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While Selig Slept

The worst commissioner since Bowie Kuhn will probably be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday. It’s inevitable. Baseball loves to honor its emptiest suits. They did it for the hollow haberdashery inhabited by Bowie Kent Kuhn and they’ll do it for the incumbent do-nothing prop of ownership. Clear space in Cooperstown for a plaque with Allen Huber Selig’s name on the top. It’s coming eventually. Just make sure that there’s one line inscribed among all the others:


It’s the truth. Selig doesn’t care. Major League Baseball, the entity he allegedly oversees, doesn’t care. If Bud and MLB did care, the telecasts of every World Series game would be readily available to every television home in America.

They are not [1].

Something’s wrong when the World Series, broadcast on what we used to call an over-the-air network — something you could watch by turning on any television in this country — isn’t accessible to every potential viewer. Residents of three million television households “serviced” by Cablevision turn on their televisions where the Fall Classic is supposed to beam and see nothing but a message telling them that Cablevision is angelic and Fox is dastardly. Fox, wherever they can transmit their message, is happy to tell you the exact opposite.

Bud Selig tells you nothing. The trustee of our national pastime, on the subject of three million television households not being able to view his sport’s crown jewel event…as mute as the button I’d be tempted to use on Joe Buck and Tim McCarver if given the option.

Which I haven’t been.

This cable or that satellite system not carrying this channel or that network is an old, ugly and recurring story. It pops up every few months somewhere and it occasionally digs its tentacles into our particular passion. There were the couple of months when Time Warner kept MSG from sending preseason and regular-season Mets games into NYC homes. There was a week or so at the dawn of the SNY age when I couldn’t see Spring Training on Cablevision. As 2006 rolled along, we received a steady stream of e-mails and comments from those who wanted to watch the Mets on their new cable channel but couldn’t because of carriage issues in outlying areas.

Pains in the necks those issues were. It was nonsense perpetrated in the name of grabbing us by our ankles and shaking more change from our pockets. It was inexcusable, but it was somehow par for the course. You start paying for television, you sign up to be periodically screwed — it’s counterintuitive, but we got used to it.

This, though? An over-the-air channel being kept off television? Literally not going out over the air and coming out through a screen? During the World Series?

Are you kidding me?

I know you are not.

Hardship is not having a place to sleep or dodging gunfire in Afghanistan. Let’s not confuse Channel 5’s temporary nonexistence with that. Bigger problems exist in this world as well as my life. This is not a hardship. What this is, however, is an insult. I pay, like the other three million Cablevision households affected by this billionaires’ impasse, plenty for programming. Some of it’s worth the tab, a lot of it isn’t. But Channel 5 is supposed to be Channel 5. Long before I had cable, I had Channel 5. We all had Channel 5.

Now we don’t. I’m told I can go spend 30 bucks on a digital converter and get Channel 5. That’s 30 bucks more than I used to have to spend to get Channel 5 — never mind what I’m spending to get all my channels. Signals were improved somewhere along the way so I can’t do what I used to when cable wasn’t around. I used to take a portable television, plug it in and watch Channel 5 (or 2 or 4 or whatever). I still have a portable television, but it doesn’t do anything except collect dust and, as I discovered Wednesday night, generate snow.

I don’t have the option of another provider, not where I live. It’s Cablevision or it’s read a lot more. Or it’s the $30 antenna and cancel everything else and make a bold statement. I’m not much for bold statements when there’s Mad Men. I like TV. I like to watch.

Bud Selig could make a bold statement. I’d like to watch that. Bud Selig could stand up and speak for his constituents: not the baseball owners, but the baseball fans, those of us within the three million who are messing around with radio (which is great when there’s Howie Rose and Gary Cohen circa 2005, not so great when it’s Jon Miller and Joe Morgan) and/or rubbing two electronic sticks together on our computers as if trying to receive a signal from twelve miles offshore.

Radio is radio, and it’s an honorable alternative — but it’s an alternative; the computer is the computer, and it’s a vital link to most of what I do (indeed, Cablevision is telling us we can subscribe to MLB’s online service and they’ll pay us back later when they get a chance [2]) — but it’s also, all baseball-viewing things being equal, an alternative. The World Series is the World Series and we, as a nation — even as quaint phrases like “national pastime” lose resonance in the face of monster NFL ratings — deserve to be able to watch the World Series on television: without gadgets, without trickery, without tin foil, without having to think about it.

Has Bud Selig thought about it? Has Bud Selig thought about baseball’s showcase gleaming in the dark in three million Cablevision homes? Does Bud Selig remember the World Series is supposed to be the best advertisement baseball has, and that whatever shreds of community one nation can be said to compose coalesce mainly around extended national moments like the World Series? It’s not too far from a romantic vision to still maintain currency in 2010. The World Series continues to attract viewers year after year. It’s just that this year millions of potential viewers are being actively repelled.

Corporations will be corporations. It’s a cop-out, but it’s been proven true enough in this life. But what about baseball? Isn’t baseball supposed to be a little more than that? Isn’t the commissioner of baseball supposed to do a little more than endorse Fox’s checks and not otherwise rock the boat?

I don’t suppose Bud Selig can wave a magic wand and make the next three to six games of the World Series appear on my television and the televisions of three million of my neighbors. But he could do this: step up and say something. He could use the MLB Network as a bully pulpit and declare that he gives the slightest damn that a portion of his public is not getting to watch the World Series on television.

You, the loyal baseball fan, are my highest priority. That is why today I beseech representatives of the two companies to resolve their dispute. I humbly offer to mediate in the name of baseball and baseball fans everywhere. Our ability to deliver to you, our customer, the game you love is my paramount concern right now. I will maintain contact with each side and not rest until I have done all I can to make sure not a single American who owns a television goes without the opportunity to turn it on and enjoy the World Series, just as Americans have been able to do every autumn the World Series has been played since 1947.

Bud Selig should be raising hell, raising his voice, raising the volume on baseball’s indignation with Cablevision and Fox. Instead, Mute Button Bud says nothing. Instead, one of Mute Button Bud’s lieutenants is dispatched to assert [3] that “Fox is in compliance with the contract” and “we recognize that it’s a commercial dispute between two private parties.”

Way to look after the brand. Way to satisfy your customers. Way to position your championship round as Not See TV.

It was marginally cute during the NLCS having to jump through hoops to find flickering images of the games. It’s not cute any longer. It’s an insult. As a Cablevision customer and a Fox viewer, I’m incredibly insulted the two private parties can’t settle their differences. But as a diehard baseball fan who relishes the World Series no matter the matchup [4], I’m severely let down by this commissioner who has shown me, after eighteen years as caretaker for this stubbornly great game, that he couldn’t care less about me or the members of three million households in the same predicament [5] as me.

Thanks Bud.