The MLB is one league that for some reason, just continuously seems to give itself black eyes on a global stage. In its long and storied history, baseball just cannot get away from things like cheating, gambling, or illegal drug use. For as many great moments as there have been in the sport, there always seems to be something that comes along to tarnish its reputation. If we think of a sports league as a business, we know that it can only perform as well as its leader will allow it. The MLB Commissioner role has seen some of the worst examples of leaders in professional sports, so let us take a look at just how bad some of them have been.
9th MLB Commissioner
The current MLB Commissioner most certainly has not made any friends on the player’s side of the game. It was not just the awkward and miscalculated return amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but the blatant disregard for the Houston Astros winning the World Series by cheating for the entire season. Manfred continuously sided with the owners during the dispute for how the current MLB season would play and repeatedly tried to blame the players as the reason for the delay to the start of the season. He has even been publicly called out by the game’s biggest stars like Mike Trout, Cody Belinger, and Aaron Judge.
Robert D. Manfred Jr. was born on September 28, 1958, in Rome, New York.
His relationship with the MLB was working as outside counsel in 1987 during collective bargaining and the players’ strike of 1994. It wasn’t until 1998 that Manfred began working full time for MLB. In 2013, Commissioner Bud Selig (see below), promoted Manfred to Chief Operating Officer of MLB and when Selig announced that he would retire after the 2014 season, Manfred was in the running to take over as Commissioner.
Rob Manfred was elected to the office of the Commissioner of MLB by the owners and assumed the position on January 25, 2015.
8th MLB Commissioner
Another MLB Commissioner that put the all mighty dollar and baseball’s bottom line before the players which led to the infamous cancellation of the 1994 World Series due to the players going on strike. Selig also reigned during the infamous steroids era in baseball and turned a blind eye to it until Congress got involved at which point Selig turned on the players and instituted tough punishments and suspensions. Whatever you think of Selig’s tenure as Commissioner he was able to raise MLB revenues from $1.4 billion in 1995 to $9 billion in 2014. He is a polarizing figure as many people do believe that the changes Selig instituted made the MLB a better game.
Allan Huber “Bud” Selig was born on July 30, 1934, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Before his tenure as MLB Commissioner, Selig was the club president of the Milwaukee Brewers. The first black mark against Selig comes during the period 1985-87 when he was part of the owners’ collusion under Ueberroths’ tenure as MLB Commissioner, that resulted in those owners paying damages to players of $280 million.
By 1992 Selig had become Chairman of the Executive Council of MLB and it was during this time that a vote of no-confidence against the current Commissioner Fay Vincent by the owners put Selig in the position of acting-Commissioner. It was also during this time that he introduced the Wildcard and Divisional Playoff, loved and hated by many.
It was not until 1998 that Selig was elected commission in July 1998. His time as Commissioner is littered with black marks, far too many to discuss here, suffice to say that his tenure was not always plain sailing. He announced his retirement 3 times, once in 2006, again in 2012 and finally in 2014.
5th MLB Commissioner
Perhaps an MLB Commissioner that many of the younger fans have not heard of, Kuhn was not a player or a coach, but a lawyer who worked as counsel for many of the team owners. You can already see where this may be headed. Kuhn clashed famously with the players and the players’ union which led to major player strikes in both 1972 and 1981 and refused to be in attendance when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. The one good thing that Kuhn instituted was the designated hitter rule in the American League, which of course, was instituted in the National League this year.
Bowie Kent Kuhn was born on October 28, 1926, in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Kuhn was a lawyer in New York City and worked for a legal firm that represented the National League, which he was representing when the City of Milwaukee filed a lawsuit against the NL with regards to the move of the Milwaukee Braves move to Atlanta.
Kuhn became the fifth Commissioner of MLB when the owners forced out incumbent Commissioner William Eckert in 1968.
Kuhns’ time as Commissioner is littered with good and bad events. The most controversial in this authors opinion is the Curt Flood case. Curt Flood was an outfielder with the St.Louis Cardinals and refused to being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, he tried, in vain, to get declared a free agent in a letter to Kuhn, which was refused by Kuhn stating the validity of the “Reserve Clause”. This grotesque clause treated players as property or worse as slaves.
Flood took his case to court, which he, unfortunately, lost when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of MLB.
It was his actions during the 1981 strike and his position regarding PED’s that was his ultimate downfall. With the owners turning against him, he had no recourse but to leave at the end of the 1984 season. He was replaced by Peter Ueberroth (see below).
6th MLB Commissioner
A name that younger fans may also not know, Ueberroth had a short tenure as MLB Commissioner from 1984-1989 during which time he encouraged collusion amongst the MLB owners to keep player salaries low. Although he was instrumental in cleaning up a bad cocaine habit in the league, as well as leading the investigation into Pete Rose and his off-field antics, Ueberroth will forever be known for creating a near-permanent divide between ownership and the players that to some extent, still exists today.
Peter Victor Ueberroth was born on September 2, 1937, in Evanston, Illinois.
Ueberroth’s’ rise to the position of Commissioner of MLB began when he was the organiser of the 1984 Olympics. It was his way of recruiting sponsors for the 1984 Olympics that has serviced as a template for the current sponsorship program.
It was more likely than not this that got him noticed by MLB and his eventual election to the role of Commissioner on March 3, 1984. His first year as Commissioner saw him settle two strikes, one by the MLB Umpires and the second by the Players.
He had achieved many good things in his time as Commissioner, however, the biggest black mark against him is his involvement with the free agency process. His collusion with the owners prevented free agency players from getting a fair deal financially and from getting into the teams of their choice. The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) filed a lawsuit against the owners and the office of the Commissioner of MLB, unfortunately for the owners and Ueberroth, the case went against them and resulted in fines of US$280 million. It was after this that Ueberroth finally stepped down as Commissioner at the beginning of 1989.
List of Commissioners of MLB in order of tenure, showing a major event during their time in the position.
- Kenesaw Mountain Landis 1920 – 1944 (Black Sox Scandal)
- Happy Chandler 1945 – 1951 (Jackie Robinson to the Majors)
- Ford Frick 1951 – 1965 (Statement about Babe Ruth’s HR record)
- William Eckert 1965 – 1969 (Refusing to cancel games after the death of Martin Luther King)
- Bowie Kuhn 1969 – 1984 (see above)
- Peter Ueberroth 1984 – 1989 (see above)
- Bartlett Giamatti 1989 (Died in office)
- Bud Selig 1992 – 1998 (acting), 1998 – 2015 (see above)
- Rob Manfred 2015 – Present (see above)
Are the four commissioners discussed above the worst of the nine, if you disagree let me know in the comments who you think is the worst.