In one of his most infamous opinions,
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote for the U.S. Supreme Court
that baseball is not subject to antitrust laws because it is a game
and not a business.
That principle is invoked to this day, as is evident in Bud
Selig’s title — commissioner of baseball, not
commissioner of Major League Baseball (he is the chief executive of
a game, not a company).
Of course, it is not without substantial naïveté
that we think of baseball solely as a game. It is, of course, a
game, but not to think of it also as a business with Selig as its
CEO is just crazy. A couple clicks on mlb.com or a quick look at
Alex Rodriguez’s salary will confirm that in an instant.
The role of the baseball commissioner has changed over the
years. In the past, the American and National leagues had their own
presidents with substantial regulatory duties. But the buck has
always stopped with the commissioner. It’s been his job to do
whatever it takes to uphold the integrity of The Game.
The first commissioner of baseball was Kenesaw Mountain Landis,
a respected federal judge hired by the owners to clean up the game
after the 1919 World Series. When eight members of the Chicago
White Sox, or the “Black Sox,” were acquitted of fixing
the games in an Illinois state court, Landis kicked them out of
baseball … for life.
Another tough commissioner was A. Bartlett “Bart”
Giamatti. Giamatti had the unenviable task of doing the same with
Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits
leader, after finding that Rose bet on baseball. Giamatti died soon
after his 1989 decision, having been commissioner only five months.
For the next 15 years, Rose denied ever having bet on baseball and
demanded his reinstatement, which would make him eligible for entry
to the Hall of Fame. Charlie Hustle, as Rose was known, had legions
of fans, half of which he lost when he was kicked out, the other
half he lost in 2003 when he admitted he had lied about betting.
Giamatti has been vindicated.
These commissioners upheld the integrity of the game.
The Detroit Tigers’ 4-0 start brought back memories of the
1984 team. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched
the videotape of Game 6 of the 1984 World Series when Kirk Gibson
hit two home runs and Aurelio Lopez pitched perfectly in leading
the Tigers to the championship. Gibson, like 1984 teammates Alan
Trammell and Lance Parrish, has remained a hero in the Detroit area
and was cheered when he signed up to coach the current Tigers. As
for Lopez, “Señor Smoke,” he returned to Mexico
a hero and served as mayor of his hometown before tragically dying
in a 1992 car accident.
It would crush me to find out years later that their
achievements were caused by anything other than strength,
determination, pride and skills. The “Roar of
’84” would be a silent nothing.
The 1994 strike that canceled that year’s World Series
revealed the ugly corporate underbelly of the game, which we
thankfully have not seen since.
But if anything in particular rescued baseball from that fiasco,
it was the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in
1998, followed three years later by Barry Bonds’s new
single-season record of 73.
I’d like to think that Bonds achieved what he did because
he’s a great baseball player and the same for McGwire and
Sosa. I want to think that it was men, not performance-enhancing
drugs, who shattered the records.
That’s why it’s important that Commissioner Bud
Selig take a tough line in negotiations with the players union. He
should insist on mandatory random drug testing for all players.
It’s the right thing to do.
If that means the team owners may have to give a little in other
areas of negotiations, that’s fine. Selig has to uphold the
integrity of baseball. Because it’s a game, right?
As this is my last column, I find it
appropriate that I thank some people who made the Daily a very
special place during my eight semesters here:
- Mike Spahn and Jewel Gopwani, who got me hooked on the Daily
and showed me how exciting working at a newspaper can be.
- Dan Williams. I never knew you too well, but you scared the
shit out of me my freshman year when I showed up at the annual
Michigan Daily-State News football game wearing jeans. “GET
OFF THE FIELD, JEANS BOY!”
- Michael Grass, an excellent news and opinion editor, a great
mentor and one of the most honest people I’ve ever met.
- J. Brady McCollough, a brilliant sports editor. It’s
because of your dedication that I grew to love sports again.
- Todd Weiser and Shabina Khatri, my trusted consiglieres.
- Aubrey Henretty and Zac Peskowitz. You never minced words.
- Tony Ding. What can I say? You’re awesome. (DING!)
- Jon Schwartz. An excellent tutor. Sometimes you have to break
some eggs to make an omelet. And sometimes you just let things
simmer. You’re an expert at both.
- John Lowe. I don’t know how you do it, but you’re
the best baseball writer and the best advisor I could have hoped
- Karen Brender, Ava Richard and Sam Offen. Thank you for keeping
things running so smoothly. You deserve more props than you
- C. Price Jones. You kept me sane.
- Jordan Schrader, Tomislav Ladika, Jeremy Berkowitz, Jen
Misthal, Jason Pesick, Rebecca Ramsey, Charles Paradis, Gennaro
Filice, Jess Piskor, Bob Hunt, Sravya Chirumamilla, Carmen Johnson,
Joel Hoard, Andrew Kaplan, Danny Bremmer and Jim Weber. When I see
your names in print, I know everything’s swell.