Selig: I have a dream
Outgoing MLB commissioner envisions international expansion
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.”
Outgoing commissioner Bud Selig speaks with the media during a news conference at the Major League Baseball owners meeting earlier this month.