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MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Selig's importance can't be overstated

Selig's importance can't be overstated

Selig's importance can't be overstated
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Bud Selig, clad in a bright blue blazer, his hair ruffled as always, was making the rounds Wednesday afternoon at the posh Sanctuary Camelback Mountain resort, where Major League owners are holding quarterly meetings.

"Look at him," said an owner, who'll go unnamed. "He's always working. He never stops. He has a bounce in his step because he loves every minute of this."

At that moment, baseball's Commissioner had his arm across the shoulder of another owner as the two hurried across the picturesque courtyard from one meeting to another.

Selig was obviously making a point -- or trying to convince the man to come onboard on whatever issue they were discussing.

That's Selig's trademark style. And he's almost always successful.

The owners are asking Selig to stay on as their CEO for another couple of years after his current contract expires in December. It's a no-brainer for both sides.

Baseball needs Selig, and he needs baseball. It's that simple.

This is his fourth contract extension, and for now his plans for retirement are off in the distance.

Soon after Selig became interim Commissioner after Fay Vincent was dismissed in 1992, I kept telling Selig that he would be in this job for a long, long time. He merely shook his head.

When a flimsy search committee was named to select a permanent Commissioner, I called that a charade. There was never any doubt who the new Commissioner would be: Allan H. Selig.

And when he emphatically stated that when his current contract expires in 2012 "there are other things I'm excited about doing," few took him seriously.

So Bud Selig is going to be around through 2014 -- at least -- and baseball is better off because of it.

In one of his books, the late Jerome Holtzman, who studied the careers of all the baseball Commissioners, proclaimed Selig as the best the game has had.

Holtzman, a Hall of Fame baseball writer and the game's official historian when he died, was on target.

If Selig does leave when this extension expires. he'll be 80 years old and have been in office for 22 years. Only Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner, was around longer -- 25 years.

For Selig. this is not a job. It's his life.

He has no hobbies, no outside interests. He's played golf just once in his life, doesn't have or want a boat, detests gardening and became unbelievably restless when he went on a cruise with his wife, Sue, and some friends several years ago.

For Bud Selig, it's baseball, baseball, baseball. That's why he needs the job as much as the owners need him.

Selig's oasis is in front of a huge TV screen watching game after game after game. And as an aside, maybe noting a manager's strategy or a bad call by an umpire.

Sift through the maze of his responsibilities, and for him it always comes back to the baseball game on the field, and its players.

During his tenure, Selig has made radical changes to the game, and although he's had his detractors, virtually all of the changes have improved baseball's popularity and prosperity -- an era of greatness. Revenues this year, for example, will be more than $7 billion.

There are those who insist that he should be remembered because he was in charge during the so-called performance-enhancing drugs era, but once it was in full bloom, no one pushed harder for a program to conquer the problem. The current drug-testing program worked out with the players union is the most stringent in team sports.

But of all Bud Selig's achievements, being able to create a strong working relationship with the players union should be his legacy. From the dark days of the devastating strike in 1994-95, baseball has and will have labor peace for 22 years.

Why has Selig been so effective?

"It's a combination of things," Larry Baer, managing general partner of the San Francisco Giants, said on Wednesday. "He is so steeped in the game, so sensitive to everybody's team -- ownership issues and, quite frankly, player issues -- having been a team owner himself.

"If you came in [as Commissioner] and you were not an owner, you might not be as sensitive to player issues. They might get lost. And as an owner he dealt with fan issues all the time."

Baer added that it's hard to argue with Selig's point of view because it's "born of decades of knowledge dealing with all the issues of the game. He knows the stuff so well."

Selig also has an uncanny ability to build consensus. He works the telephones constantly from his Milwaukee office and seldom, if ever, puts a tough issue up for a vote without knowing beforehand the outcome.

Said Yankees president Randy Levine: "He's effective because he's been in the game so long. He knows everyone and takes the time to understand their points of view. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don't. Because he's been around for so long and has relationships for so long and been through so many different circumstances with all the various scenarios, he gets it."

Richard Levin, who retired a year ago as vice president of public relations for MLB, was as close to Selig on a daily basis as anyone.

"People tend to underestimate him," Levin said. "He's one of the smartest persons I've know. He doesn't forget a thing and has more energy than people half his age. He's so persistent and [is] always steps ahead of everyone else.

"Working for him was fun. He obviously kept me on my toes, because as I said, he never forgot anything. He's one of the lucky people who does something he loves so much. Baseball is his life; his passion for it is unbelievable."

It's virtually impossible to overstate Selig's importance to the game.

That's why the owners don't want him to leave.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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