Selig: I have a dream

Out­go­ing MLB com­mis­sioner en­vi­sions in­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion

SundayXtra - - SPORTS - By Ron­ald Blum

NEW YORK — Bud Selig be­gan his 8,173rd and fi­nal day in charge of base­ball by wak­ing up in a Man­hat­tan ho­tel, hav­ing break­fast and work­ing out. After nearly 22½ years that be­gan with un­prece­dented labour un­rest, un­folded with rapid in­no­va­tion and ended with un­par­al­leled pros­per­ity, he pre­dicted a fu­ture filled with more trans­for­ma­tion, per­haps with ex­pan­sion to other coun­tries.

“My dream is for this sport to re­ally have an in­ter­na­tional flavour,” he said Satur­day dur­ing a halfhour in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Does it need teams in other coun­tries? ... If one uses a lot of vi­sion it could.”

Selig headed the group that forced Com­mis­sioner Fay Vincent’s res­ig­na­tion in Septem­ber 1992. Owner of the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers since 1970, he was put in charge as chair­man of the ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil and fi­nally elected com­mis­sioner in July 1998 after years of say­ing he would never take the job.

His reign saw ex­panded play­offs and wild-card teams, in­ter­league play, video re­view to aid um­pires, ex­pan­sion to Ari­zona and Tampa Bay, the for­ma­tion of base­ball’s In­ter­net and broad­cast com­pa­nies and the start of drug test­ing — too late for some crit­ics. The only per­son who headed base­ball longer was Ke­ne­saw Moun­tain Lan­dis, the first com­mis­sioner from 1920- 44.

“Bud will go down in his­tory as the No. 1 com­mis­sioner that has served base­ball, and with­out ques­tion,” said Peter Ue­ber­roth, base­ball’s com­mis­sioner from 1984-89. For Ue­ber­roth, Selig’s time head­ing base­ball can be com­pared only with “what Pete Rozelle has done in foot­ball and David Stern has done in bas­ket­ball.”

Selig’s fi­nal task was to ac­cept a mer­i­to­ri­ous ser­vice award from the New York chap­ter of the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica at a black­tie din­ner Satur­day night. Now 80, Selig be­comes com­mis­sioner emer­i­tus to­day when Rob Man­fred, his top deputy, takes over as the 10th com­mis­sioner.

“It’s been quite a jour­ney, and the jour­ney I think has changed me in a lot of ways,” Selig said. “I wish I knew in 1992 what I knew to­day.”

Rev­enue has risen from about $1.7 bil­lion in ’92 to just un­der $9 bil­lion last year. Attendance, which av­er­aged 26,978 in 1992, has been above 30,000 in 10 straight sea­sons, peak­ing at 32,785 in 2007 be­fore the Great Re­ces­sion.

With the start of rev­enue shar­ing and a lux­ury tax that has slowed spend­ing by large-mar­ket teams, ev­ery club ex­cept Toronto has made play­offs this cen­tury. Selig em­pha­sized con­sen­sus over con­fronta­tion. “All th­ese 30- 0 votes that every­body is now talk­ing about were im­por­tant to me be­cause I learned over the years that unity was so im­por­tant,” he said. “We had no unity in the ’70s and the ’80s and early ’90s. It was very frac­tured, and that was de­struc­tive.”

And that in­fight­ing led to sta­sis.

“The sport had been not ac­tive, re­ally had spent two decades stuck in neu­tral,” he said. “It was harm­ful be­cause other forms of en­ter­tain­ment and sports were gain­ing in great pop­u­lar­ity.”

To many, he seemed like a rum­pled un­cle or grand­fa­ther. But own­ers lis­tened to him be­cause he was one of their own.

“I had a style that was I guess unique, to say the least,” Selig ac­knowl­edged. “I was al­ways very cau­tious, al­ways very thor­ough, but maybe even be­came more so over the years. But it worked out well, be­cause I un­der­stand my po­lit­i­cal con­stituency. A lot of peo­ple would be crit­i­cal. They would say, well, after all, ‘Why does it take him so long to do that?’ ”

He calls can­celling the 1994 World Se­ries his worst mo­ment. Play­ers struck for 232 days, fear­ful own­ers would im­ple­ment a salary cap. Since then, the sport has had labour peace.

“The foun­da­tions of the sta­bil­ity that have been present in base­ball and not in the other three sports since then come from the agree­ments that were made then,” said Don­ald Fehr, then head of the base­ball play­ers’ union and now head of the NHL play­ers.

Selig’s best nights were when Cal Rip­ken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s con­sec­u­tive games streak in 1995 and when play­ers and own­ers agreed to a labour deal in 2002, end­ing a streak of eight work stop­pages dat­ing to 1972.

He won’t com­pare play­ers of this era with the stars of his youth, be­cause the game has changed so much, but his voice soft­ened with nostal­gia when he said: “Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Wil­liams, Stan Mu­sial — they don’t get any bet­ter than those guys.”

RICK SCUTERI / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Out­go­ing com­mis­sioner Bud Selig speaks with the me­dia dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Ma­jor League Base­ball own­ers meet­ing ear­lier this month.

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