With all the solemnity of a papal election, and with almost as much smoke blowing, Bud Selig was installed as commissioner of baseball last Thursday, much as one might install new kitchen cabinetry or any other wooden furniture. For Selig, variously known as Bud Light and Kenesaw Molehill Landis during his 2,130-day iron-man tenure as "acting commissioner," the honor was hard-won: He was narrowly approved by a vote of his fellow owners, 30-0.
The selection process was painstaking. As described in the press, "hundreds" of candidates for the commissioner's job were identified by a national "search committee employed by O.J. Simpson to identify his ex-wife's real killers—before the list was winnowed to one name: Allan H. (Bud) Selig. Under Selig's leadership, baseball has seen a renaissance these last six years. (The Milwaukee Brewers won approval for a new state-subsidized stadium, the Milwaukee Brewers bed-hopped into the more lucrative National League, the 1994 World Series was canceled, etc.)
Selig, who owns the Brewers, will be no mere windup toy for his 29 colleagues. He has certainly put the fear of God into Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, if we are to believe a new book called The Commissioners. "Pohlad, an octogenarian, look[s] after Selig in a fatherly way," writes Jerome Holtzman. "Dissatisfied with Selig's wardrobe, Pohlad [sends] him suits, sport coats, shirts and neckties."
Perhaps because other owners dress him, Selig has been the target of conflict-of-interest allegations. As he steps down as president of the Brewers, cynics may rest assured that Selig will wield little influence over his likely successor, with whom he has little in common. Wendy Selig-Prieb is a woman, for one thing, and she's young enough to be Selig's daughter. (In fact, she is his daughter.)
"I have no zero interest in the job," Selig said of the commissionership in 1992, a sentiment he repeated often in the years that followed. For finally answering his call to duty (one he'd left on call-waiting for six years), Selig will get a $3 million salary and an apartment in New York City. More important, he gets to shed that awkward front half of the title acting commissioner, a term that was inappropriate. Acting commissioner describes a man who is merely playing a role, reading someone else's lines with the practiced earnestness of a Peter Arnett. But Selig is no bobble-headed baseball doll, nodding whenever the owners tap him on his cap. Rather, he provides—in the words of Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf—"strong leadership."
Now, about that necktie....