Even now, Bud Selig says he hears from people who don’t want him to step down as commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Supporters want him to remain in office until he passes Kenesaw Mountain Landis, at a little more than 24 years, as the longest-tenured commissioner the sport has ever had. But that is one contest in which Selig doesn’t mind finishing second.
Selig, 79, has been in charge of MLB since Sept. 9, 1992, and will have spent more than 22 years in the position when his term ends Jan. 24, 2015. He began as interim commissioner after owners ousted Fay Vincent. The interim tag was removed in 1998, as he divested himself as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers to accept a five-year term. He twice announced that he was stepping down, only to sign an extension each time. But this time, there will be no extension.
His tenure has been marked by several controversies. He had to steer the game out of labor strife that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. And he presided over the so-called Steroid Era. But baseball, nevertheless, has grown immensely during his tenure and has a chance to pass $9 billion in revenues this season. A drug testing program continues to be tweaked. Playoffs have been expanded. The development of MLB Advanced Media has been very lucrative. Unprecedented labor peace has reigned.
When he steps down, Selig will teach a few classes. He wants to work on a book.
While sitting in his office last month on the 30th floor of the U.S. Bank building in Milwaukee, Selig granted the Star Tribune an interview on a wide range of topics pertaining to his career as commissioner and his life in baseball.
Q How much has being commissioner changed your life?
A A lot. Having been raised in baseball my entire adult life, this was a unique experience for me. ... Somebody who was in the game in 1992 would not recognize it today. Revenue is up from $1.2 billion to $8.5 billion, maybe $9 [billion]. There has been 21 years of labor peace. A whole new economic system. A whole new playoff system. A whole new everything. So there have been more changes in the last 22 years than in the history of the game, and I’m proud of those. After I’m gone I believe that between international and everything else, the game has a glorious future.
Q What about regrets?
A I wish some things would have happened a little faster, but I know the sport and know how it works. And I wished the ’94 World Series would have been played, but the players were out on strike. And that was the eighth work stoppage since 1970. Maybe the heartbreak of that led to 21 years of labor peace.
Q How disappointing was it to take baseball out of Montreal?
A I was born into this business because the Braves left to go to Atlanta and I had to fight to bring a team back. So I’m always sensitive to that. We tried everything. They needed a new stadium. There was no ownership group that was willing to step forward. We sent Frank Robinson up there to manage. But it just didn’t work. That was disappointing. On the other hand, they moved to Washington and have been a great success.
Q What would have to happen for baseball to expand?
A I don’t see expanding right now the way the sport is constituted economically. We have 30 teams, which has really worked out well. There will be expansion one day, but I don’t think in the foreseeable future.
Q Could it be outside the U.S., even overseas?