Selig lets instincts take over

Bud Selig prides himself on being a student of history. In two judgments last week, though, baseball's long-serving steward reminded us he can be a fan of selective memory, too, so long as it suits his purpose.


First things first: In a decision that generated little comment but has far-reaching implications, Selig said he would let Barry Bonds' career (762) and single-season (73) home run records stand -- that, despite the slugger's recent conviction on an obstruction of justice charge that grew out of an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport.

That was Selig at his best. The decision displayed pragmatism, since it's almost impossible to erase one set of facts from the record book without altering all the related ones. But it also showed a healthy respect for the connective tissue that makes comparing the feats of one era with another possible, and so binds each generation of fans to the next.

By handling the Bonds dilemma as he did, Selig reaffirmed his trust in the game's fans to get it right on their own; to understand both the times and the context in which those records were set. That way, those upset by the idea of a chemically fueled Bonds -- and who-knows-how-many other players during the supersized era -- soaring past several of the most important offensive milestones can add as many asterisks to the retelling as they see fit.

That trust in the game's fans, Selig said at his annual meeting the Associated Press Sports Editors last week, guided his hand in the Bonds' decision.

"I think that anybody who understands the sport," he said, "understands exactly why."

But more than a few people who understand baseball were stunned by another decision Selig announced Thursday, this one to expand the playoffs by two teams.

"It doesn't seem very fair, and personally, I don't know where his head is at," Giants pitcher and reigning Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum said a day later.

"Players like it the way it is," he continued in an interview with the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times . "It's dog-eat-dog. People know they need to win 11 games to win the World Series."

Lincecum was one of several players voicing displeasure, although the union is already on board to expand the postseason from eight to 10 teams.

"Ten is a fair number," Selig said, adding that details on have yet to be finalized on whether the new wild-card round would be best-of-3 or winner-take-all.

Selig no doubt drew some comfort that the postseason expansion he presided over beginning with in 1995, despite withering criticism from traditionalists, was a commercial success. Two wild cards were added then as each league went to three divisions, thus guaranteeing an even number of teams for a playoff.

While fans of every team in the AL East save the Yankees might be on-board, even they would have to concede the season is already way too long as it is.

And while Selig may also remember the excitement generated by three consecutive season requiring tiebreakers (2007-09) to determine the postseason field, two more wild-card teams will also increase the possibility that a so-so team like the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals will get hot at the right time and steal a World Series.

The game is headed into uncharted waters, where Selig's sense of history and his business instincts are going to wage a fight to see which becomes his guide.