By Bruce Levine–
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (CBS) — He was once described by former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent as “a small-town schlepper,” but Allan “Bud” Selig will have the last laugh. The 82-year-old Selig, who served as commissioner from 1992 to 2015, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as proof of a job well done.
On July 30, 2017, Selig and baseball executive John Schuerholz will be given baseball’s highest post-career honor. Selig got the Hall of Fame call with 15 votes on the Today’s Game Era ballot, one shy of being unanimous. Schuerholz was a unanimous selection.
Back in 1992, Selig was light years from baseball immortality when he took over as the interim commissioner. A bitter dispute between the players’ union and MLB owners followed in 1994 and into 1995 with a work stoppage that caused caused the first loss of a World Series in the history of the game.
But over the next two-plus decades, Selig proved to be a visionary that the sport badly needed, directing the game out of the dark ages. Selig would oversee a new golden age of prosperity on and off the diamond. Yearly revenues were a stagnant $1 billion when Selig took over for Vincent in 1992. Today, baseball takes in $10 billion annually. The institution of the wild card, then the second wild, 24 new ballparks and revenue sharing are just a part of Selig’s legacy. And since the debacle of 1994, baseball has thrived without a work stoppage.
The dark cloud that Selig and the players association had to battle through was the steroid era.
“My friend Bart Giamatti use to say, ‘Baseball is metaphor for life,'” Selig said Sunday. “He was right. You talk about the great moments, but some of those other moments were tough moments — ’94 was a very, very tough moment. We had had seven work stoppages before that. So I was really concerned. Being a history buff that I am,I said to myself sometimes you have to go through certain tough things to solve a problem. Now with the great work of Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, we will have had 27 years of a labor peace.”
Selig helped bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves bolted town in 1965. He led a group to purchase the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and bring them to Wisconsin in 1970. He left the team as owner when he became the full-time commissioner in 1998.
Selig was successful in getting a consensus of owners to agree on several issues for the first time in the history of the commissioner’s job going back to 1922. Sometimes it took a hundred calls a day to convince the George Steinbrenners of the world to share revenues and put money into a central fund, but that provided for a strike war chest and a central bank to finance the new ballparks that were being built.
“I really worked at it,” Selig said. “Sometimes people would say, ‘Bud takes too long to make decisions or was too cautious.’ The one thing I realized after watching other commissioners was that in order to accomplish what we want to, you must have everyone involved. I spent endless hours with our people. I would talk to them and go to see them. Yes, I always insisted on having all 30 votes. Like Chicago and Mayor Richard J. Daley, I always wanted an agreement by all voters. You are right in saying as a group we had been badly fractured over the years. Two generations before, owners were mad at owners, owners mad a the union, owners mad at commissioners. We had everybody mad at everybody. As a result, we were getting nothing done. I made sure back in 1992-’93 that I would spend the time and everybody would fall in line as part of the process.”
The greatest commissioner in baseball history? You can make that case for Selig, whose legacy is now complete with this final tribute and enshrinement into the most cherished Hall of Fame in sports.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.