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January 9, 2012

Bizball

Why Bud Selig Isn't Retiring

by Maury Brown

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If you thought Bud Selig was really stepping away from the game, think again. Chances are slim to none that it’s happening, and it isn’t because Bill Maddon of the New York Daily News says so.

Yes, Maddon has been as tight with Selig as tight can be, but it’s more than that. This grand old game is being hit from all sides recently. No, it’s not the MLBPA looking for a fight, or Congress pushing more stringent drug testing. No, baseball’s problems are with their own owners.

In the past three years, two clubs have gone into bankruptcy (Rangers and Dodgers), and one is teetering on the edge of it (Mets). In the meantime, nine clubs have broken the league’s self-imposed debt service rule, and with the sale of the Astros, it’s jumped to ten.

Parity, something Selig is very fond of, is in peril, as well. The jury is out as to whether the changes in the new CBA to the draft process (read: Luxury Tax attached to it, lottery for picks, etc) will monkey with parity, but the recent influx of massive revenues via television agreements likely will. Whether it’s the Rangers, Angels, or (shortly) the Dodgers, have and have-nots could become more pronounced.

Selig needs to save the owners from themselves. No “rookie” is going to be able to muster the respect that Selig currently has. Status quo, for lack of a better term, is a good thing for The Lodge.

Stadium issues continue to beleaguer the Athletics and Rays, and unless you’re Rip Van Winkle, it doesn’t take much to notice that municipalities aren’t exactly jumping up to throw taxpayer dollars at the owners these days (and even ones that have are getting second looks; just ask the SEC and the Marlins). Add in that Selig has to again figure out the thorny issue of territorialism that impacted the relocation of the Expos to DC—much to the chagrin of the Giants, it appears the A’s will move to San Jose—and Selig’s ability to form consensus is still highly sought after.

Not enough? There’s more. Expanded playoffs are something Selig wants next season, no matter how hard that would be to make happen, and if it doesn’t happen then, it certainly will for 2013. Someone new is going to foster that in?

But, really, this is about the owners. They adore Selig—and for good reason. Pardon the political reference, but Selig is very much Ronald Regan in that he’s the master communicator. He may not be as sharp as he could be on the finer details, but he has a solid grasp on the big picture. He wields the phone in ways the best CEOs can only dream of. As one long-time executive said, “Whether it’s the Yankees or the Pirates, Bud always is able to relate to an owners plight and does so with sincerity.”

He’s also made them exceptionally wealthy. While the league informs that final figures are not yet available for this past season, MLB will surpass 2010’s record $7 billion in gross revenues. In 1992, when Selig became acting commissioner, league revenues were $1.2 billion. The below graph shows concurrent gross revenue numbers available from 1995 to 2010, accounting for inflation.

Year

Rev (Adj)
(Billions)

% (+/-)

1995

$1.98

 

1996

2.48

25%

1997

2.84

15%

1998

3.33

17%

1999

3.63

9%

2000

4.26

17%

2001

4.56

7%

2002

4.34

-5%

2003

4.61

6%

2004

5.15

12%

2005

5.53

7%

2006

6.05

9%

2007

6.41

6%

2008

6.58

3%

2009

6.71

2%

2010

7

4%

 

If you think about how Selig is revered by the owners, you wonder if they’d not only want him commissioner for life, but long after. If the owners had their druthers, Bud would be stuffed, propped up in a chair, a séance would be held, and Selig would run the league from the afterlife. They love him that much.

But, there’s more to it than just musing; there are technicalities at play. Selig’s contract expires in approximately 10 months. To replace him, there would have to be moving parts churning away in the background at this point. First off, even if someone were hand-picked, a search committee would be formed. Protocol is protocol, even if there were a “wink-wink” agreement ahead of time. Unless the league has turned into the KGB, nothing has leaked. No names. No word of a committee being created. Nada.

Besides, you wonder if Selig really wants to go, anyway. At one point recently, when he (yet again) said, “This is it,” his wife, who was sitting in the crowd, began to chuckle. And, when you think about it, this has been “Buddy” since day one. After he was appointed as acting commissioner in 1992, he said repeatedly that he had no interest in taking on the position full-time. And yet, here we are. He’s said he was going retire before. And yet, here we are.

Selig will likely be commissioner for life. And love him or hate him, he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. He’s faulty on a host of levels, but when you look at his predecessors, he’s head and shoulders above the rest.

Maury Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Maury's other articles. You can contact Maury by clicking here

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