Baseball and Dirty Pool

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This month’s selection, For the Good of the Game by Bud Selig, is a doubleheader. It is the inside story of baseball’s remarkable transformation in the last 30 years, which saved our national pastime. This book is great reading for anyone who has even a passing interest in baseball, and it is also a must-read for students of leadership. Leadership is not about “steady as she goes,” since presiders are soon forgotten and are never written about. The leaders we remember—Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela— are transformational. Each of them had a vision vastly different than the status quo and enlisted the people necessary to create change.

Bud Selig is a lifelong baseball fan. He was heartbroken when the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta in 1961, and spent the next 10 years of his life bringing baseball back to Milwaukee, leading the group who bought the Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee in 1971. His experiences as team owner in baseball’s smallest market in the ’70s informed his thinking on the radical changes baseball needed to make in order to survive. His own father asked him why he wanted to buy a baseball franchise when the sport was dying. These changes were so obvious they should have been readily accepted, but the majority of owners were oblivious to inroads the NFL, NBA and NHL were making with baseball’s fans. There is a saying that any army is perfectly designed to fight the last war. Baseball’s structure was perfectly designed for the last century. At a time when baseball truly needed visionary leadership, they were cursed with a succession of commissioners more interested in their own image than leading the necessary changes.

Selig worked throughout the ’70s and ’80s to create a critical mass of owners who understood the danger and supported change. The problems finally came to a head in 1992 when commissioner Fay Vincent was forced to resign. Selig was shocked when he was told by the other owners they wanted him to serve as the acting commissioner, but his leadership in the ensuing years overcame seemingly intractable obstacles (most of whom were people) and propelled baseball to greater success. He pulls no punches. His accomplishments as a leader for the 23 years he was the commissioner of baseball ranks him in the list of leaders mentioned above. This may sound ludicrous because baseball is a game, but read his story and see for yourself. Bud Selig has a plaque on the wall in Cooperstown. He should have a statue out front.

“The gold abides, in the earth and, perhaps, more powerfully, in the dreams of treasure seekers, and where there is gold, as ever, there is bound to be mischief.” This is the last sentence of Paul Starobin’s A Most Wicked Conspiracy. It sums up the gist of the book quite well. This is the story of the Cape Nome gold rush that started with the discovery of gold at Anvil Creek in Alaska by Jafet Lindeberg. Lindeberg, along with two other Swedes and a Laplander, was in Alaska to introduce reindeer in an e ort to aid the Inuit population. His discovery caused a huge migration of gold-hungry people over the next decade. The lure of gold was so visceral that one man, Ed Jesson, pedaled his bicycle 1,000 miles across Alaska on dog sled tracks and frozen rivers to get to Nome in February of 1900 in order to beat the boatloads of men and women who would arrive after the ice melted. Likewise, a woman named Kirke Requa came by dogsled hundreds of miles from Alaska’s interior in the dead of winter to beat the rush.

There was gold in the creeks, gold in the ground, gold in the sand on the beaches. Early arrivals staked claims. Later arrivals jumped those claims. Nome was so remote that the rule of law was essentially non-existent, and this is where the real story begins. People who had not gone to Alaska also caught gold fever, and they sensed an opportunity to pan for that gold in Washington, D.C. Alexander McKenzie led a ring of conspirators with political ties up to and including the White House, bent on stealing all the gold in the Cape Nome discovery. They bribed senators to who appointed a corrupt judge, in league with the ring, to set up court near Anvil Creek and began stealing the claims of the original prospectors. The reader will be aghast at the cunning and guile of McKenzie and what he was willing to do to make his scheme successful.

This book is an excellent read and provides outstanding insight into human character, both good and evil


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