The following is a letter I sent to Bill Simmons, the Boston fan / columnist for ESPN's website. I've been wanting to discuss this topic with an expert for some time. Yes, it's more about football, but it brings up a good point about baseball, because most of America has chosen football over baseball (including me, I'll be honest) and Tagliabue is much much much much more respected than Selig. I argue in this piece that while that's true, Tags has a major fault that Selig at least trumps him in. Hopefully, this will incite some debate on this space.
Hey Sports Guy,
With all the commotion surrounding the search for a new NFL commissioner, and the talk of inheriting a position held by such great men recently, I thought of something people seem to be ignoring. I know this sounds crazy, and I'm asking for a lightning bolt, but has it ever occurred to anyone that Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue were overrated? Or at least, that they were kinda bastards when you think about it? Bear with me.
People commend Tagliabue for getting a lot of new stadiums built. And he did that. But it's how that happened it that bothers me. Tagliabue allowed the whole Cleveland Browns debacle to happen, which was one of the sadder parts of football history. Those fans lived and died with football, then watched as Art Modell hoisted a trophy for Baltimore. But the people in Baltimore were celebrating, because 15 years before they had been screwed over by the Irsays. And so on with a number of other cities. The commissioners allowed Bill Bidwill to ditch St. Louis (though, yeah, they were eventually better off with the Rams) and L.A. to lose both teams (though, yeah, no one here seems to care).
For years, Tagliabue allowed owners to blackmail fans with the threat of moving. Give in to the tax money for a new stadium, they were told, or watch your team jump ship. People in Houston and Cleveland watched as their former teams made Super Bowls in new cities, and not only that, they were then given crappy expansion teams with many more restrictions on them than Carolina and Jacksonville had. The two recent expansion redux teams haven't done much, while those new market teams in the Southeast had the chance to be good right away. Why stick it to those football-crazy people in Texas and Ohio? Why not make it easy for divisions to be organized?
Compare this with baseball, which has many more problems, but fewer moves. Few people respect Bud Selig remotely as much as Tagliabue, and he's made a lot of mistakes, but only the Expos have moved in the past 30 some years. There are still teams in places like Pittsburgh and Kansas City and Milwaukee, even if they are hopeless (that's another problem).
As a Philly fan, I've suffered a lot, but I never had to worry about anyone leaving town, and I think that's a much worse fate than perennial chokers. I hope that Goodell keeps the great business of the league going, but not by alienating fans and threatening moves to any team that doesn't have a brand new stadium. Am I the only person to think so? Does this make any sense?
(well, not for long, but whatever)