People who write memoirs generally fall into two categories: those who were talked into it, and those who should have been talked out of it. In the former we have people like electronica musician and DJ Moby, whose first memoir “Porcelain” was a rock-solid account of rising to the top of the electronic dance music pyramid. In the latter we have people like Morrissey, whose own memoir, “Autobiography,” was a four-hundred-page tome of unrepentant narcissism.
In short, the genre of the “pop-culture memoir” is one of mixed results populated just as much by sincere storytellers as by people who don't really have much to say. In this age where any public figure who spends more than 15 minutes on television needs to at least pretend to be enough of an intellectual to be a writer, there has been a veritable flood of memoirs from people that the zeitgeist finds important. Bruce Springsteen and Michelle Obama stand out from this crowd, with their memoirs being more than excellent. Despite this, there are plenty that get left in the dust.
Enter Allan Huber “Bud” Selig, the ninth commissioner of Major League Baseball. His own memoir, “For the Good of the Game: The Inside Story of the Surprising and Dramatic Transformation of Major League Baseball,”dropped on store shelves on July 9. There were two things about this memoir that, at first glance, made it interesting to me. First off, was that its forward was written by the great Doris Kearns Goodwin, who is one of the most venerable historians working today. That alone was enough to make me want to take a look at a book written by a guy I’d never heard of. The second thing was that Bud’s memoir has one of those obliging “written with … ” disclaimers underneath his name in much smaller print, which typically means that whoever is hiding under there did most of the work.
Bud Selig, for his part, made a name for himself first as the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and later as the MLB commissioner, presiding over the organization while it was in the midst of a heavily publicized scandal involving player use of steroids and the League’s complicity in drug use. Selig’s memoir begins with the story of how he followed the San Francisco Giants around the country during their 2007 season as Barry Bonds, a poster child for steroid abuse if ever there was one, was expected that season to break Henry Aaron’s record for all-time home runs. Selig writes, “This was an age when sluggers found extra power through chemistry … There is plenty of blame to go around in this sad chapter, and I’ll accept my share of the responsibility (P. 3).”
I actually found it difficult to read much beyond the first chapter; though it wasn’t because “For the Good of the Game” was any more noisome or shoddily written than any other competent memoir. The problem that by the time I’d finished the first chapter the book had already presented its thesis, already said what it needed to say, and it left us with little more than passagework for the next three hundred pages. Selig falls into neither of the categories I mentioned in the very beginning, because, despite incontrovertible evidence of this book’s existence, I can’t imagine a situation in which Bud Selig, or anybody around him, thought writing one was a good idea.
Like I said, “For the Good of the Game” is not bad; it’s certainly nowhere near as good as other memoirs, but it tells its story competently. Bud Selig got a lot of grief for being in charge of the MLB through one of the most shameful episodes in the history of professional athletics, and he deserves a chance to speak his mind at the very least. A memoir might just be the only medium upon which his thoughts on the situation mapped cleanly, and thankfully this book is no Hollywood expose, reveling in scandal and exaggerated, instead choosing to say what it has to say plainly, honestly and without undue comment.
This is the book’s greatest strength, in that it lacks the aggrandizement or projection of so many other memoirs. It is also, however, its greatest weakness, as the prose used to deliver this story is at best perfunctory and at worst utterly dry. The few places where Selig applies some creative description, such as, “I was never far away from my next Diet Coke” in the opening chapter, are few and far in between. The book does warm up by the time Selig writes about becoming the owner of the Brewers and his hard-fought battle to keep a Major League team in Milwaukee; but by then, we’re already on page 50. You can hate me for it if you like, but if I’m not hooked by page 50, then my opinion is going to be nuanced.
In which case, I should cut to the chase. “For the Good of the Game” is the perfect book to read if you want to get inside the head of someone who loves every little aspect of baseball, who, if absolutely nothing else, waded through the worst of what professional sports has to offer and has been both lauded and vilified for his response. Selig is no paladin, but he is honest and wants to tell his tale. I give this book three out of five stars.