WHEN HE signed on to be baseball's interim commissioner in September 1992, Bud Selig assured his wife, Sue, that he'd keep the job for only a few months. Eleven years later, having long since lost the "interim" tag, Selig told reporters he would retire when his contract expired in 2006. He forgot that pledge in '04, when the team owners unanimously voted to extend his deal through 2009. In the years since, Selig, 73, has often cited '09 as a new retirement date—so it was no surprise last week when the owners extended his deal again, to 2012. "I spent a lot of time agonizing over it," Selig said. "But they really convinced me."
He still sports the perpetually rumpled mien of the car salesman he once was, but Selig has become baseball's Michael Corleone: No matter how much he's tried to get out, owners keep pulling him back in. In May, Selig will pass Bowie Kuhn as the sport's second-longest-serving commissioner, behind Kennesaw Mountain Landis (who served for 24 years). It's not hard to grasp why. While fans and media see his reign as the apex of the Steroid Era, his real bosses—the owners—view him more as their Alan Greenspan, presiding over the largest economic boom in the sport's history. When Selig took office, baseball's revenue was $1.66 billion. In 2007 it topped $6 billion, and last week Selig said only "a club or two" wasn't in the black, a far cry from the widespread financial losses teams suffered in the 1990s.
Add to that the runaway success of the wild-card playoff system and interleague play, both introduced by Selig, and an unprecedented 13-year run of labor peace, and it's easy for owners to forget the steroid mess—even if those outside the game can't. When the Mitchell Report was released in December, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.) called on Selig to step down, and last week Stearns said, "This three-year extension ... is a vote of confidence in his record, which includes taking minimal steps in ridding baseball of these drugs." He's right: The extension is a vote of confidence, and now the congressman knows where the owners' true priorities lie.