You can't overstate Selig's importance
Bud Selig never wanted to be commissioner of baseball.
And when he finally got the job, he didn’t want it on a permanent basis.
And when he was given the job on a permanent basis, he wasn’t interested in a second, third or fourth term.
With Major League owners meeting this week in Scottsdale, Ariz., Selig, 77, will be given a fourth contract extension, eliminating his plans to retire at season’s end.
Not that it is any surprise that Selig will remain commissioner.
Asked in the spring when he would announce that he was not retiring and would, instead, remain on the job, Selig smiled.
``You,’’ he told the interviewer, ``and my wife. She keeps saying the same thing, but there are other things I am excited about doing.’’
Like what? Teach a history class at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin?
The man may talk about his fascination with history, but his love is baseball, and he has the ideal job for a baseball fanatic. It pays well — around $17 million a year. And has all the perks a fan could want — great seats, private plane and a chance to live exactly where he wants to live, Milwaukee.
It was, after all Selig, back in 1965 — when the Braves abandoned Milwaukee and moved to Atlanta — put together the group of businessmen who eventually bought the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee in 1970.
It wasn’t easy.
In fact, the team’s equipment truck left spring training in March 1970, and the driver was told to drive to Salt Lake City and call back to find out whether he should go northwest to Seattle or northeast to Milwaukee.
Much to Selig’s pleasure, the driver took the northeast route.
Anyone who looks at Selig’s tenure will realize his passion for baseball has brought about an era of greatness. Sports historians will eventually have to admit that Selig did more for the game than any other man who has ever held the job, except for Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the original commissioner.
Oh, Selig has his detractors. Any leader does. But more than that, he has his supporters, particularly among ownership. For all the pie-in-the-sky rhetoric that will spew forth about the role of the commissioner, the bottom line is the commissioner of baseball is an owner’s man.
It’s the owners who hire him. It’s the owners who fire him.
If there’s any doubt, ask Selig predecessor Fay Vincent, who, to this day, remains bitter about his forced departure. Vincent’s ouster was prompted by the fact he spent way too much time trying to be everybody’s best friend, and not focused enough on representing the interest of the men he worked for.
Selig brought credibility to the office of commissioner because there no longer was a false front that the commissioner was a man who was just as concerned about the wants of the leadership of the Major League Baseball Players Association as he was the owners.
There was a clear line of demarcation, which meant there was a clear avenue for negotiations on any subject that was raised. And what that meant was the owners and the players finally were able to mold a working relationship that has made baseball’s labor relations the envy of other professional sports. What’s more, he has shown that among the diverse interest of his owners, he is a consensus builder, which has allowed the game to move forward without public in-fighting.
Selig has dealt with challenging times and succeeded.
The owners don’t want to lose the progress that has been made under Selig and, over time, a line of possible successors has disappeared, including his longtime attorney, Bob DuPuy, who became overly ambitious during his tenure in the commissioner’s office, leading to a forced departure. Former Colorado Rockies president Keli McGregor was believed to be a prime candidate to take over for Selig, but in April 2010, at the age of 48, McGregor died in a Salt Lake City hotel room from what was later diagnosed as a viral heart infection.
Sandy Alderson, Paul Beeston and Andy McPhail took jobs in the commissioner’s office amid rumors that each could someday replace Selig, but over time they all returned to work for franchises.
Selig has created a legacy to behold.
It was on his watch that baseball suffered through the worst work stoppage in sports history, not only wiping out the final 40 games of the 1994 season, but also the 1994 postseason, and 20 games of 1995.
Out of the mess, however, came a realization on the part of the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association of the damage they had done, and now it is baseball that has enjoyed longer labor peace than any other sport; the sides recently agreed on a Basic Agreement extension that ranges through the 2016 season, assuring the game of more than two decades of labor peace.
While he did not move quickly enough to appease everyone, it was under his watch that baseball has adopted the most stringent drug-testing program in team sports. Selig was able to do it because it was actually members of the MLBPA who put the pressure on their leadership to accept the testing program.
On his watch, not only has baseball enjoyed record-setting revenues, and developed a Web presence and its own television network that has become the envy of the other sports, but also adopted a revenue-sharing plan.
A traditionalist, he pushed for the creation of interleague play, a realignment of leagues into three divisions, the addition of at least one wild-card (with a chance of a second) and the use of instant replay initially to affirm home run calls.
He has been on the job ever since taking it on an interim basis back in September 1992, assuming the job on a permanent basis six years later, and receiving extension in 2001, 2004, 2008 and again this week.
When his new extension expires at the end of the 2014 season, he will have spent 22 years on the job, longer than any man has been commissioner other than Landis, who spent 25 years helping baseball overcome the blight created by the gambling scandals that included the 1919 World Series.
But then again, Selig has done an impressive job.