Bud Selig recently announced plans to step down as baseball commissioner in 2009, when his contract expires. He'll be 75 years old then, and he plans to spend his free time teaching, writing a book, enjoying scenic Milwaukee sunsets and doing whatever else it is that former commissioners do.
The people who know Selig best claim that he's serious about retirement this time.
Unless, of course, he changes his mind.
That nettlesome steroid issue notwithstanding, it's a pretty good time to be Bud. While NBA commissioner David Stern issues mea culpas about slippery basketballs, the NFL's Paul Tagliabue settles into retirement and Gary Bettman tries to rebuild the NHL after a bloody labor shutdown, Selig recently picked up an award as Sports Business Journal's Executive of the Year. Labor peace, $5 billion-plus in annual industry revenue, a new TV deal, a thriving Internet operation, the success of the wild-card format and seven different World Series winners in seven years are a few reasons why.
Selig is truly energized by his job. He enjoys being known as "Commissioner Selig." And every time baseball sets a new attendance record or takes another step in its efforts to go global, he's another day removed from the 1994 World Series cancellation, the contraction debacle and that unsavory All-Star Game tie.
After enduring so much criticism and acrimony during the hard times, Selig relishes the opportunity to run the show when most baseball-related news is overwhelmingly positive. The consensus in baseball circles is that he will stick around until at least 2011 (when another labor agreement is in place) and save the memoirs for his octogenarian years.
But he can't keep the job forever. And while Bob Costas and Peter Gammons have a passion for baseball and wonderful ideas on how to make the game better, they have as much chance of being commissioner as, say, Condoleeza Rice has of running the NFL.
Baseball is both a huge business and an insular, old boys' network, and it takes a unique set of skills to convince 30 entities with such disparate interests to agree on anything of substance. For all the romanticism about a "strong, independent" commissioner, you can bet the owners are going to hire someone who makes them feel comfortable and represents their interests.
The outsider approach didn't work very well with Peter Ueberroth (collusion) or Fay Vincent, who was forced out in 1992 and now revels in his role as Selig's unofficial critic-from-a-distance. So while a hip, visionary, former S&P 500 executive in a pin-striped suit would be a more commanding presence than Selig at future Senate steroid hearings, we can't see Jerry Reinsdorf and David Glass buying into that concept.
The owners might want to consider super agent Scott Boras as commissioner, if only because it would be a great cost-saving initiative for the 30 clubs. In lieu of that, here are some more realistic possibilities:
1. Andy MacPhail
Folks in Chicago don't look so fondly on MacPhail, who stepped down in September after two playoff appearances in 12 years as Cubs president. Amid the doleful postmortems, he went to work as a pivotal player in baseball's labor negotiations -- doing enough to earn a seat at the table when the new five-year deal was announced during the World Series.
MacPhail's father and grandfather are Hall of Fame executives, so he has the historical pedigree. And while the players' association respects him for his sensible and dogged approach to collective bargaining, he has experience running a small-market club in Minnesota and a bigger one in Chicago. His front-office colleagues in Minnesota still talk about him in almost worshipful tones.
Most important, MacPhail is not a self-promoter, and Selig has a high regard for him. Don't discount that as a factor.
1 (a). Bob DuPuy
DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, is a relatively below-the-radar presence to the average fan. But as Selig's former lawyer and trusted confidant, he is the commissioner's most indispensable lieutenant and the man who makes the trains run on time.
That wildly successful MLB.com operation? DuPuy hired Bob Bowman, the man who runs it. DuPuy has a hand in licensing, marketing and baseball's dealings with Capitol Hill, and he's played a role in the labor talks, the umpire negotiations and the drug-testing agreement. If any other significant issue arises -- from the Florida stadium issue to the debate over how baseball should honor Barry Bonds when he passes Hank Aaron on the career home run list -- it's sure to cross his desk.
DuPuy is accessible and media-friendly, and he has excellent relations with the clubs and productive dealings with the union, which has learned that he usually delivers what he promises. And like MacPhail, he would have Selig's seal of approval.
2. Steve Greenberg
Greenberg, the son of Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, has a diverse and impressive résumé. He played minor league baseball, graduated from Yale and UCLA law school, and worked as an agent before serving as Major League Baseball's deputy commissioner under Vincent.
Greenberg has a working knowledge of the media as the founder of Classic Sports Network, which eventually became ESPN Classic. He has since carved out a successful career with the New York investment banking firm of Allen & Co., where he helped facilitate the sale of the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers and is currently working on the sale of the Atlanta Braves.
3. David Montgomery
Phillies fans aren't especially high on Montgomery, a genuinely nice man who has developed a reputation as too cautious and tradition-bound since taking over for Bill Giles as club president in 1997. But Montgomery has served on every ownership committee imaginable, and he is highly regarded among his peers for a thoughtful, evenhanded approach.
4. Jimmie Lee Solomon and 5. Jonathan Mariner
Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, and Mariner, baseball's chief financial officer, are the game's highest-ranking minorities, so they're sure to come up in conversation as potential commissioner candidates.
Solomon, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, conceived the All-Star Futures Game and has been active in the construction of baseball academies in urban areas. Mariner, a product of the Harvard Business School, oversees budgeting and financial reporting, and monitors baseball's $1.5 billion credit program.
6. George Mitchell
Mitchell, a career politician and diplomat, has been mentioned now and then as a commissioner candidate. But he appears worn out after a year's worth of dead ends and "no comments" in his quest to investigate baseball's steroid problem. And at 73, Mitchell is a year older than Selig. The clock isn't exactly his ally.