Selig will retire as Commissioner in January 2015
Expanded playoffs, competitive balance, labor peace all part of enduring legacy
Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, who changed the face of Major League Baseball while leading the sport into an era of unprecedented popularity and prosperity, will formally step down from the office when his current term expires on Jan. 24, 2015. The announcement was made Thursday.
"It remains my great privilege to serve the game I have loved throughout my life," Selig said. "Baseball is the greatest game ever invented, and I look forward to continuing its extraordinary growth and addressing several significant issues during the remainder of my term.
"I am grateful to the owners throughout Major League Baseball for their unwavering support and for allowing me to lead this great institution. I thank our players, who give me unlimited enthusiasm about the future of our game. Together, we have taken this sport to new heights and have positioned our national pastime to thrive for generations to come. Most of all, I would like to thank our fans, who are the heart and soul of our game."
Selig will announce shortly a transition plan in preparation for his retirement, which will reorganize centralized MLB management.
Selig has led Major League Baseball since Sept. 9, 1992, when, as chairman of MLB's executive council, he became interim Commissioner. He was unanimously elected baseball's ninth Commissioner on July 9, 1998. In those two transformative decades, he has inarguably left a greater mark on baseball than any of his predecessors.
One of his first accomplishments after becoming acting Commissioner in 1992 was altering each league from a two-division format into three in 1994 and adding a Wild Card berth to expanded playoffs. While many baseball purists protested the change at the time, the concept is now widely embraced. That set an early tone. Selig would do what he thought was best for the game, undaunted by what the doubters might say.
MLB also took the lead in digital technology during Selig's tenure. In 2000, by a unanimous vote of team owners, MLB Advanced Media was formed to centralize all digital operations, and it became a resounding business success while transforming the fan experience. In addition to operation of MLB.com and all 30 team sites, MLBAM introduced MLB.TV, now completing its 11th season, for unprecedented live streaming of every game's video broadcast; embraced mobile technology and created a suite of award-winning apps, including MLB.com At Bat, the most popular sports app of all-time; institutionalized the purchase of tickets and team merchandise online; and much more.
"Since Bud has been Commissioner, he has made a great impact on both the economics and the integrity of the game," Royals chairman and owner David Glass said. "His vision for the formation of MLB Advanced Media ought to be remembered as one of the most forward-thinking decisions our industry has ever known. I believe his legacy is unparalleled in professional sports."
Interleague Play was instituted in 1997, again to the dismay of traditionalists. Again, Selig's vision stood the test of time. Expansion to Arizona and Tampa Bay and the transfer of the Milwaukee Brewers from the American to the National League followed the next year.
By then, he already had overseen contentious labor negotiations that resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. Widely viewed as a black eye at the time, history has demonstrated that it set the stage for a more cooperative relationship with the Major League Baseball Players Association that has been beneficial for players and management alike. Today, no major professional sports league has a comparable level of labor peace.
Without that, bold initiatives such as the World Baseball Classic, which has helped popularize the sport on an international basis, might not have been possible.
The path to the most stringent drug-testing program in professional sports followed a similar arc. Baseball came under scrutiny when the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing substances began to surface and some of the game's most sacred records began to fall. But he mandated drug testing in the Minor Leagues to familiarize players with the process and continued to negotiate a program with the union. A testing policy went into effect in 2005 and since has been upgraded multiple times. Last January, MLB announced random offseason blood testing for human growth hormone and the establishment of baseline testosterone levels to make testing for synthetic testosterone more accurate.
In August, after an enormous investment in money and manpower, a dozen players accepted suspensions for their connections to Biogenesis, a Florida clinic that supplied PEDs to athletes in several sports, including former NL Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun of the Brewers and three-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez.
"We're proud that we have the toughest drug testing in all of American sport," Selig said last month at an Owners Meeting in Cooperstown, N.Y. "Proud that WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] -- I keep going back to WADA's statement because they are the gold standard. And when they tell you we're doing great, that makes me feel very good."
One of the hallmarks of Selig's tenure was his determination to create a system in which small-market teams could compete with large-market clubs. Through increased revenue sharing and a more strict luxury tax on high payrolls, there is now more competitive balance than ever.
"When you step back and view the dramatic transformation Major League Baseball has undergone during Bud Selig's tenure as Commissioner, it is truly quite astounding," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "A social institution with a long and rich history like baseball is often very resistant and slow to change, yet Commissioner Selig has introduced dramatic, sweeping innovations to improve the game, like expanded playoffs, comprehensive drug testing and competitive balance.
"These changes have left a lasting impact on baseball, most importantly for the fans of this great game. At his heart, Bud is a baseball fan, and that perspective has driven all he has done during his time as Commissioner. That is his legacy."
After several years of trying to return Major League Baseball to his hometown of Milwaukee following the Braves' move to Atlanta in 1966, Selig succeeded in his quest in 1970, when he purchased the Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee, where they became the Brewers.
"There would be no Major League Baseball in Milwaukee without Bud Selig, and there very well might be no Major League Baseball in many of our smaller cities without the economic changes instituted by Commissioner Selig," said Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio. "Teams from small and mid-size cities can compete as a result of his innovations and the expanded postseason. Equally important, the Commissioner has championed diversity issues to ensure equal opportunity to participate in the national pastime."
Selig strongly believed in the importance of new ballparks. During his tenure, 20 clubs moved into new stadiums. And, when necessary, the Commissioner has been willing to use the muscle of his office to help franchises negotiate for new facilities.
On Selig's watch, home-field advantage in the World Series was awarded to the team from the league that won that year's All-Star Game, and the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals. April 15 was dedicated as Jackie Robinson Day each year, and the pioneer's uniform No. 42 was retired by all teams.
In 2008, instant replay was used for the first time to help review boundary calls involving home runs. Next year, a vastly expanded replay system will be rolled out. A second Wild Card team in each league was added in 2012. The Astros moved to the American League, creating season-long Interleague Play.
"Generations from now, students of baseball will look back with wonder at the astonishing number of significant reforms instituted under Bud Selig's leadership as Commissioner," said historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin. "[The expanded postseason and revenue sharing means] when Spring Training begins, more fans in more cities can now realistically hope that their beloved team has a good chance to carry their dreams all the way to the end of the season. And what this has done to keep the heart of baseball alive is simply immeasurable."
Selig said at the most recent Owners Meetings that he has become used to the criticism that any Commissioner must endure and that he still has things he'd like to accomplish.
"The public role in this thing is what it is," he said. "And I accept that and I have no concerns about it. There are times when you wish it would not be this way, but that's just the way life works out."
"There are a number of things I really want to do before I'm done. [PEDs] is absolutely part of it. We have some internal disputes we're going to clean up. Almost to a fault, I put a historical perspective on everything. And I want to at least, from my own understanding, clear up as many of these things as I possibly can. We've done everything we said we were going to do and more."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.