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Book Views Baseball Through Commissioners' Eyes

It’s a high-pressure world few people are privy to and a perspective hard to conceive of, but a new book by Andrew Zimbalist, the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith, looks at Major League Baseball (MLB) through the eyes of the commissioners of one of history’s most scrutinized sports industries.

In the Best Interests of Baseball? The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig, Zimbalist’s most recent book in a succession of lauded works on the business of sports, primarily outlines the news-making, transformational tenure of Selig’s management of America’s pastime.

But as well, the book looks at the service of Selig’s predecessors, such as Judge Kenebrew Mountain Landis, MLB’s first commissioner, who famously banished nine players from the Chicago Black Sox after they allegedly “fixed” the 1919 World Series; Albert “Happy” Chandler, who helped expand the league during the turbulent years following World War II; and the controversial Peter Ueberroth, who experienced difficulty gaining traction among the league’s owners during his five-year stint in the late 1980s.

Fay Vincent, who followed Ueberroth as commissioner in 1989 (until 1992) also roiled the ire of baseball’s powerful owners, in part assisting the ascension of Selig, a former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, to the position. Vincent will be the guest speaker in Zimbalist’s class The Sports Economy, on Tuesday, April 25 (see related story).

Zimbalist, who interviewed Selig at length for the book, admits he was at first dubious about the MLB owners’ appointment of one of their own to become commissioner, underscoring the obvious conflict of interest. But over time, Zimbalist says, he has come to highly respect the current commissioner’s 14-year management of the league through a series of crises, such as the difficult collective bargaining agreement in 2002 and the ever-growing controversies around steroid use.

“Baseball, by electing an owner as leader and CEO, was declaring that it was ready to begin behaving like a business,” said Zimbalist in a recent interview with Don Walker in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the appointment of Selig in 1992. “The path hasn’t been smooth and there have been missteps along the way, but Bud has ushered in a new era and moved the game forward.”

In the Best Interests of Baseball? was featured on MLB.com, the industry’s Web site, on this year’s Opening Day April 3 and remains on the site.

As with his previous books on the business of sports, In the Best Interests of Baseball? Is garnering accolades from heavy-hitters in the industry. Here are some of their comments:

Jim Bouton, former 20-game winning pitcher for the Yankees and author of Ball Four: “Tremendously enjoyable and a must read for baseball fans. Guaranteed to raise the level of discourse on sports-talk radio.”

Fay Vincent, former commissioner of Major League Baseball: “Baseball books, like the game itself, are often replete with errors. But Andrew Zimbalist has written a carefully researched yet lively review of the record of the nine commissioners that is both fair and accurate. It is long overdue and a superb read.”

• John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres and member of the MLB Executive Committee: “Andrew Zimbalist has done a very credible, eminently readable and engaging job describing MLB's commissioners, particularly Bud Selig, who easily has become the most significant figure in baseball in decades. While Selig will not necessarily share all of Zimbalist's views about the game, In the Best Interests of Baseball? has thoughtfully, and perhaps uniquely, tracked many of the thorny issues that Selig confronted during baseball's new golden era.”

• John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and member of the MLB Executive Committee: “I read In the Best Interests of Baseball? start to finish in one evening. Zimbalist has provided a tour de force. It’s an incredibly interesting read that ends with a vision for the sport that is squarely on target and a clarion call to our industry.”

• Katherine Powers, Boston Globe: “The season's best book so far.”

 


4/21/05
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