NEW YORK -- Baseball has taken the next step in a process virtually no one wanted to begin in the first place. That's because the vast majority of people inside the industry find it almost incomprehensible to imagine anyone other than Bud Selig leading the sport.
Yes, baseball will continue to flourish under its next Commissioner. Don't be silly. As a business, it's strong and vibrant. As a sport, its appeal is timeless. Selig, a lifelong fan, understands that part of it.
Nevertheless, replacing him will be a herculean task. During the last 22 years, under Selig's leadership, baseball has been reshaped by a breathtakingly long list of accomplishments: labor peace, Interleague Play, Wild Card playoff berths, competitive balance, a generation of new ballparks and one of the great success stories in American business -- Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which has allowed fans to watch games and receive statistics, news coverage and analysis through their laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Selig also retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 -- the only number retired throughout baseball -- and by setting aside a day to celebrate Robinson's memory once a year, he has helped an entire generation of fans -- and players -- understand both his pain and his importance to the game.
Selig has said that Robinson's breaking of baseball's color line in 1947 represents baseball's finest hour because it was one of the first significant steps in the American civil rights movement.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told Robinson that he forced white Americans to see the world in a way they never had before, and in doing so, helped begin the work that would see passage of sweeping legislation regarding issues of racial fairness.
Selig is also proud of baseball's opening of Urban Youth Academies around the country. In teaching the game to kids who might not otherwise be exposed to it, baseball is committed to making sure every kid at least has the opportunity to play.
Selig could write a book on leadership. His was based on consensus, on lobbying and listening and working relentlessly to get 30 owners with different perspectives to act as one for the good of the sport. One of Selig's legacies will be the 30-0 vote.
As former Astros owner Drayton McLane once said, "I've voted for things I was against because the Commissioner was so persuasive."
"He's done an incredible job in coalescing 30 clubs, all with different views on various matters, having them come together and almost always have 30-0 votes," Cardinals chairman and chief executive officer Bill DeWitt Jr. said.
When Selig took over in 1992, there simply was no way anyone would have believed that the owners and players would ever work together so seamlessly. Without Selig, that transformation might not have happened, and without it, there's simply no way baseball would be as healthy as it is today.
"It's hard to imagine where we are today given where we were when he started his tenure," DeWitt said. "Let me say it's a tough act to follow."
Selig emphatically says the time has come for him to move on, that Jan. 24, 2015, will be his last day on the job. He will have had the second-longest tenure of any Commissioner, second only to that of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner.
Some of the people who know Selig best doubted he really would leave, thinking that the owners would be able to talk him into staying on the job. On Thursday, there was another indication that he indeed intends to turn the job over to someone else, as he appointed a seven-member succession committee to find the next Commissioner.
DeWitt, one of baseball's most respected and thoughtful men, will serve as chairman of the committee that will recommend Selig's successor to the owners' executive council.
Selig selected seven men who represent a rainbow of clubs, from the large-market Angels (Arte Moreno) to the small-market Twins (Jim Pohlad). White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, perhaps the most respected and influential owner in the game and a close friend of Selig's, is also on the committee.
DeWitt said the search will be conducted in secrecy, that Selig will have a say and that the leadership of all 30 clubs will have input. The committee was the headline to come out of the quarterly Owners Meetings that wrapped up at MLB headquarters on Thursday.
Even as the game begins preparing for a transition to a new Commissioner, Selig announced that he continues to be pleased with the game's expanded use of instant replay.
Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, two of the architects of the program, reported to the owners that the average time for a replay review is now under two minutes, with several of them taking less than a minute the past couple of weeks.
"It's really been good," Selig said. "Our fans like it. It's making the game better."
Perhaps Selig's most pressing concern is the recent rash of Tommy John elbow surgeries. Selig called the loss of some of the best pitching talent in the game "very sad" and said baseball is attempting to collect information about why so many pitchers have been getting hurt and what can be done about it.
"Let's see if we can find out some answers," he said. "Nobody has them, I'll tell you that, including the doctors and trainers. Everybody you talk to has a different opinion."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.