“One of the lessons I learned from my father was that something is only good or bad in comparison to something else,” writes Bud Selig in his memoir For the Good of the Game. That line, oft repeated throughout the book’s 318 pages, essentially sums up how I feel about it. On its own, the story makes for an interesting and compelling read. But one can’t help but feel like Selig tries to come out clean in comparison to a messy period in baseball’s history.
Selig chronicles his relationship with the game, from his roots as a Yankees fan, to his purchasing of the Seattle Pilots and rechristening them as the Milwaukee Brewers, to his ascendancy as MLB Commissioner. While he engages with topics such as the 1994-95 strike and performance-enhancing drugs, he only grapples with them in a way designed to protect his image. His treatment of Barry Bonds captures this perfectly: “But like so many other players, some of the great players, he had made some really bad decisions—decisions that would shape their legacies while complicating mine.”
Highlights of the book include the story of how Selig helped bring baseball back to Milwaukee, his longstanding friendship with Hank Aaron, and a moving chapter on September 11th and the 2001 World Series. Selig also offers several bright insights into leadership, providing tips that any manager would find useful.
The downside, however, appears in how Selig faults everyone else for the challenges that faced baseball during his tenure. He blames the Players Association for the steroid crisis and protracted labor battles; he blames the Clinton Administration for siding with the players during 1994-95 strike; and he blames Murray Chass and other reporters for their repeated digs at ownership in the press.
Even when Selig does attempt to take accountability, his lack of self-awareness becomes evident. Take his reaction to the performance-enhancing drug outbreak of the 90s for example. He cites a memo he sent in 1997 as evidence he took the problem seriously.
“I probably should have made some more noise at the time,” Selig writes. “In hindsight, it might have saved me some headaches from critics who have said I was secretly happy about the steroid use because home runs were packing stadiums.”
It’s clear that he regrets the way the period clouded his legacy, not the initial mismanagement of the crisis itself.
Yankees fans will find various sections of the book interesting, including Selig’s reflection on time spent with George Steinbrenner. “You couldn’t find two guys less alike on the outside than George Steinbrenner and me,” he explains before diving into their business relationship and personal friendship. He talks about Steinbrenner’s reluctant agreement to allow revenue sharing, how he pioneered cable TV deals, and the way the 1994-95 strike cut short a potential playoff run for the Yankees.
In what might be the funniest part of the book, Selig recalls a time when he took a morning phone call from Steinbrenner, while he was getting ready to leave the house. Steinbrenner overheard Selig’s wife ask him if he had taken out the trash, as Tuesdays were garbage collection day in Milwaukee. Steinbrenner found this hilarious and turned it into a longstanding ribbing. “George howled at my compliance,” Selig writes. “Then he started calling me every Tuesday morning to ask if I had taken out the trash.”
For as fondly as he remembers Steinbrenner, Selig doesn’t have as many nice things to say about Alex Rodriguez. In fact, he saves some of his sharpest jabs for A-Rod, comparing the slugger to a “snake-oil salesman.” He argues that the Biogenesis scandal and previous steroid admission “cost [Rodriguez] his good name” and put the Yankees in a difficult position. Selig insists he holds no grudge against A-Rod, but the laundry list of complaints says otherwise.
To his credit, Selig compliments Rodriguez for his reinvention and work in the broadcast booth. That said, one paragraph of faint praise does little to make up for the two full pages of criticism directed towards A-Rod.
Overall, For the Good of the Game makes a fine standalone book. It should not, however, be the only history one reads on the period of baseball when Selig owned the Brewers and served as Commissioner. Like all memoirs, this one sets out to advance Selig’s own interests and shape the narrative around his legacy. It’s best seen as a supplement to more significant pieces, like The Lords of the Realm by John Heylar and Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.
For the Good of the Game is available online and in bookstores now.