "being conned."
This attitude is why we can't have nice things. It's why China, Japan, and Europe get bullet-trains and we get extorted for the price of a carry-on bag to fly from Newark, New Jersey to Newark... New Jersey.
Commissioner-Doctor Tyson wouldn't be like that. It's no coincidence that Major League Baseball is finally slipping off its vinyl seat-covers and giving us a better game experience through innovations like instant replay as Selig is about to shuffle off the stage. Dr. Tyson would go faster, dream bigger, do what needs to be done to settle the game's longstanding difficulties because tradition must give way to reality, as superstition must eventually yield to those things we need to know to improve or save our lives.
Best of all, he'd stop and explain why the old way was bullshit while he was doing it.
* * *
by Grant Brisbee
We like to give Bud Selig a lot of guff for being the Bud Seligest, but I think we're all going to be surprised at the stupid ideas the owners come up with after he's gone. It's odd to think of Selig as a moderate, but there's every chance that the owners will find a super-toadie to execute their batshit ideas and whims, and the traditionalists will cry at night, wishing they weren't so mean to Selig.
When this happens, the only possible thing that would make us feel better is if the stupid ideas were spoken aloud by Morgan Freeman. Read the following with Freeman's voice in your head, see if you disagree.
Morgan Freeman: It's not just a money grab, these third and fourth wild-card spots. It's about competition, fairness. Not sure where you're from, but I thought America was about giving everyone a chance to rise to the top, to advance in competition and be the best you can make of yourself. Baseball doesn't need more wild-card spots; America needs them. Every city needs to have them, so the warm summer nights can be filled with hot barbecues, cold beers, and talk of the playoffs that are just around the corner for every team.
I'd be for the third and fourth spots if I heard that. I'd write passionately about them. What, you don't believe in fair and equal treatment and a chance to succeed, pinko? Listen to Commissioner Freeman.
Morgan Freeman: For as long as I could remember, I've dreamed of a dunk tank below the pitcher's mound. A cold, unforgiving dunk tank. And what would trigger this dunk tank? Lasers. Invisible lasers spanning the front of the mound, so that when a line drive is hit right back at the pitcher, the mound disappears, and the pitcher falls into a dunk tank.
Maybe the tank is filled with water, and maybe it's filled with pudding. That's not my call. But the pitcher is safe, and we get to watch him fall. We get to see the surprise and fear in his eyes Tell me who loses in that scenario. Ask yourself who loses.
No one loses, Mr. Commissioner. No one loses. Thank you for your service to baseball.
Also, I need a reason to make my 10,000th Shawshank Redemption reference. I think when that happens, I'll win a copy of the movie. Which I already own. But, still.
* * *
by Grant Brisbee
When I was 13, I lived at my local record store -- a place called Record Exchange. The owner, George, had a box of promotional cassettes that were sent by different labels, and he'd let me rifle through them and pick the one I wanted for $1. Most of them were duds (apologies to the good folks in Mind Bomb), but one of them rarely left my walkman: Kyuss's Wretch. It was exactly the kind of album I would have commissioned as a 13-year-old, recorded just for me.
It was a lousy album, actually. But it made a huge fan out of me, enough of a fan to buy Blues for the Red Sun the Tuesday it came out. More than two decades later, it's still one of my very favorite albums, a landmark that didn't age a day. Except the next album, Sky Valley, might have even been better. Right when I was realizing that heavy music like Metallica and Megadeth wasn't cutting it when I was exploring chemistry outside of a classroom setting, this band -- my band -- invented stoner rock. Well, re-appropriated it at the right time, at least. Josh Homme was there for me.
I convinced my mom just how important it was to see Kyuss open for Faith No More during finals week in high school. I have no idea how I did it. Possibly with lies. But I went, and it's possible that nothing before college made me feel more like an ex-adolescent, like someone about to enter and emerge from a chrysalis in the same night.
In the middle of a dark, dark period in college when I listened to Dave Matthews on purpose, I was still Kyussed out. I'm not sure how many people ran out of my dorm room when I slipped in a "One Inch Man" between the Phish sets, but it was more than a couple. Kyuss kept me grounded. They were my touchstone for good music, and they were there for me when I recovered from that awful time in my life. Josh Homme was there for me.
Kyuss went away, as great bands are wont to do. But one day, after some furious Lycosing to see where the members all went, I stumbled on an announcement for the self-titled album for Queens of the Stone Age. My man wasn't just the guitarist, but he was the singer. This was just before Amazon could deliver toothpaste and a signed collection of The Wizard of Id to your door before lunch the next day, and I was sick that there was no way I was going to find that album up in Oregon.
Except, wait, there was a link that let you buy the album on the Internet. Was it safe to put your credit card info into the computer? Dunno, man, seems really, really dodgy. But I took the chance and used a Discover card that I'm still paying off, preordering the CD before it was released. Considering interest, that CD cost me $383.41. It was worth it. It was the best possible first Internet purchase. Josh Homme was there to help me transition into the digital age. They sent the CD straight to my house and everything.
In the years that followed, QOTSA released nothing but excellent albums, selling millions of records without getting stale. I listened to and enjoyed every one. But I got to an age where there was no more Record Exchange, no more taking the time to listen to random bands in the search for something new. I was a father, then a father again, and if it wasn't work, parenting, or sleep, I wasn't doing it. Growing up is serious business, everyone. I couldn't keep up with new music. Still can't.
Last year, Homme wrote and released possibly his best song ever, a lamentation about growing up, drifting apart, and self-medicating.
I connected with that song so danged much. Even as I approach middle age, Josh Homme is still here for me.
This has nothing to do with baseball, except I want the new commissioner a) to not be a dillweed and b) to do things I overwhelmingly approve of. Homme has a better track record on those two fronts than anyone alive. Now picture him after a couple of cocktails, dicking around on an acoustic guitar, ignoring everything Jerry Reinsdorf says, until, finally, the White Sox owner leaves in a huff. Picture Jeffrey Loria complaining about something old and rich, and Homme turning up the Earthless record playing in the background so loud that Loria actually stammers, "What is wrong with you?" before stumbling out of the room.
Josh Homme would be there for all of us. Commissioner Homme would have some good ideas. Maybe more about music than baseball, but we'll deal with that when we get there.