Selig overcome with pride at final Owners Meetings
Commissioner humbled by outpouring of support as Manfred preps for new role
By Paul Hagen
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Commissioner Bud Selig read an article recently about baseball games lasting too long.
It was from a 1955 edition of The Sporting News.
"They were grumbling about pace of play; boy, there was a lot of stuff there," Selig said with a laugh on Thursday as the Owners Meetings concluded. "They were very concerned, baseball was in trouble, and so on and so forth. ... That was 60 years ago."
As usual, there was significant business to be addressed at the quarterly Meetings, including pace-of-play initiatives. But that was overshadowed by the fact that this was Selig's final Owners Meetings after 23 transformative years on the job.
The first one Selig presided over was in St. Louis in 1992.
"When I took over, things were not good; in fact, there's no other way to say it: It was a mess," Selig said. "[Kansas City's] David Glass and [Houston's] Drayton McLane said their first Meetings was my first Meetings. And they both wondered what they had gotten themselves into. There was agreement on nothing."
That much has changed dramatically. Baseball now enjoys unprecedented prosperity. There have been two decades of labor peace, the most comprehensive drug testing program in professional sports has been installed, the postseason has been expanded and the basis for all of that has been the unity that Selig forged between teams that often had wildly different self-interests.
Selig's tenure was celebrated on Wednesday night with a dinner that featured executives past and present, Hall of Famers, former Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and a host of celebrities.
Still, as the reference to the old Sporting News story neatly illustrates, there will always work to be done as Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred prepares to officially take over on Jan. 25.
Pace of play remained a hot topic during the two-day gathering. While both Selig and Manfred were reluctant to go into details since negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association are ongoing, both expressed optimism that there could be at least some incremental changes made in time for the 2015 season.
"The only thing I'll say for myself is I feel very good about where we are," Selig said. "We'll see what happens. They've got a lot of things going on. I'm very confident."
Added Manfred: "No one has more faith in [executive vice president, labor relations] Dan Halem than I do. And I think he'll make an agreement with the union that will allow us to move forward for 2015."
It has already been announced that pitch clocks, which were introduced during the Arizona Fall League a couple of months ago, will be used for all Double-A and Triple-A games in 2015. But that, along with another experimental rule stipulating that a hitter shouldn't step out of the batter's box between pitches, is expected to be phased in gradually over a period of years.
"As I found out, people are always resistant to change in anything in life," Selig said. "It's true, whether it's baseball or anything else. No matter what we've done over the last 20 years, there's always some period of adjustment. But our people have been good and they've been working at it, and they've been talking to players and the union. I think we're on the right track; I really do."
Also on the agenda was the appointment of a new Executive Council: Stu Sternberg (Rays), Jim Pohlad (Twins), Ray Davis (Rangers), Hal Steinbrenner (Yankees), Tom Ricketts (Cubs), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), Bob Nutting (Pirates) and Terry McGuirk (Braves). DeWitt will serve as chairman.
Manfred also formally announced that Selig will continue to contribute as the first Commissioner Emeritus in baseball history.
"Bud has been a great friend to me over the last 20 years," Manfred said, "There's probably no one professionally that I've learned more from. I can tell you at the front table today that he imparted a couple of pearls of wisdom as we were working our way through the meeting. I look forward to working with Commissioner Selig going forward. I know he will be a great source of advice and guidance to me."
That returned the conversation to the overarching theme of the Meetings, Selig's approaching retirement. And Selig, for the first time, is starting to acknowledge that the reality of the situation has begun to sink in.
"The dinner was really special," Selig said softly. "We had a remarkable collection of speakers. There was a lot of emotion, a lot of history. It was more emotional than I thought, I have to admit that. It was just a wonderful night, a marvelous evening."
The fact that this was Selig's last Owners Meetings as Commissioner also came into sharper focus.
"I was prepared for it," Selig said. "It was good. Emotional at the end, but this has been a remarkably seamless transition, which is the way it was supposed to be. We've done it the way baseball is supposed to do it, with class and dignity, and that makes me happy."
Added Manfred: "I think the more important part of [Wednesday] evening was that every speaker talked about the fact that everything Bud accomplished was a result of his ability to bring unity among the 30 owners. It's the kind of unity that has revolutionized this game."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.