As the days in the reign of Bud Selig dwindle to a few, the farewell celebrations are in full force. On Wednesday, baseball's owners threw a lavish dinner party for the outgoing commissioner in Phoenix. On Saturday, Selig will be toasted and roasted in Los Angeles, as the guest of honor at the annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation awards banquet.
The gala raises money for scouts and their families in need of help — to take care of the rent for a scout suddenly out of work, to cover the costs of hospice care for a scout or funeral costs for his widow. The heart and soul of the foundation belongs to Dennis Gilbert — onetime minor leaguer, former agent to the stars, current Chicago White Sox executive — who simply wanted to make sure baseball took care of its own.
In its dozen years, the foundation has helped dozens of scouts.
"Every time a scout gets fired, I get a phone call," Gilbert said.
The call might be for money, or for a job lead, or just for a reassuring voice on the other end of the phone. The economy is no better for scouts than for any other American worker.
"If you're in your late 50s or 60s and you get fired, it's tough to get a job," Gilbert said. "And being a scout is like being a king — it trains you for nothing else."
The baseball community has rallied behind Gilbert. Players donate items for the silent auction, every team buys a table, and Selig shows up every year.
"The scouts are among the most underappreciated part of the game of baseball, so what Dennis has done with his foundation and dinner is just so right. That's why I come," Selig said. "What Dennis has done for them is remarkable."
What Selig has done in more than two decades in office is remarkable as well. The commissioner is hired by the owners, and he serves at their pleasure. Selig got the job because the owners forced out his predecessor.
It is little wonder, then, that the talking points that accompany the Selig farewells often focus on baseball's solid financial footing. The owners are making money, and lots of it. In his 22 years in office, annual revenues went from $1 billion to $9 billion.
On Jan. 25, Selig will have something in common with so many of the scouts assisted by the foundation. He will be out of his job. But he left by choice, not by layoff, and as "commissioner emeritus" he will receive an MLB stipend that, according to baseball insiders, exceeds $6 million a year.
The average grant awarded by the foundation to a scouting family in need: $11,352, based on the 23 awards from 2010 to 2012, as listed in its most recent tax returns. The total: $261,100 — about half the salary of one major league rookie.
There is more than enough money in the game that Gilbert, bless his heart, should not have to be the party responsible for assisting scouts in need.
Selig and MLB buy tables for the foundation dinner and make other contributions as well. MLB has an official charity, the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), and the league is wary of appearing to favor a foundation that helps scouts when trainers, coaches and front office staffers also need occasional help. MLB does cover all administrative costs for BAT.
But Gilbert, with one paid staffer, has built a safety net for a vital segment of an industry that generates $9 billion a year. It would be nice if Selig would stand up Saturday, say thank you, and then say that MLB will pick up the cost of the Gilbert gala every year, so that every dollar raised could be used to help a scout.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
Times staff writer Bill Dwyre contributed to this report.