The white smoke you see coming from the Owners Meetings doesn't mean that they've burned the Mitchell Report. Baseball has given Bud Selig another five year term to lead MLB toward the right path of getting its ducks in a row as far as steroids go.
Selig, 73, just finished his 15th full season as Commissioner. As a business, the sport has never done better, setting records last season in gross revenue ($6.1 billion) and total attendance (79.5 million). Projections right now are for attendance to easily soar over the 80 million ticket mark and revenue to surpass $6.5 billion in 2008.
Under his watch, Selig fought for and won approval for Interleague Play, the consolidation of the American League and National League under one office, the three-division format and a Wild Card berth in each league, the unbalanced schedule, worldwide recognition of the sport, steroids testing of Major League players beginning in 2003 and home-field advantage in the World Series for the winning league in the All-Star Game.
For the third time, MLB is slated to open its regular season in Japan, with the A's set to match the defending World Series champion Red Sox in March at Tokyo Dome. Also in March, the Padres and Dodgers are projected to play exhibition games in Beijing, the first time Major League games will be played in China. Selig said he plans to be at both events.
And in 2009, the second World Baseball Classic is scheduled to be played, capitalizing on its popular inaugural in 2006.
All this and more are the reasons why the owners want to keep him in place.
"I just want to make it clear that this has all been coming from the clubs who were unanimous in their desire to not only compliment the Commissioner on his leadership, but also to insure stability for a few more years moving forward," said Tom Werner, the chairman of the Red Sox who was the majority owner of the Padres in 1992 when Selig took over. "I know the Commissioner wrestled with the decision to remain, but his devotion to the game during his tenure has been stellar."
To be sure, it hasn't always been sugar and roses. Early on Selig's watch, MLB was fractured by the 1994 player strike that abruptly ended that season, led to the cancellation of the World Series and delayed the start of the 1995 season. But it was the last event of its kind.
In 2002, the owners and players avoided the ninth consecutive work stoppage over three decades when they signed a four-year Basic Agreement that distributed revenue more liberally from the big-revenue clubs to the smaller ones. Likewise in 2006, the two sides extended the agreement for six years, assuring labor peace through 2012, which coincidentally coincides with the expiration of the Commissioner's latest contract.
Granted, Mr. Selig, who owned the Milwaukee Brewers before turning over power to his daughter, Wendy Preib, had his moments that are mentioned above. At the same time, he was his own man, unlike Bowie Kuhn and Bart Giamatti, who were the worst commissioners this game has ever had. When his term ends in 2012, he could be ranked as one of the best, alongside Kennesaw Mountain Landis and Peter Ueberroth. Baseball, for better, not worse, has done the right thing by giving this man a chance to clear his legacy up and make it better.