MLB owners meeting doubles as send-off for commissioner Bud Selig
Major League Baseball owners gathered Wednesday for their annual January meeting in the desert with one big item on the agenda — honoring Bud Selig in his final gathering with them as commissioner.
About 250 people were expected at a dinner in his honor Wednesday night, held in a huge tent set up on the grounds of The Sanctuary resort on the south slopes of Camelback Mountain. A series of speakers were lined up to praise Selig, who at age 80 will end his 22-plus years in charge of the game when he is succeeded by Rob Manfred on Jan. 25.
Among those speaking was former Sen. George Mitchell, who at Selig’s request headed the independent investigation into the use by players of performance-enhancing drugs.
Selig’s daughter, Wendy, also spoke and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron introduced the commissioner.
"He’s been great for our game in growing the game," said Joe Torre, the longtime player and manager who now works for Selig as executive vice president of baseball operations, "just for his love of the sport and his respect for the sport."
New York Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said there are three main parts to the legacy of Selig, who will become commissioner emeritus.
"He wasn’t a small-market guy, not a big-market guy," Steinbrenner said. "He did what he thought was best for baseball. Sometime that went a particular owner’s way, and sometimes it went against a particular owner."
Steinbrenner mentioned two of Selig’s major accomplishments.
"I think the drug policies have come a long way under him," Steinbrenner said. "We have one of the best in the business now. And I think another thing you’ve got to look at is, when you run a company that deals with a union and for 20 years you don’t have a work stoppage, that’s a significant accomplishment. And I think that’s going to be a big part of his legacy, the relative labor peace that we’ve had."
Selig walked through the resort from a meeting room on Tuesday but did not stop to talk to reporters.
Torre said he was 16 years old when he first met Selig, who owned a car dealership and had provided a car for Torre’s older brother, Frank, who played at the time for the Milwaukee Braves. Joe Torre said he bought his first car from Selig’s company in 1960.
Selig became a part-owner of the Braves but sold his interest when the team moved to Atlanta.
"Probably the toughest time in our relationship was me as a young kid, at 24 and 25," Torre said, "when we were moving to Atlanta and had to stay (in Milwaukee) for the `65 season."
Selig, Torre said, "was bitter and unhappy" but through the years maintained a relationship with stars of that team.
"Then it was no surprise when the (Seattle) Pilots relocated there, because he was determined to do that."
The Pilots were awarded to Selig and his investors in bankruptcy court just before the 1970 season and the team was renamed the Brewers.
Selig was still the Brewers’ principal owner when he helped lead the group that forced Commissioner Fay Vincent’s resignation in 1992. Selig was voted chairman of the executive council, becoming baseball’s top official, and repeatedly said he wouldn’t become commissioner. When he was elected commissioner in 1998, he transferred control of the team to daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb. Selig’s family sold the Brewers to Mark Attanasio in 2005.
When Selig first took over MLB, Torre thought he’d have an inside track with the boss.
"My first World Series in `96 we got rained out the first game, so it eliminated the day off," Torre said, recalling when he managed the Yankees against Atlanta. "I remember we started on a Sunday and a Monday and then I called him. I said `It’s not fair we don’t get a day off. … He told me `sorry.’"