Bud Selig’s retirement as Major League Baseball commissioner after next season will end two decades of stewardship that included recovery from a steroid scandal and an era of labor peace after losing the 1994 World Series to a players strike.
Selig, 79, said yesterday he’ll officially step down on Jan. 24, 2015, when his contract expires. A transition plan, which will reorganize centralized MLB management, will be announced shortly, the commissioner’s office said.
The pool of potential successors is deep, ranging from MLB Executive Vice Presidents Tim Brosnan, Rob Manfred and Joe Torre to team owners or executives such as Dave Dombrowski of the Detroit Tigers and Derrick Hall of the Arizona Diamondbacks, said Wayne McDonnell, an assistant professor of sports management at New York University. McDonnell said he wouldn’t be surprised if Selig’s replacement isn’t chosen until after next season.
“When you’re dealing with a sport that generates 7 to 8 billion dollars in annual revenues, with a lot of responsibility in international growth in years ahead, you have to get the right personality, the right leader and the right management model in place,” said McDonnell, who created the “Business of Baseball” course at NYU.
Selig previously delayed a planned retirement by signing a two-year contract extension in January 2012.
That decision came two months after MLB and its players’ union reached a five-year collective bargaining agreement, guaranteeing 21 straight years without a strike or lockout in a sport that had eight work stoppages since 1972. Selig yesterday offered thanks to MLB owners for their “unwavering support” and to players for giving him “unlimited enthusiasm” about the future of the game.
“Together we have taken this sport to new heights and have positioned our national pastime to thrive for generations to come,” Selig said. “Most of all, I would like to thank our fans, who are the heart and soul of our game.”
McDonnell said speculation about Selig’s successor could include internal candidates such as Brosnan, who oversees all of MLB’s domestic and international business functions including licensing, sponsorship and broadcasting; Manfred, who oversees labor relations and human resources, and Torre, the former New York Yankees manager who is now MLB’s vice president of baseball operations.
While Torre’s name will come up as a candidate, as might former President George W. Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, McDonnell said they’re unlikely choices. Torre is 73. Bush is 67, and McDonnell said he probably wouldn’t be interested in the long-term rigors of the position.
“This can’t be a short-term fix type of guy,” McDonnell said. “I see a team president making that jump to the next level. You’re dealing with a new level of baseball executive that has a high IQ when it comes to the analytics of the sport, but also intimately understands the business side. I think that’s what the owners are going to look for. Plus they’re going to look for someone they trust.”
Selig, who owned the Milwaukee Brewers, became acting commissioner in 1992 following the resignation of Fay Vincent. He was voted into the position on a permanent basis by league owners in 1998 and, in his 22nd season, is second in tenure behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner, who led the sport from 1920 to 1944.
He oversaw the realignment of teams into three divisions in each league, the creation of interleague play and the expansion of the playoffs with wild-card entries for top non-division winners. He also helped baseball rebound from the 1994 strike and implemented professional sports’ most comprehensive drug program through collective bargaining following an era of performance-enhancing substance abuse that led to congressional inquiries.
Selig’s connection to the steroid era in baseball comes with controversy. In 2008, Cliff Stearns of Florida was among several U.S. congressmen critical of Selig’s response to the sport’s drug problem -- terming it “glacial” -- and called for him to step down. Several days after that criticism, MLB owners gave Selig a three-year contract extension.
Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell praised Selig for initiating and fully supporting an independent examination of the sport. Mitchell’s 21-month investigation led to the 2007 Mitchell Report, which identified 89 players connected to banned substances.
“In the years since I issued the report, I have been pleased that the commissioner has brought baseball to a leadership stature on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in sports and to an example that now stands out as worthy of emulation,” Mitchell said in a statement.
The effects of the steroid era were felt earlier this year when no player -- including record seven-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher Roger Clemens and seven-time Most Valuable Player Barry Bonds -- was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame for the first time since 1996.
The Mitchell Report accused Clemens of using steroids and human growth hormone in 1998, 2000 and 2001. He was acquitted of lying to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs in June 2012. Bonds, also identified by the Mitchell Report as a steroid user, was convicted in April 2010 by a federal jury in San Francisco of obstructing a U.S. probe of drug use by professional athletes.
Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 to break the single-season record set by Mark McGwire three years earlier. McGwire, who’s admitted to using steroids during his record-breaking season, also has been denied a spot in the Hall of Fame, as has Sammy Sosa, who topped 60 homers three times from 1998 to 2001.
Selig has overseen historic economic growth in baseball, implementing revenue sharing among the 30 major league teams and a competitive-balance tax on its highest-spending clubs, such as the New York Yankees. Baseball’s total industry revenue was $1.2 billion when Selig took over in 1992. By 2012, MLB said, revenue had grown to $7.5 billion.
“His leadership and initiatives have led to heightened competitive balance, record attendance and revenues, new ballparks and an era of labor peace unimaginable in the prior generation,” St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt said in a statement.
MLB franchises have reached record values during Selig’s tenure, with the Los Angeles Dodgers selling last year for more than $2 billion. The San Diego Padres recently sold for more than $800 million and the Houston Astros for $610 million.
Selig also has presided over baseball’s growth online with the establishment of MLB Advanced Media, on television with the 2009 launch of MLB Network and globally with the World Baseball Classic. Atlanta Braves Chairman Terence McGuirk noted Selig’s role in MLB’s recent eight-year, $12 billion national television rights renewal with Fox, ESPN and Turner, which more than doubled annual rights fees.
“By almost every measure, MLB’s media assets have grown and prospered under Commissioner Selig’s vision,” McGuirk said.
The past 10 seasons have featured the 10 highest attendance totals in major league history. In the past 12 years, nine different teams have won the World Series.
Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, who in 2004 headed a group that purchased the franchise from Selig’s family, said Milwaukee is among the cities that might not be home to MLB teams if not for economic changes instituted by Selig.
“Teams from small and midsize cities can compete as a result of his innovations and the expanded postseason,” Attanasio said.