In the Best Interests of Baseball is fundamentally a review and critique of the governance of major league baseball, past and present. About one-half of the book covers baseball’s leadership from the mid-1800’s to 1992, when Bud Selig was appointed acting commissioner. The second half of the book covers Selig’s fourteen years as “acting”, and then permanent commissioner of baseball.
As context for Selig’s activities as commissioner, Zimbalist reviews the organization of “monopoly leagues” (such as MLB, NFL, and other American sports leagues) in comparison to more “open” structures such as European soccer federations. He then presents a history of baseball governance beginning in the 1800’s and up through 1920. Significant attention is then spent on Judge Landis’ appointment as the first “true” commissioner, followed by more brief assessments of Landis’ successors. Zimbalist’s tagging of all commissioners between Landis and Selig as the “Undistinguished Middle” gives a preview of his thoughts on baseball’s leadership between 1944 (Landis’ death) and 1992.
Zimbalist gradually turns his focus to Bud Selig, covering his years as a Milwaukee Braves fan, as Brewers’ owner, then as acting commissioner, and finally coming up to the present date in reviewing Selig’s years as the formal commissioner. Overall, the treatment of Selig seems balanced, presenting positives and negatives of his “reign”. Selig gets kudos for getting the owners to work together, for using better governance procedures, and for drastically improving the marketing of MLB. The commissioner is criticized for holding cities “hostage” to stadium-funding demands via the threat of franchise moves. Selig gets a pass on the steroids issue.
This book is in the “business of baseball” genre. While presenting some economic data, it does not stress statistics. Overall, it’s a quick, easy read. One bit of advice – read the notes at the end of the book. They add a lot to the story. SABR members should enjoy this book.
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Book: In the Best Interests of Baseball? The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig
Author: Andrew Zimbalist
Author Credentials: Zimbalist is a sports economist, author and economics professor at Smith College. His previous books include Baseball and Billions and May the Best Team Win.
Published: 2006, Wiley; ISBN 0-471-73533-7 Length: 218 pages
Price: Retail list – $24.95; Online: new from $14.50 + ship.