Selig preparing to thank, and be thanked
Commissioner expects flood of emotions while visiting parks in final season
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bud Selig can't begin to comprehend what his emotions will be as his term in office winds down next January.
"I think it's still too far out," Selig said on Tuesday night. "I'm sure it'll be powerful. It's hard to believe it's been 22 years. So much has happened."
Selig pauses and rolls that thought over in his mind. Baseball has been transformed since he became Commissioner in 1992.
"It's incredible when you think about it," Selig said. "I'm sure during the course of the season I'll really feel it."
No sport has ever had a better Commissioner. Selig's standing inside the game is so large that dozens of owners and club executives have trouble grasping that he really does intend to retire when his current term is up.
"It's 100 percent," Selig said.
Selig will be 80 then and in his 45th year in the sport. He wants to write a book about his years in the game and also teach some college classes on the history he has lived.
Selig's has been a remarkable run, a remarkable remake for a sport some thought was fading from the scene two decades ago.
Selig's leadership led to labor peace, a concept that once seemed unthinkable. Baseball hasn't had a work stoppage in almost 19 years. Attendance records have been broken. Thanks to revenue sharing, more teams have a chance to win than at any point before.
Baseball is the gold standard for delivering games, tickets, merchandise and coverage via the Internet. He led the effort for Interleague Play and Wild Card berths, and he helped in the effort to get an entire generation of new ballparks constructed.
Anyway, back to this being the beginning of Selig's one-year countdown to retirement. One of the things he intends to do is visit all 30 ballparks and chat with fans, players and others.
"You know I love talking to people," Selig said. "I want to go to all of the parks and visit with the fans and the people who do their jobs in this game. It's something I really want to do, to thank them."
When he owned the Brewers for two decades, Selig made nightly tours of the park during home games. He knew virtually all of his season-ticket holders by name and spent time with them talking baseball, politics, the weather and assorted other topics.
To attend Brewers games regularly was to know the man in charge, and to understand that he listened. He also walked through his ballpark to check on the length of concession lines, the quality of food, etc.
In the weeks since Selig announced the 2014 season would be his last as Commissioner, clubs began insisting that they be allowed to have a day honoring him.
One club president told Selig that his team's success wouldn't have been possible without the changes Selig implemented as Commissioner and that one last visit to his ballpark was a must.
From those conversations, Selig began making plans to visit all 30 of 'em, borrowing an idea Yankees closer Mariano Rivera put into action in 2013, his final season.
Selig said he wants to listen to fans and to thank them for supporting his sport. But some of the reason for such a tour has to be to take a moment and soak in 22 years of change.
When Selig took over baseball's top spot, the game was in trouble. Labor disputes were commonplace. Distrust between owners and players was high, clubs were losing money and the standings were frequently dictated by payroll size.
As he makes his way around the 30 ballparks one final time as Commissioner, Selig is sure to be struck by an assortment of emotions. One of them is that every goal he could have had as Commissioner has been realized and then some.
As one guy told him a couple of years ago, "Why do you guys talk about the Golden Age of baseball? Look around at the changes, the attendance, the pennant races. This is the Golden Age."
And so it is.
"After it's all over," Selig said, "I'm sure I'll appreciate what we've done. When I think of the bleak days of 1992 and 1993 and where we are today, I have to say it's been a remarkable journey. Really, though, that's for the historians. I just want to take some time to visit with the people who love this sport. That's what's important."
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.