On the day after he won the war and gave the Dodgers back to Los Angeles, Bud Selig took on an entirely new persona.
Toast of the town.
During his nearly 20 years as commissioner of baseball, he has been called many things, but hardly anything that complimentary.
To many in this generation of sports critics who have a pair of pajamas, a laptop and a basement to type from, he is known as “Bud Lite,” or “Bad-Hair Bud.” He is an easy target because he is 77 years old, doesn’t look or speak like a movie star, hails from a burg called Milwaukee and is most effective out of sight of cameras and TMZ.
We live in an age of Kardashian shallowness, and Selig’s roots are deep in the soil of hard work and slow-moving compromise. He is snail mail in a texting world.
The pajama typists love to point to the 2002 All-Star game that he called off when they ran out of pitchers, or to his stewardship during the steroid era of baseball. That the All-Star episode was little more than a blip is seldom given that perspective. Nor is the fact that Selig took on the steroid issue effectively and creatively with the Mitchell Report.
We just finished watching one of the more exciting and compelling World Series ever played. That is a credit to many people in the sport, including the top guy. With Selig, much of the public seems unwilling to go there. It seems to want its commissioner of baseball as part Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and part Robert Redford.
What Selig did with the Dodgers should be an image game-changer. How and where he closed the deal is even more revealing, and fitting.
As of early evening Tuesday, there was no deal to have Frank McCourt agree to sell the Dodgers at auction. But in New York, negotiations were percolating.
And where was Selig? He was sitting in a banquet room at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, there to make the keynote address at a function sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, Los Angeles Council. It was called the Good Character Gala, and Selig’s topic was “Character, Leadership and Values.”
Could it have been more fitting?
As attendees dined and the program began, activity heated at Selig’s table. Cellphones buzzed. Proposals were exchanged. Selig relayed decisions.
“It was about 9:30 when we got the word,” Selig said by phone Wednesday afternoon, after flying home to Milwaukee. “It was pretty hectic.”
Then he had to get up and make a speech.
“That was a little difficult,” he said.
So, presumably, was sleeping Tuesday night.
For Selig, the successful conclusion of negotiations with McCourt had to be a career highlight, in a career in baseball that began more than 40 years ago, with the acquisition of a team for his city to replace the departed and beloved Milwaukee Braves. That eventually led to his interim role as baseball commissioner, starting in 1992 and becoming permanent in 1998.
His own ownership experience from back then probably played a role in the steadfast path he took on the need for McCourt to sell. One of the things he was noted for as an owner of the Milwaukee Brewers was his practice, after nearly every home game, of walking the parking lots around Milwaukee County Stadium as fans left, then stopping at the stadium’s on-site sheriff’s station to check on any accidents or arrests.
One can only imagine his reaction when he heard of Bryan Stow’s beating on opening day at Dodger Stadium last spring.
The risk he took against McCourt should not be overlooked, especially because it was taken by a man who operates by careful decision-making and consensus-building.
He had his sport’s “best interests of baseball” clause on his side, a document signed by all owners, including McCourt. But he also faced the uncertainty of how a judge would see that, and what legal tactics might stick.
Had a judge disagreed and diluted in any way that “best interests” clause, Selig could have been at the center of the destruction of the key operating element of the sport. Had a judge even agreed with the “best interests” clause, but decided other owners should testify about their treatment in crises by Major League Baseball, Selig would have allowed an unwanted door to be opened for baseball.
Worse, for Selig, had a judge allowed McCourt’s lawyers to put him on the witness stand and do what they are paid to do -- embarrass with a barrage of questions -- Selig might still have won the judgment, but lost hugely in credibility and perception.
Selig’s stand was risky business. Wednesday, he addressed that.
“There comes a time in your life as commissioner,” he said, “when you have to do things, even when there is no great percentage in the certain result. I did what had to be done. It was a gamble I had to take.
“The Dodgers are a legendary franchise. I had to remain as strong as I possibly could.”
Selig is scheduled to retire at the end of 2012. That will complete 20 years, including the interim time, as commissioner. He has reversed himself on previous retirement plans but said he remains steadfast in this timetable. That means that McCourt vs. Selig could be his last -- and best -- legacy.
But work remains. The erosion of the Dodgers’ fan base and team credibility under McCourt can now be addressed.
“The Dodgers are a great franchise, have been a great franchise,” Selig said. “I expect the sale process to be vigorous, with multiple bidders.”
Indeed. And for that, Los Angeles clinks its glasses to the man of the hour, Bud Selig.
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Hefty price tags
Highest sale prices of MLB teams
*--* Team Price Year Chicago Cubs $845 mil. 2009 Seller: Tribune Co. Buyer: Ricketts family Houston Astros $680 mil. 2011 Seller: Drayton McLane Buyer: Jim Crane Boston Red Sox $660 mil. 2002 Seller: Yawkey Trust Buyer: John Henry Texas Rangers $593 mil. 2010 Seller: Tom HicksBuyer: Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan San Diego Padres $530 mil. 2009 Seller: John Moores Buyer: Jeff Moorad Atlanta Braves $450 mil. 2007 Seller: Time Warner Buyer: Liberty Media Wash. Nationals $450 mil. 2006 Seller: MLB Buyer: Ted Lerner Dodgers $421 mil. 2004 Seller: Fox Entertainment GroupBuyer: Frank McCourt *--*
Dodgers owners over the years
*--* Years Owners NL WS Note 1890 Charles Byrne and 1 -- Team known as the Brooklyn Ferdinand Abell Bridegrooms 1891-97 Byrne, Abell and 0 -- Chauncey comes aboard when George Chauncey his team, Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders, merges with the Bridegrooms 1897-98 Charles Ebbets and 0 -- Ebbets buys out Chauncey’s Abell shares after Byrne dies. 1898-1904 Ebbets, Abell, 2 -- Merger of Brooklyn Harry Von der Bridegrooms and Baltimore Horst and Ned Orioles. Hanlon 1905-06 Ebbets, Abell, 0 0 Ebbets buys out Von der Henry Medicus, Horst. Hanlon 1907-12 Ebbets, Medicus 0 0 Ebbets buys out Abell and Hanlon. 1912-25 Ebbets, Ed 2 0 Ebbets and the McKeevers McKeever and buy out Medicus. Stephen McKeever 1925-38 Stephen McKeever, 0 0 Charles Ebbets and Ed Grace Slade McKeever die. Ebbets, Joseph Gilleaudeau and Brooklyn Trust Co. 1938-44 James Mulvey, 1 Stephen McKeever dies, Dearie Mulvey, shares inherited by the Grace Slade Mulveys. Ebbets, Joseph Gilleaudeau and Brooklyn Trust Co. 1944-50 Walter O’Malley, 2 0 Pfizer Pharmaceutical chief Branch Rickey, Smith buys into team; John Smith; James O’Malley, Rickey and Smith Mulvey, Dearie buy out Brooklyn Trust Mulvey 1950-58 O’Malley, Mary 4 1 John Smith dies, leaving Louise Smith, his shares to his widow; James Mulvey and O’Malley buys out Rickey. Dearie Mulvey 1958-75 Walter O’Malley, 5 3 Dodgers move to Los James Mulvey, Angeles, Mary Louise Smith Dearie Mulvey sells her shares to O’Malley and the Mulveys. 1975-79 Walter O’Malley 2 0 O’Malley buys out the Mulveys. 1979-97 Peter O’Malley, 2 2 Walter O’Malley dies, team Terry Seidler inherited by his son and daughter. 1998-99 Fox Entertainment 0 0 Fox purchases the team, Group then angers Dodgers fans by trading Mike Piazza. 1999-2004 Fox Entertainment 0 0 Daly buys minority share in Group and Robert team and is named chairman Daly and CEO. 2004-pres. Frank McCourt 0 0 Agrees to sell the team after a tumultuous 2009-11. *--*
NL: National League pennants won; WS: World Series championships won
Sources: Dodgers.com, MLB.com -- Houston Mitchell