28th September 2006
There’s a reason I have a tie at #2 in my countdown from 5 to 1 of those executives that deserve to be in the Hall of Fame one day. Walter O’Malley is an easy pick for number 2, but I had to throw Selig in here as well because, well… we just don’t know how his career could end. If he flies MLB into the side of the mountain before he retires, he completely drops off my list.
Selig, as it stands, would be my #2 for a few reasons. For one, he’s been instrumental, along with Donald Fehr, in having labor peace for going on 8 years. It’s also a pretty good bet that these two will get through this bargaining period and add another 4 years of peace. If that were all Selig was involved in, he’d be a lock. But, there have been missteps. Certainly Selig being at the helm when the ’94 Strike occurred was a massive black mark on baseball that is just now starting to climb out of its shadow. The tie at the Milwaukee All-Star game was another. There’s certainly other activities that have been unattractive… Contraction… the fact that stadiums built within his tenure, for the most part, came on the backs of the taxpayers, not the rich owners, and then there was the shady dealings with Carl Pohlad and a bank he controlled that made loans to the Brewers.
But, on Selig’s watch the Wild Card was added, which has made the end of the season far more intriguing, thereby increasing attendance and interest. In 2000 he got the owners to make a pittance of an investment and created the centralized revenue juggernaut, MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM). In its first go around, the World Baseball Classic was a success, which shows Selig’s intention to market MLB players on a global stage. He got a fractious group of owners to agree to revenue sharing, that, while still flawed, has helped lower revenue making clubs compete with the likes of the Yankees. With Congress standing behind Selig with a big stick, he got the MLBPA to relent and now there is at least a somewhat meaningful drug testing policy for steroids. And finally, he finally was able to smooth over some of the bad wounds that had occurred with the MLBPA and at least now, the two sides can communicate decently without being on the edge of work stoppages. While this takes two parties to make this happen, Selig can say that he’s started the pendulum back toward the center as the Players Association had pushed management around for decades. As I said, Selig could screw up, and therefore derail his position, but all that said, he’s in a good position to be in at #2.
The man that sits beside him at #2 might as well have been the commissioner of baseball. He certainly influenced it in a great many ways. As I wrote for Baseball Prospectus about O’Malley:
If you’re from Brooklyn and followed the likes of Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, or Jackie Robinson, you certainly may have different feelings for O’Malley. After all, shortly after the move to Los Angeles, O’Malley was mentioned in the same sentence as Stalin and Hitler by the New York press. My apologies to that crowd, but he’s still alta lock, and should be in the Hall, heart-wrenching relocation aside. The story was far more complex than just O’Malley pulling up stakes and heading West.If anything, it’s that relocation that sets O’Malley apart from others as a visionary. No, it’s certainly not the only reason he should be inducted into the Hall (we’ll get to the rest later), but O’Malley’s leap from one coast to the other so dramatically altered MLB’s course that it’s hard to imagine how different it was before the Dodgers and Giants relocated. Not just the act of the move was remarkable. With the relocation came changes that would alter how ballpark design, marketing, and broadcasting would be done in Major League Baseball.
One of the reasons that O’Malley saw Los Angeles as a boon to him as a business was the large size of the market, coupled with lack of competition. There would be no competing with the Yankees and the Giants. The market was virgin MLB territory. In that “open territory,” O’Malley had the space to change the dynamic of stadium construction for ballparks.
Up until the relocation West, ballparks had all been placed in urban settings, mostly as “neighborhood ballparks.” When the Dodgers arrived in LA, there was no new ballpark to play in. The Los Angeles Coliseum was used while a stadium location was searched for.
At one point, O’Malley took a helicopter ride to survey the city in the hopes of finding a suitable new home. When he landed, O’Malley said, “Can I have that?” to Ken Hahn, an LA country supervisor along on the site expedition. Hahn answered, “Sure.” He even said they’d throw in the infrastructure to get access to the location. The surprise “that” was a 300-acre site in Chavez Ravine, and it was far from urban. It was several miles from downtown Los Angeles, but O’Malley envisioned an expansive stadium that would eventually seat 56,000 and have parking for a staggering 16,000 cars. (By comparison, Ebbets Field seated 32,000 and had parking for 500 cars.)
O’Malley dreamed of a stadium and fan experience that would be a radical departure from what he had seen as shortcomings with Ebbets Field, and jotted down notes of what that future would entail. He envisioned a tram system, restaurants, fountains, an “outdoor cathedral of trees,” and even such radical ideas as controlling air drafts in the stadium.
There’s more to O’Malley within the BP article, which I hope you’ll read. It wasn’t just the relocation of the Dodgers that made O’Malley remarkable. Things like Pay-For-View television for the Dodgers, and before moving to LA, the idea of a domed stadium in Brooklyn, something that would not occur until Roy Hofheinz was able to work and get the Astrodome built. He was amazing and should be in the Hall already.
So, we close #2 with a tie. Who is my #1? He’s someone that casts such a massive shadow across MLB that it’s staggering that he’s not in the Hall of Fame already.