CHICAGO -- Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously yesterday to confirm Bud Selig as the sport's ninth commissioner, nearly six years after he replaced ousted commissioner Fay Vincent on an interim basis in 1992.
Selig, who insisted for several years that he did not want to be the full-time commissioner, agreed to relinquish control of the Milwaukee Brewers -- probably to his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb -- and turn his full attention toward overseeing the industry for at least the next five years.
"This is a very humbling experience," Selig said. "I hear everything and read everything. I understand what people think. But I want all of you to know today that from this day forward, you'll get every ounce of energy in my body as we move the greatest game in the world forward."
The pre-ordained outcome of yesterday's special ownership vote was not a well-kept secret. The news that the owners had drafted Selig leaked out three weeks ago, soon after the owners held their last quarterly meeting in Seattle. He dismissed early reports of his impending appointment as premature, but pro-Selig sentiment had been building steadily since the close of baseball's disastrous labor war in 1995.
Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris headed the search committee that was charged with finding a new commissioner, but said he knew from the start that it would be difficult to find another candidate who could command the support that was in place behind Selig.
"I knew it when I took the job, that there was a strong coalition that was for Bud," McMorris said. "It just got bigger as it went along. The dynamics of the ownership group changed, but as he accomplished things that -- for years -- people had not been able to accomplish, it [his support] just kept getting stronger."
Selig, 63, has been credited by his fellow owners for forging the consensus that led to dramatic changes in the way baseball does business both on the field and off -- from enhanced revenue-sharing to realignment and the successful institution of interleague play. He also willingly bore the brunt of the strong public backlash that followed the 1994 baseball strike and the first World Series cancellation in 90 years.
All the while, Selig continued to insist that he had no desire to be the permanent commissioner, his statements on the issue so direct that he had to work hard yesterday to explain his apparent change of heart.
"The most persuasive argument that came from everywhere was, 'Look, we're on an upswing. You understand the problems. We just can't begin all over again, no matter how good those candidates are,' " said Selig.
Still, the years of speculation that Selig would eventually accept the job made the lengthy search for other candidates seem like a well-orchestrated charade. If he really didn't think that he was going to be the next permanent commissioner, he may have been the only one who seriously doubted it.
"The naming of Bud Selig, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, certainly came as no surprise," said Major League Baseball Players Association director Donald Fehr, in a prepared statement. "For a very long time, it has been clear that eventually the owners would formally name Bud to be the commissioner."
"As Bud has been serving as 'acting commissioner' for several years, I do not expect to see a change in our relationships with central baseball. Since we reached agreement on bargaining issues some 18 months ago, our relationship with central baseball has been steadily getting better and I hope and expect that to continue."
There was no public dissent. Even Selig's staunchest ownership critics during the fractious labor dispute apparently have been won over by his conciliatory, consensus-driven management style.
"I think everyone is pleased that the matter has been resolved," said Orioles owner Peter Angelos. "We're confident that Bud is going to continue to do a remarkable job and build on the remarkable things he has done since the strike. Interleague play. Revenue sharing. Realignment. He has played a big part in all of those things and we look forward to more in the future."
Baseball has settled into a period of labor peace. The sport is at least two years away from another collective bargaining confrontation, and all parties to the industry's labor relationship still seem chastened by fallout from the four-year labor war that destroyed public confidence in the sport.
Selig acknowledged that the most important job facing him during his first term as full-time commissioner is to preserve the uneasy truce that has allowed baseball to win back most of its fans.
"Yes, there have been a lot of things that have happened," he said. "There have been eight work stoppages. We have to assure that the next generation has no work stoppages."
So far, so good.
Selig will remain based in Milwaukee, but will move his office out of Milwaukee County Stadium and into a building downtown.
He will not formally take office as Commissioner until he has ceded trusteeship of the Brewers to a new CEO.
Pub Date: 7/10/98