PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz.—Bud Selig concluded his final baseball owners meeting as commissioner after two days of basking in praise for the job he’s done during more than 22 years in charge of the game.
Thursday’s meeting followed a gala in Selig’s honor the previous night in a tent on the property of a desert resort hotel.
“A remarkable collection of speakers,” Selig said. “There was a lot of emotion, a lot of history, and it was more emotional than I thought. I have to admit that. … It was really just a wonderful night.”
Selig, 80, took over baseball as chairman of the executive council in 1992 after helping forceCommissioner Fay Vincent’s resignation. Despite saying he would never take the job permanently, Seligwas elected commissioner in 1998. When he is replaced by Rob Manfred on Jan. 25, Selig will have been in charge of baseball for the second-longest term behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who held the job from 1920-44.
Speakers at the dinner included former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, hired by Selig to investigate the use of performance-enhancing drugs by players. Columnist George Will spoke, as did former columnist and current MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle. Hank Aaron, among many Hall of Famers on hand, introduced Selig.
They talked about Selig’s accomplishments, including drug testing and two decades of labor peace that followed a series of eight work stoppages from 1972-95 that culminated in cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
Each speaker, Manfred said, noted “that everything Bud accomplished was as a result of his ability to bring unity among 30 owners.
“It is a tribute to his ability, his personality and his personal skills,” Manfred said, “that he could produce the kind of unity that has literally revolutionized the game.”
Selig noted he had overseen three generations of owners.
Although there was opposition to Manfred from some owners, Selig said “it has been a remarkably seamless transition.”
“We’ve done it the way baseball is supposed to do it,” Selig said, “with class, dignity that makes me happy.”
Selig headed the group that bought the Seattle Pilots in bankruptcy court in 1970 and moved the team to Milwaukee, where it was renamed the Brewers. He became the owner head baseball’s labor committee before he was put in charge.
“In ’92 when I took over, things were not good,” he said. “In fact, there’s no other way to say it: It was a mess. But I knew in the early and mid ’90s one thing as we moved forward is we have to do things together.”
His first owners meeting was in St. Louis “and it was a disaster,” he said. “There was agreement on nothing.”
Unifying and changing the game “was a long-term project,” he said.
“The ’90s were tough, tough on me, tough on everybody,” Selig said. “But I knew early on that we had to do things that we had to do. The system was not working. The system was an anachronism. I used to kid that this is the system of the Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. And I wasn’t being facetious. Nothing’s changed since the ’30s, and there was just unhappiness everywhere.”
Selig said he’s been given many mementos as his retirement neared.
“I’ve gotten letters from a lot of people — owners, general managers, players — the last four weeks,” he said. “I’m carrying some of them around. They’re really heart-wrenching.”
Selig will become “commissioner emeritus” this month, and MLB will keep his Milwaukee office intact. He isn’t sure exactly what that role will entail.
He said he had enlisted the help of Doris Kearns Goodwin to write a memoir. He is sure he will stay busy.
“I go to the office every day,” Selig said. “That won’t change.”
From The Associated Press