Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on Team Inequality

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Who was baseball commissioner Bud Selig? What was his role in Moneyball?

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig attempted to hold meetings about the cash disparity between teams, known as The Selig Commission. Billy Beane speaks on behalf of the strapped Oakland A’s, but he already has another plan in the works: Sabermetrics.

The Selig Commission

If the market for baseball players had been rational in any way, the A’s shouldn’t have been able to enjoy the success they do. If player salaries accurately reflect player value, the continually outspent A’s should be bottom-dwellers instead of perennial contenders. But Billy and Paul know the market isn’t rational. Some players are wildly overvalued, while others are undervalued for the most spurious of reasons, having nothing to do their actual level of performance.

This flies in the face of what has crystallized into conventional baseball wisdom by the late 1990s and early 2000s. At the time, there is growing concern within baseball circles that small-market, low-budget teams can never hope to compete with the likes of the Yankees. The rich teams will simply scoop up all the best talent, leaving the rest of the league with lower quality players. This concern is premised, of course, on the assumption that salaries reflect true value—that is, the teams with the most money and highest payrolls should have the best on-field record. But there is one glaring exception to this theory: Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s. 

In 1999, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig convenes a blue ribbon commission to examine the wealth inequality in major league baseball, exploring possible solutions to this “problem,” including revenue-sharing and player salary caps. Under such schemes, the rich teams would effectively be subsidizing the poor teams. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, as owner of the cash-strapped Milwaukee Brewers, has his own self-interested reasons for spreading the money in baseball around more equitably. And the idea of the poor teams being hamstrung by financial constraints rather than poor management is certainly a comforting nostrum to many GMs around the league because it excuses their weak performances.

Billy Beane himself gives testimony before Baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s commission, and in his report (authored by Pual DePodesta), he echoes the views of the commissioners, arguing that his team’s success is a mere fluke. Beane’s presentation argues that his team’s recent success does not disprove the larger point that low-budget teams like his can’t afford to compete with the rich teams in the long run.

But Billy does not believe his own presentation. Sure, he’s happy to tell the commission what it wishes to hear, especially if might result in the containment of player salaries or even revenue-sharing with the major teams—having more financial resources certainly wouldn’t hurt the A’s. But he also knows that he doesn’t need it. He has seen firsthand, as a player and now as a general manager, just how irrational the market for baseball players really is. He is fine with letting the rich teams mindlessly throw money at aging and overpriced stars, while leaving the undervalued and overlooked players for him. He knows most bad baseball teams aren’t bad because they lack cash—they are bad because they are poorly managed. And he is confident that effective management will beat money every time.

The Cash-Strapped A’s

Despite the meeting with baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Billy Beane knows where his team stands. As a cash-strapped club, the Oakland A’s simply can’t afford to go out on the free agent market and throw money at the available stars. Payroll cannot exceed $40 million. On a 25-man roster, this means an average salary of around $1.5 million per player—far below the league average of $2.3 million. Thus, the A’s must acquire inexpensive players through the draft and then trade them once their entry level contracts expire and they become too expensive to retain.

This is what happened with the players from the previous season, all of whom the A’s had no longer been able to afford on their meager budget. And this is what makes the 2002 draft so critical: they are counting on the newcomers to fill in these gaps.

Despite the total mismatch of financial resources between the A’s and the rest of the league, the team is remarkably successful under Billy’s leadership. The 2001 A’s finish 102-60. The 2002 iteration of the team, meanwhile, goes 103-59, good for first place in the American League West Division. On paper, the 2002 team is far worse than its 2001 incarnation. Yet they manage to post a nearly identical win-loss record with what looks like an inferior roster. 

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig makes attempts to even out the teams’ cash flow, to no avail. Luckily, Billy Beane has other plans to make his team successful, one that doesn’t rely on baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on Team Inequality

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  • How Billy Beane first flamed out as a baseball player before becoming a general manager
  • The unconventional methods the Athletics used to recruit undervalued players
  • How Sabermetrics influences American baseball today

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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