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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.

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sam19041
1/09
Nice article, Maury (as usual!). The TV issue is clearly item #1 (followed by debt / leverage). But what can be done about it? Revenue sharing? Not clear there's a solution in the offing. An as a fan, would like to see Bud Selig kick his buddy Fred Wilpon to the curb. The Mets' situation is bad for baseball.
mbrown
1/09
The Mets situation is bad. I suspect the way Selig will deal with it will be to let the banks be the bad guys. He won't push Sterling out, but won't stop the banks from doing so, either. Thanks for the kind words on the article. Great to be back with BP.
BeplerP
1/09
I agree- Selig can let the banks administer the coup de grace. The problem is that the Wilpons are, I believe, prepared to put the club in Chapter 11 before they let that happen- why else would they have hired the CRG firm? This would be a drastic development for the club's future under the current front office/ field management team, who are pursuing what I believe presents the only continuing strategy that makes sense until the club's finances are in order. Otherwise, the personnel drain is going to be intense, and the club will enter a long rebuilding (in every sense of that word) phase.
Oleoay
1/09
I disagree. I think Selig (if he does want to remain commissioner) will push the Mets owners out and implant someone he wants. Look at the Expos/Marlins debacle, the way he made the move to the AL West a condition for buying the Astros and the recent insertion of Joe Torre into the Dodgers gambit.
ScottBehson
1/09
After reading this article, I'm envisioning "Weekend at Bernie's 3: Weekend at Bud's". Thanks for the chuckle.
comish4lif
1/09
It would be a crime if Bud ended up in the Hall of Fame and Marvin Miller is still left out.
mbrown
1/09
I can't see it. I have to (keep on) believing Marvin gets in. Sad thing is, I fear it will be posthumously. I suspect Marvin will get in before Bud, but I hope it happens when both alive. Neither are spring chickens these days
comish4lif
1/09
Question for Maury - would Bud have the same problems as he has in LA if MLB just stayed out of the ownership transfer and let teams sell to the highest bidder(s)? Or could it be worse?
mbrown
1/10
I think they'd be larger problems. I wrote of this on Biz of Baseball, but McCourt was never MLB's first choice. He was foisted onto the league, more or less, by FOX. Who's To Blame for Frank McCourt Owning the Dodgers
Oleoay
1/09
I understand there are current problems in MLB... the thing is, there'll always be problems. There's never a convenient time to retire.
mbrown
1/09
Truth!!!
ScottBehson
1/09
In fact one could argue that immediately after a new CBA is as good a time as any!
Oleoay
1/09
I may fall in the minority and Bud definitely has his faults, but he has done a good job. Maybe he'll retire and then join an ownership group to buy the Mets ;)
kcboomer
1/09
Selig manages to infuriate most fans and gets no respect from most pundits (yeah, you Sheehan), but all he has done is give us twenty years of labor peace. For those of you who missed the twenty prior years that is a miraculous accomplishment.
BarryR
1/10
20? I'm old enough to remember the previous 20 years, but I know that 1994 shows up somewhere in the last 20 years.
Oleoay
1/10
How dare you take a math class and not warn us! :)
mbrown
1/10
I'm sure you meant to say that when this current labor agreements expires it will be 21 years of labor peace. Bud gets a nod, but you really need to thank Rob Manfred and Mike Weiner. Those guys have been doing the heavy lifting on the labor front for some time.
mbrown
1/10
Olney tweets today that Bud, indeed, is getting an extension.
Oleoay
1/10
I wouldn't want to buy the Mets either.
mbrown
1/10
I would. Going to make someone a mint one day. And no, I'm not talking the Wilpons
Oleoay
1/10
How much sense does it make? They already have a new ballpark so they don't get the tax write-off. Their minor leagues need a ton of rebuilding and the NL East is getting more competitive. Not to mention that most of the front office (with the exception of Anderson) needs to be rebuilt and they compete with the Yankees for attendance... If I had a choice between two teams in major markers to buy and I had a billion dollars, I'd go with the Dodgers.
mbrown
1/10
Well, if it's the Dodgers or Mets, then yes, it's the Dodgers. But that aside, if I'm not buying the Dodgers, I'm interested in the Mets. The ballpark is a good reason. There are still write-offs to be had, but it's newness is an asset, not a liability. It's also "New York" the largest market with the largest opportunity for sponsorships and solid TV $. Lastly, it's been an underutilized brand. Sure, the Citigroup naming rights deal is incredible, but there's opportunity if you think about the Mets, not now. Not even next year. But in the 5-10 year timeframe, they could be worth a chunck. Biggest issue? Debt. Mountains of it. $750-$800 million in a sale. More, if auctioned (means they go bankrupt).
mbrown
1/10
Should have done the "$750-$800 million" in new paragraph. Not debt. Value in a sale
Oleoay
1/10
Does the Madoff stuff complicate anything the Mets own in terms of current assets or liens?
mbrown
1/11
In terms of trustee snatching up Mets, % of ballpark, no. It is a looming issue, however, for Sterling. In the end, it's about whether they knowingly profited through Madoff. It will be a matter of how much does Sterling have to pay. So, no direct connection, but certainly an in-direct hit on Sterling which impacts the Mets. I just read what I wrote... that make sense?
Oleoay
1/11
Yep, thanks.
Oleoay
1/11
Ya know.. everything I am seeing is that Selig is being offered an extension.. I haven't seen anything saying he'll take it. It'd make sense for the owners to offer him one even knowing he would decline.
mbrown
1/12
It's official.
Oleoay
1/12
I get a sour taste in my mouth when Olney's right. Thankfully, it doesn't happen often (and I got mouthwash just incase)