When Sir Christopher Wren (architect, astronomer, mathematician) died in 1723, his epitaph read as follows: “If you seek his monument, look around you.”
Wren had designed St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as over fifty other churches and public buildings in and around London.
His legacy was his work; therefore, a statue honoring him would have been redundant.
A man’s life is revealed primarily in his work. It is what we do, and how well we do it, that defines who we are, and how we are remembered.
In addition to their work, some are also honored and immortalized in great works of literature, song, poem, or sculpture. A blind poet, Homer, has kept Odysseus’s memory alive long after his body has perished, in The Odyssey. The faces of four American presidents: Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt may survive the next Ice Age gazing at the horizon from atop Mt. Rushmore.
Even here in Greenville, South Carolina, a bronze statue of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson serves as a cautionary tale of Man’s weakness in the face of temptation. Jackson’s legacy was his life’s work, overshadowed by scandal.
This August, Bud Selig, Commissioner of Baseball for the past 17 years, will be honored outside of Miller Stadium in Milwaukee, with a seven foot statue of his own. At such a moment, it is useful and proper to examine a man’s legacy.
Generally, statues and monuments are erected posthumously, allowing a person’s legacy to be weighed and measured over time. In some cases, heroes of one era fade quickly and become irrelevant to the next. In other cases, one’s reputation grows into something far more substantial than anyone who was a contemporary of that individual ever could have foreseen.
Therefore, it is sensible, in most cases, to wait several years, or even decades, after a person passes away before something as permanent as a statue should be unveiled.
Not all statues remain permanent, however, even while the subject of the monument is still alive. The people of Iraq, for example, toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein, denying him immortality even as he was about to be deposed and eventually executed.
Happily, most monuments and statues do not follow behind such a malignant legacy, like a shadow behind a crypt. Instead, they tend to be of the innocuous variety, a bland businessman with no apparent overriding moral compass.
They tend to be more like a statue to Bud Selig.
Selig’s work, then, is his legacy, even as his statue awaits its grand exhibition to an upper mid-western public.
And what, exactly is Selig’s life’s work? There is the bureaucrat, and there is the leader. One has to assume that whoever decided to commission this statue views Selig as an important leader, at least to the local Milwaukee community. After all, bureaucrats are seldom immortalized.
Nevertheless, Selig has been overwhelmingly a bureaucrat. Now, we need bureaucrats to get things done, and Selig has done that.
Financially speaking, baseball has consistently prospered under his reign, even if some teams claim to be losing money. Selig’s introduction of the Wild Card system has significantly changed the playoff dynamic, ensuring greater competition and, therefore, more fan interest during the month of September than ever before.
Even interleague play, as difficult as it may be to justify in a serious, competitive sense, has, measured by attendance figures, brought more fans into the parks. And the players, of course, are richer than ever.
If baseball was in dire economic straights, it would not be populated by hundreds of millionaire athletes anxious to shoot drugs into their systems to ensure future access to ever larger sums of money.
And this is precisely where the other half of Selig’s legacy, that of the amoral enabler, comes in.
Now, one might argue that it is not the job of a businessman, even a CEO, to act as mother-superior to the broader community. What matters is the bottom-line; morality is irrelevant here.
And yet recent history, including this morning’s headlines regarding Toyota, remind us of the true cost levied on an organization that believes business and morality make strange, uncomfortable bedfellows.
Toyota is currently enveloped in a scandal not all that unlike baseball’s own steroid scandal of the past decade or so. Corners are cut; Secrets are kept; Denials are made; Eventually, a semblance of truth and contrition are offered. The pattern has become all to familiar in recent years, affecting Presidents, athletes, and businessmen.
Therefore, Selig’s monument is, inadvertently, an appropriate national symbol reflecting the excesses and selfishness of our contemporary society.
But is his statue an appropriate symbol in the classical sense of honoring a hero?
Commissioner Selig is plainly guilty of allowing, even encouraging, a performance-enhancing drug scandal to develop and virtually overtake our National Pastime on his watch.
His refusal to even acknowledge that a serious problem existed until Congress became involved reveals a depth of denial regarding not only the problem itself, but also his own responsibility in the matter, that can only be judged as gross negligence.
Obviously, Selig the Businessman was quite satisfied with the state of the game throughout the ’90’s and on up to the early years of this century. Therefore, what need was there for a Moral Leader to get involved who might only muck things up?
In my very first blog post, I stated that there are two essential questions important to both American history and to baseball history:
1. Who deserves to be remembered?
2. How do they deserve to be remembered?
The answers to these questions, I stated further, comprise the collective historical mythology that we pass down through the generations, from father to son. Because baseball is, after all, a shared experience that evolves away from the realm of history to that of mythology as the decades turn to dust.
Question #1 has apparently already been answered: A fellow bureaucrat in Milwaukee has a decided that Commissioner Selig deserves to be honored and remembered.
Question #2, therefore, becomes more specifically: How does Bug Selig deserve to be remembered?
Images of used needles, Congressional Committees, contrite apologies by players, and home run records rendered meaningless dot the landscape of Selig’s Realm.
Clearly, then, if you seek Selig’s monument, look around you.