MINNEAPOLIS — He’s going to turn 80 in two weeks and no one totally believes him when he says he’s really stepping down this time. Bud Selig has been commissioner of Major League Baseball since 1992, longer than any man since Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was hired to clean up the game after the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
Bud’s taking a victory lap at the 85th All-Star Game in the sparkling Twin Cities. He’s here to talk about revenues growing from $1.2 billion to $9 billion during his tenure. He gets to talk about competitive balance, labor peace, MLB’s drug-testing program, and 11 consecutive years of record economic growth. There are 22 new ballparks since Selig became commissioner. All but two teams (Tampa, Cleveland) are averaging at least 20,000 fans per game this year, and there are young stars (Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes) to take the place of the retired Mariano Rivera and the retiring Derek Jeter.
Asked about his legacy Tuesday, Selig said, “I’ve thought a lot about it and I guess when all is said and done, I’d say the economic reformation of the sport [is the legacy] because there have been so many manifestations of that . . . We have the best competitive balance we’ve ever had and it’s led to so many other things.’’
Regrets? Bud’s had a few. The 2002 All-Star tie in his Milwaukee motherland was an embarrassment and the cancellation of the 1994 World Series (work stoppage) was a permanent stain on the game. Worst of all for a guy who loves history, Allan “Bud” Selig is undoubtedly going to go down as the “Steroid Commissioner” and it’s hard to explain those cartoonish numbers from the days of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and A-Rod.
But all in all, it’s been a pretty good run for the car-leasing man who brought baseball back to Milwaukee in 1970. Selig is easily harpooned and mistakes have been made, but none of baseball’s other eight commissioners could possibly match his love for the game and respect for its history.
Bud was in typically good spirits when he came to the fourth floor of the Marriott to talk with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Tuesday. The writers have always been Bud’s guys. It goes back to his days in the 1970s when he owned the Brewers and would routinely appear in the press box to shoot the breeze during games. Smoking a Tiparillo, Bud would tease Milwaukee scribes about their unholy love of the Green Bay Packers, but most of the time he was talking baseball.
I first met Bud in 1977 when I was a rookie baseball writer covering the Orioles for the Baltimore Evening Sun. Bud’s Brewers were annually tortured by the O’s of that era, and Milwaukee’s main man never got over the fact that a 5-foot-8-inch Orioles catcher named Dave Criscione beat the Brewers with a home run in the summer of ’77. It was the only homer of Criscione’s career and Bud still talks about it as “the moment when I knew our team had to get better.’’ Selig’s Brewers made it to the World Series in 1982.
If you like what the John Henry Group has done with the Red Sox — rebuilding Fenway Park and winning three World Series in 10 years — tip your hat to Bud Selig. It was Bud who orchestrated the bag-job sale of the Sox back in 2001. There were higher bidders when John Harrington put the team for sale for the Yawkey Trust, but Selig awarded the team to Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino — three guys who did not start out as partners. Bud later denied his obvious rigging of the process, but tripped on his shoes, saying, “I had nothing to do with that, but someday you’re going to thank me for it.’’
Steroids? Selig and his minions will forever insist that the fault lies with an intransigent Players Association leadership that viewed PEDs as a bargaining chip rather than a threat to players’ health. But despite Selig’s protests, there will always be a perception that Major League Baseball — wounded from the strike of 1994-95 — allowed, enabled, and downright promoted the Popeye Era because it helped baseball’s recovery. Chicks dig the long ball, remember?
I asked Bud about today’s testing. Fourteen players accepted suspensions in the Biogenesis scandal, but most of them passed every drug test. They accepted suspensions because they were caught by a paper trail. What does that say about the testing? Does this not reinforce the notion that the cheaters are still ahead of the testers?
“We’re the only sport that tests for HGH,’’ said Selig. “We went to longitudinal testing. Every individual expert we went to said we have the best program not only in sports, but in America. The people that tested positive, I think we picked up in longitudinal testing.’’
With that, Dan Halem, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations, came forward to explain longitudinal testing, which establishes a baseline to detect spikes in testosterone.
The system was put into place early in 2013 after Biogenesis.
“At the moment we have no concerns about our ability to detect positives on drug tests,’’ said Halem.
And what of the preposterous disclosure in a new book that A-Rod was allowed to take testosterone while he was playing (2007) because of a medical condition?
Did Selig know about this at the time?
“No,’’ said Bud. “That was an interesting story. One of the things that Senator [George] Mitchell recommended and one of the critiques of our early drug-testing program was that it needed to be independent . . . So we turned it over to independent doctors and administrators and they were administering it.
“This is what we were asked to do. These independent people made a judgment. History proved them to be somewhat wrong . . . We’ve moved on. That was back in ’07.’’
Ever trim and rumpled, Selig took questions for more than 40 minutes. He answered queries about lengthy game times (a problem), the Home Run Derby format (needs to be tweaked), instant replay (loves it), Tropicana Field (unfortunate), the Oakland stadium situation (takes time), Pete Rose (no change), smokeless tobacco (serious issue), Jeter (great face of baseball), the Indians’ logo (club issue), and the confusing home plate collision rule (“here’s Joe Torre to explain”).
Selig’s assistant, Rob Manfred, is in line to be the next commissioner, but the MLB committee assigned the task of finding Selig’s successor has been quiet. Until a successor is named, there’s always the suspicion that Bud might come back for one . . . more . . . year.
Bud says no. This is really it.
We’ll never see another like him.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.