For the past several years, Bud Selig has been a guest lecturer in Marquette Law School’s 7303 course, “Professional Sports Law.” His daughter (and successor as owner of the Brewers) Wendy Selig-Prieb, was a 1988 graduate of the law school. On Tuesday, the school announced that Selig was formally joining the school as adjunct faculty.
As it turns out, Commissioner Selig has an even deeper connection to Marquette: Kennesaw Mountain Landis lectured there in 1909, when he was a federal district court judge in Chicago, long before he became baseball’s first commissioner in 1921. Marquette law professor J. Gordon Hylton did a little digging and discovered that Landis’s lecture was entitled “Public Criticism of the Judiciary,” in which he used the example of baseball to defend the right of individuals to criticize judges:
Adverse criticism — denunciation that is unjust can permanently injure nothing or nobody. And as a rule its impotency increases with its bitterness. But very great injury can be done even a virtuous cause by an attempt to forbid inquiry into it or comment upon it… I have been going to baseball games for thirty years. I never saw a game or heard of one where somebody did not call the umpire a robber or a thief, and yet no intelligent man doubts the integrity of baseball.
Landis’s words sound anachronistic and naive now. Sadly, because of the twin specters of performance-enhancing drugs and blown calls revealed by instant replay, many intelligent men doubt the integrity of baseball. And the experience of McCarthyism forty years after his speech demonstrates the weakness of his assertion that adverse criticism cannot do permanent injury. However, his central point is correct: a refusal to countenance or engage criticism can be deeply harmful. Bud Selig has been quick to levy fines at people who dare to criticize umpires, even though instant replay on television feeds provides permanent evidence of how wrong many umpires have been on crucial plays.
Selig has been quick to expand baseball revenues, through expansion, the creation of the wild card, and now the expansion of the wild card, but he has been extraordinarily slow to respond to scandals that have threatened the game’s integrity. By contrast, Landis was known for his swift and overly rough justice; he was offered the job in response to the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and he banned at least 13 men from baseball during his tenure. His draconian tactics were softened by later commissioners, but there is no doubt that after the eight men went out, the integrity of the sport was never seriously threatened by gambling. (Lifetime bans were handed out to Pete Rose and George Steinbrenner, later rescinded, but neither man came close to threatening the sport itself.) Landis went too far, but at least he took action.
The active steroid era is effectively over, so the window of opportunity for Selig to take action has passed. But the instant replay debate is very much alive, and Selig punts it at his peril. Baseball needs to address the fact that on-field calls are frequently demonstrably wrong, affecting the outcomes of individual games, pennant races, and playoff series. It’s time for the newest faculty member at Marquette Law School to respond to the criticism and take action.
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