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Selig lauded as innovative leader, loyal friend

Reaction to retirement announcement speaks to Commissioner's impact on game

Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig's Thursday announcement that he will retire at the end of his current term in late January 2015 was not surprising. It was significant, and for anyone who has paid any attention to how much the sport has grown in the more than 20 years Selig has been at the helm, that's not surprising either.

Judging from the flurry of reactions in and around the Major Leagues on Thursday commending Selig for an astonishing run in which he modernized the game and emboldened it as a social institution in more ways than any of his predecessors, it's clear that he will be missed greatly.

"Bud understands how to get things done in this game, and his record speaks for itself," said Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, a baseball legend and also a legend in the city of Milwaukee that Selig has long called home.

"When he retires, he will leave our game in a far better state than when he started. The Commissioner has been a marvelous leader for baseball. I am so proud of all that my friend has done for the game we love."

Just about everything Selig has done for baseball since he took over as interim Commissioner on Sept. 9, 1992 (he received the official post in 1998), was mentioned by someone in high standing upon receiving the news that he would leave his post on Jan. 24, 2015, when his current term expires.

"I think the game has grown under him tremendously," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's made every effort to try to clean the game up. We've seen a lot of things improve in the game of baseball. Replay has come into it. He's made his mark on the game of baseball, there's no doubt about it."

The facts and numbers are undeniable. Baseball leaders cited the long list of Selig's accomplishments and contributions. They spoke of the unprecedented labor peace for at least 21 years guaranteed until 2016 to significant economic development, the undeniable increase in global popularity thanks in part to the advent of the World Baseball Classic under Selig's watch and the competitive balance enhancements, development of MLB Advanced Media and MLB Network to broaden the game's reach to an increasingly technology-savvy world.

They mentioned the record franchise values, the on-field innovations such as the additions of Wild Card play, Interleague Play and use of replay, and, of course, to the most comprehensive drug program in professional sports and the ongoing commitment to social initiatives, including massive support of many charitable causes, there was no shortage.

"The Commissioner has done an exemplary job and will be sorely missed in the role," D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "He has taken our industry to record highs in attendance, revenues and ratings, which all equates to monumental valuations.

"Under his leadership, we created an unmatched network, a hugely profitable and thriving web presence, new state-of-the-art ballparks, historic levels of community giving, international growth and expansion, and enviable new angles to playoffs, crown-jewel events and fan experience in general. His service and commitment to bettering our game deserves unending applause and recognition."

As Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos pointed out, everything Selig has done was conceived to improve the sport.

"All of the metrics show that everything has worked out well, everything has worked out for the better of the game, everything has been a success overall," Anthopoulos said. "You're going to have your detractors with anything; that goes without saying. But look back, there were detractors about the Wild Card and now everyone agrees it has been outstanding. Having labor peace is amazing as well, considering the past of the game. If you really sit down you can go through a lot of things, it has been an unbelievable run."

The achievements of Selig's tenure wouldn't be possible without strong leadership, and that was another of Selig's many qualities that were praised on Thursday.

"Bud Selig is an inspirational leader," Braves chairman emeritus Bill Bartholomay said. "As Commissioner, he has led changes that have brought all of Major League Baseball to a new level of support as America's Game. The labor peace we enjoy today was once a distant dream for this sport. On the field, every club has a chance to win. Success is no longer driven by the size of the payroll but by sound planning and decision-making. I have the utmost respect for the manner in which the Commissioner has celebrated the legacy of Jackie Robinson for a new generation and how he has prioritized diversity through initiatives like the Civil Rights Game."

Those sentiments were echoed by Phillies general partner, president and CEO David Montgomery, who has seen five MLB Commissioners in the course of his 40-plus years with the Phillies.

"I have unwavering admiration for Commissioner Selig's many years of service to baseball and his track record of achievement," Montgomery said. "He is a gifted leader who compelled this industry to modernize in the ways that fans wanted. The combination of his leadership skills and love of our game make him an outstanding Commissioner."

There's never been a question that Selig is a friend of baseball, and the comments of many important people throughout the sport upon hearing of his well-deserved retirement indicated that he's their friend, too.

In that sense, Thursday was about celebration and remembrance.

Royals manager Ned Yost, for example, played for the Brewers when Selig was the owner.

"When I was playing, Buddy was there every day and really treated us all great," Yost said. "We all loved Bud as an owner. He was real intense, smoked those little Tiparillo cigars or whatever. You'd see him pacing back and forth.

"Just the job he's done as Commissioner, the shape that this game's in now is phenomenal under his leadership. We haven't had any problems, so to speak, and what major problems we've had, he's addressed them and fixed them. It's just too bad that he's got to retire because I don't know that you'll ever get another Bud Selig."

Rays manager Joe Maddon's comments upon hearing the news were mainly personal ones, too.

"I know Mr. Selig's been very good to me, very kind to me," Maddon said. "Having experiences with him in the playoffs several years ago, I thought we became friends. I know there's been a lot of controversy over the last several years, but I think overall the legacy is going to be a great one regarding the state of the game, etc.

"I always base or judge people on how they treat me, and I think everyone else should do that. He was wonderful to me and as a group, he was wonderful to us. So I have nothing but great memories and I wish him well."

Indians manager Terry Francona, meanwhile, was moved by the announcement in part because he and his father, Tito, both played for Selig.

"I think he's always felt a little bit of a kinship [with me and my father]," Francona said. "When you're in a job like that, you're going to get some criticism, and he's overseen some tough things in our game. But I've been around him enough to know that if you spend 30 seconds with him, [you see] how much he loves the game. I admire that a lot in him. I respect him a great deal. I think he's just a really nice guy. I think he really cares about the game."

And those wonderful, intimate experiences with Selig weren't limited to individuals. Teams, too, witnessed Selig's compassion and companionship as they went through the trials and tribulations of the last two decades.

"I became a part of the Seattle Mariners in the same year that Bud Selig became the leader of the game," Mariners chairman emeritus John Ellis said. "In a way, our franchise exemplifies the growth of Major League Baseball over the two decades of his tenure. Whereas the Mariners once faced an uncertain future, we have now secured Major League Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, at a ballpark beloved in its community, for a generation to come.

"Throughout the landscape, other clubs have flourished, just like we have. Our game as a whole has been united under Commissioner Selig's guidance."

Twins president Dave St. Peter made a point to mention how Selig championed the Minnesota market when there were growing talks of the Twins contracting and how the franchise is now in a "much better place" than when Selig's tenure as Commissioner began.

"Bud Selig, together with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, has had one of baseball's three most consequential careers."
-- Journalist and author
George F. Will

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire agreed with that.

"We were able to keep this team here in Minnesota," Gardenhire said. "Some of us thought they'd never take this team away, but there was talk about contraction. He was in charge and I think he had a lot of say-so in us keeping our baseball team."

Added St. Peter: "I think history will show that Commissioner Selig was probably as progressive and innovative as any leader has ever been in any professional sport. I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's accomplished to help transform the sport. It led to things such as revenue sharing, which has led to widespread competitive balance in the game, facility development, Wild Card play, Interleague Play and now replay.

"I know, in our sport, and I'd challenge you to find another in another sport, I'm not sure if anyone has been at the helm for more change than Selig. I think ultimately that will be his legacy. I think he'll leave the game in a much better spot than he inherited."

Similar compliments from the game's greats came flooding in Thursday.

Hall of Famers Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Robinson and Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, the two former Brewers greats, all let their appreciation be known.

"Commissioner Selig achieved his primary objective," Molitor said. "The game is far better off now than what it was when he took over. It was not an easy task, given some of the issues that he needed to tackle and resolve, but he displayed leadership and earned the respect of players, owners and fans. Well done."

Added Yount: "Commissioner Selig was a father figure to me and my teammates, and he stuck by us through it all, in good times and bad. He used to pace the stands at County Stadium when we were on the field, which showed how much he cared.

"He's had that same mind-set about the entire sport for the last 21 years, and he helped the game overcome some enormous challenges. As a game and as an industry, baseball has never been better than under Commissioner Selig's leadership."

History has already agreed, and if that wasn't enough, two prolific students of the game's lore confirmed it Thursday.

"Bud Selig, together with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, has had one of baseball's three most consequential careers," said journalist, author and huge baseball fan George F. Will.

"Since 1992, baseball has gained 20 new ballparks, Interleague Play, realignment of the leagues into three divisions, two Wild Cards that have multiplied the number of meaningful games played in September, and a prudent embrace of technologies.

"Furthermore, MLB's transformed economic model has produced competitive balance unprecedented in Major League history and unmatched in other professional sports leagues. The game's robust attendance figures testify to all these improvements. As was said of the architect Christopher Wren, if you seek Bud's monument, just look around."

As MLB's official historian, John Thorn, pointed out, Selig has faced greater challenges in "defending and growing the game" than any other Commissioner and has succeeded in historic fashion.

"Commissioner Selig has this unbiased observer's vote as the greatest of all the game's chief executives," Thorn said.

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.