ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, formally announced his intention today to step down from that position at the end of next season. Under Selig's leadership, baseball has experienced both expansion and upheaval. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us to discuss the tenure of the man who took over as the league's acting commissioner in 1992, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Yes.
SIEGEL: Well, what will Bud Selig be remembered for after these 20 years or more as baseball commissioner?
PESCA: I would say strikes and steroids. And if that sounds a little harsh, you know, there's a good side to both. They lost the World Series in 1994 and you can never go back from that and it's, of course, not only Bud Selig's fault, there were - the owners and the union were negotiating hard but he was the one who ultimately made that call.
The good side, I suppose, is since then, baseball has had much less labor strikes than all the other team sports, but then again, no other team sport ever lost - you know, NBA didn't lose a championship or a Super Bowl. And steroids were rife in the game and he was a bit blind to it. I've heard it said that he got religion late on the issue and he certainly did.
Now, baseball has harsher anti-steroid rules than all the other sports and what I'm leaving out - perhaps if an owner is listening to this, they would just say, look at the bottom line. Baseball was making $1.4 billion in 1995. Now they're making about $7.5 billion and that's what matters to them.
SIEGEL: Well, how much of that growth can one attribute to Bud Selig?
PESCA: Well, you know, whenever I do a story on a commissioner, I always note - whoever it is, the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or Gary Bettman of the NHL, David Stern of the NBA - they've presided over unprecedented expansion. Is it that these four guys are geniuses? Maybe they are. Or is it that we're in a golden age of sports and especially sports on television? That seems to be a large part of it.
I will say that Selig seems to be habitually underestimated, perhaps because of his comportment, that he wears suits that fit him like a rosin bag. I mean, ESPN's Scott Van Pelt once said that you go to Selig's house and it probably has plastic on the sofas and it would smell bad. I mean, Van Pelt got suspended for that, even though it's pretty funny.
The tag or the coda to that was, you know, Van Pelt was kind of outraged that Selig was getting paid $18.5 million. You know, his salary has been upped to $22.5 million, so the owners think Selig is valuable.
SIEGEL: No matter how he dresses. The game has changed a lot under Bud Selig. Interleague play, wildcard playoffs, some instant replays. What's the verdict? Are these successful changes?
PESCA: Yes and no. I mean, in five days there's going to be a one-game wildcard. It'll get great television ratings, relatively, not compared to the NFL. But, you know, when you have so many wildcard slots, a lot of people say it devalues the regular season. Interleague play is successful, although, you know, we could point to a lot of boring games that don't really matter.
And as you say, instant replay, it's creeping along. He's been sort of incremental, although he has modernized the sport a bit.
SIEGEL: Are there any names people have mentioned as possible successors to Selig?
PESCA: There are almost too many names. I mean, there's no clear frontrunner. He could go with someone inside his office, like Rob Manfred, who's the executive VP. Maybe he'll go with at team president, like Dave Dombrowski of the Tigers. Hey, how about Joe Torre? He's now a vice president for baseball. It could be him.
SIEGEL: Let's ask him. Thank you, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca, talking about Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig's formal retirement announcement. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.