RANKING BASEBALL’S COMMISSIONERS

Hours ago, I decided I’d rank Baseball’s Commissioners.  I wrote out summaries of their tenures, but have decided to reduce it down to bullet point format in hopes that you’ll actually read it all.

I put all nine of them in descending order by how their decisions ended up benefitting the game, whether their contributions were intentional or not.  I also tried to leave out some minor points that I came across in my research that might’ve cluttered the debate.

You’ll notice that I count expansion as a negative.  We can have a priorities debate as to whether or not denser teams or more revenue is better for the Game overall, but understand I put the incorporation of new clubs down as a negative since it forces the available talent to be stretched even thinner.

For some major advents like the Draft, I was not able to determine if any particular commissioner had a big hand in bringing them along, so they remain unattributed.  As with anything on my list, let me know in the comments or @elmaquino if you see something wrong.

#1: Happy Chandler (1945–1951)

Good:

  • Green-lighted Jackie Robinson‘s contract knowing it would cost him his commissionership
  • Threatened stars with heavy punishment if they left for the higher-paying Mexican Baseball League, thus keeping notable stars like Stan Musial from leaving
  • Secured a lucrative national broadcast deal for MLB
  • Suspended Leo Durocher, displaying the Game’s continued hard line stance on gambling
  • Established a pension fund for players

#2: Bowie Kuhn (1969–1984)

Good:

  • Brought Baseball into nighttime primetime, counter-acting any mistakes he may have made by making the sport several billion dollars even today
  • Cracked down (pardon the pun) on Baseball’s cocaine epidemic

Bad:

  • Fought actively (and lost) against the abolishment of the Reserve Clause
  • Constant labor warring that saw four work stoppages and two major strikes that cost the Game millions in both missed games and lost popularity
  • Two teams added to the AL

#3: Fay Vincent (1989–1992)

Good:

  • Stepped in and prevented missed games by negotiating peace during the 1990 lockout
  • Handled the “Earthquake Series” well
  • Suspended George Steinbrenner for colluding with a private investigator with gambling ties to get blackmail material on Dave Winfield

Bad:

  • Oversaw the incorporation of two more NL teams, bringing the total to 28
  • Likely ignored the Game’s prevalent steroid culture

#4: A. Bartlett Giamatti (1989)

Grey Area:

  • In just 154 days in office, all he really did was suspend Pete Rose for life after he was caught gambling on games he was also managing. While we can debate if this should keep him out of the Hall of Fame or not (I don’t think it should), Bart was just doing his job and shouldn’t be looked down upon for following pro-cedure

#5: Ford Frick (1951–1965)

Good:

  • Restored order after Reds fans stuffed the ballot boxes for the ’57 All-Star Game

Bad:

  • Put an asterisk on Roger Maris‘ season homerun record because he passed Babe Ruth‘s mark in a season ten games longer.  I have my doubts about Maris’ cleanliness in 1961, but the asterisk could have ended up being an bad and un-necessary precedent.

#6: William Eckert (1965–1968)

Bad:

  • Hired solely because of his background in business, he was kicked out of office once it became clear he was incapable of dealing with an impending labor collision between the owners and players
  • Didn’t cancel games in the wake of the JFK or MLKJ assassinations
  • Four expansion teams added during his tenure, bringing the total to 24

#7: Pete Ueberroth (1984–1989)

Good:

  • Prevented an umpire strike
  • MLB saw significant economic prosperity under him

Bad:

  • Was caught several times colluding with owners to keep salaries low by establishing what was basically a Gentlemen’s agreement salary cap
  • Likely ignored the Game’s prevalent steroid culture

#8: Bud Selig (1992–)

Good:

  • Cracking down on PEDs as much as the Union would allow him, even if it was after Congress got involved
  • Adding one wild card per league
  • Introducing a luxury tax rather than a salary cap

Bad:

  • Allowed Baseball’s steroid culture to grow unchecked
  • The ’94 strike
  • Continues to drag his feet on instant replay
  • Added two additional wild cards on top of the already-existing two, resulting in a one-game play-in postseason format
  • Incorporating two more teams into the Majors
  • Instituting interleague play and cultivating it with unbalanced leagues
  • Gave World Series home field advantage to the winning league of the All-Star Game while simultaneously requiring player representatives from every team

#9: Kennesaw Mountain Landis (1920–1944)

Good:

  • Used his newfound dictatorial power over the game to crush Baseball’s gambling epidemic, thus saving the sport from corrupting itself into ruin a la Boxing
  • Prevented the new minor leagues from splintering off into separate competitive major leagues

Bad:

  • Abused his power by setting back Baseball’s racial progress clock several years and taking active steps to prevent integration

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