With major-league baseball's new season upon us, it's worth remembering that the sport used to have good government. That governance started in 1920 following the Black Sox gambling scandal. Team owners selected Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge, for the job of baseball commissioner. He took it on the condition that he would have outright authority over all aspects of the sport.
Landis ruled until 1944, and he was followed by seven other independent commissioners, a string that ended with the forced resignation of Fay Vincent in 1992. Vincent had supported the players during the lockout of 1990 and scolded owners for colluding against the players. The owners, with the connivance in particular of Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers (the current "commissioner") and Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, had stolen $280 million from the players by rigging the signing of free agents. With the heist uncovered, the money was paid into to the players' union.
In perverse retaliation, baseball owners ejected the umpire. In the infamous coup of '92, they got rid of Vincent and busted the sport's independent governing authority. They made Selig acting commissioner and, in 1998, gave him the full title. With a wink and a nod, Selig presided over the use of performance-enhancing drugs, which conveniently added home-run glamour to the game while boosting ticket sales. He helped the sleazy process of replacing many of the iconic stadium names with come-and-go corporate names. Houston Astros fans had to fight off bouts of schizophrenia as the home field's name bounced from Colt Stadium to Astrodome to Enron Field to Astros Field to Minute Maid Park.
As baseball went from being the people's game to the owners' game, its steeped-in-history lore got whacked with the same wrecker's ball that battered down more intimate still-serviceable stadiums for taxpayer-funded, cathedral-like mega-stadiums. Fans became pay-per-Nielsen clicks, as the dominant camera view of televised games was set behind the pitcher, showing the batter, catcher, umpire, and a huge billboard that takes up much of the screen's dimensions. Viewers now have the option of being annoyed by the ubiquitous commercialization of the strike zone or they can become, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, mindless mediums of the message. Imagine all the interesting, varied camera angles we would see if that backstop billboard wasn't a financial homerun.
In the years before 1992, the independent commissioners didn't bat anywhere near a thousand, of course. But at least they protected the integrity of the game. Bowie Kuhn, who served from 1969 to 1984, was known as an owner's commissioner, yet he did confront owners on many occasions, including memorable home plate collisions with Charles O. Finley and Ted Turner. He also suspended many players for involvement with drugs and gambling.
Private interests corrupted the essence of America's game and made Selig the man at home plate. As one critic wrote in one of his kinder remarks about Selig, ". . . throughout the history of the game, there has never been another commissioner as self-serving and able to speak out both sides of his mouth . . ." Commissioner Selig went on in 1994 to try to wipe out the existing collective bargaining agreement and free agency, but he was outmaneuvered by the good government of the National Labor Relations Board, which put the original agreement back in place.
(On the pigskin front, meanwhile, a comparable conflict is now brewing in the National Football League. This battle, writes James Surowiecki in The New Yorker, "is about very rich businessmen thinking that they should be even richer.")
Eight years after the coup of '92, a bigger coup took place. Private interests took the former part-owner of the Texas Rangers, George W. Bush, and made him "Commissioner" of the United States. Soon the U.S. Government was no longer a good government.
What is so bad about good government? If we follow the money, the answer would seem to be that good government spreads the wealth around. In America, everybody gets a chance to step up to the plate.
Sinister private interests denounce and suppress what is good and equitable because of their lust for profits and power. At a deeper level, though, these interests have a more pressing need: ego inflation. Ego inflation is like the national debt -- it only gets bigger. More is always needed to cover the growing disconnect from self, spirit, or soul.
Wealth and egotism are a toxic mix. People so poisoned hate good government because, through its protection of all citizens, it sets limits on self-aggrandizement. Denial of inner value is the disease of the anti-democrats, and self-aggrandizement is their addiction. They're convinced that without wealth and power they'll tumble into the abyss of nothingness. They'll sacrifice us and the planet, if need be, to maintain their addiction.Ultimately, these un-Americans say "no" to good government and "no" to what is good for society because they say "no" to what is good in themselves.