Replacing Selig a monumental task for baseball

Commissioner has had huge impact on the game, including revenue sharing and drug testing

How do you replace Bud Selig?

Major League Baseball has known for at least a decade that it would have to figure out where to find its next commissioner, but Selig finally has put owners on the clock. It's anyone's guess where they will turn, but smart money says that the next guy will know the baseball business from the inside out, as did Selig, and that he will get a lot of help from his predecessor.

So who is going to be the next commissioner? It could be Rob Manfred, the labor lawyer who followed Selig's lead in building a real partnership with the players' union, ending three decades of the bloody, costly wars that started with Marvin Miller beating up on Bowie Kuhn and a revolving cast of hired hands. It could be another of Selig's current lieutenants, like Tim Brosnan, John McHale Jr. or Bob Bowman.

Longtime executives like Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, Sandy Alderson and Stan Kasten are likely to be considered once MLB gets around to naming its transition committee, which seems likely to consider the White Sox's Jerry Reinsdorf and maybe the Cardinals' Bill DeWitt Jr. or the Phillies' Dave Montgomery.

But don't be surprised if the next commissioner is currently among MLB's 30 owners. DeWitt and Montgomery might have the most appeal if owners decide to stay in house, as they did when Selig stepped in for Fay Vincent, first as chairman of the executive council and, since 1998, as commissioner.

While Selig still has his detractors, there's no question that he has had a tremendously positive impact, especially over the last two decades. He basically rescued MLB from itself, tackling difficult issues including revenue-sharing and drug testing that ivory-tower commissioners like Vincent, the late Bart Giamatti and Peter Ueberroth sidestepped, in part out of self-preservation but also because ownership lacked the will and shared vision to do battle with Miller, Donald Fehr and the players' union.

Along the way, Selig brought MLB into the modern era with expanded playoffs, interleague play and international growth, including the World Baseball Classic. In the most recent revision of his seminal documentary series on baseball, the historian Ken Burns gets it right by putting the onus on Fehr and the union for baseball's steroid era, although if Selig had it to do over again he would have asked harder questions in the 1990s, when, to be fair, he did unilaterally impose drug testing in the minor leagues.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, an unabashed baseball fan, likewise concludes that Selig brought "simply immeasurable'' growth in the sport.

"Generations from now, students of baseball will look back with wonder at the astonishing number of significant reforms instituted under Bud Selig's leadership as commissioner,'' Goodwin said. "The combination of an expanded postseason and wild-card berths has resulted in more teams playing October baseball than ever before, keeping the interest of millions of fans alive when summer turns to fall. At the same time (thanks to revenue sharing and the competitive-balance tax), when spring training begins, more fans in more cities can now realistically hope that their beloved team has a good chance to carry their dreams all the way to the end of the season.''

You can argue that Selig was behind the times in yielding to technology's ability to override the eyesight of umpires. But I'm not sure MLB is doing the right thing in expanding replay as broadly as it plans to next season, so I'd suggest reserving criticism until you see how well a broad replay system does — or does not — work.

Selig, 79, plans to teach history and work on his memoirs when his run as commissioner finally ends after next season. You can bet he will remain connected to baseball through daily calls to and from owners, managers, reporters and fans, and will be a behind-the-scenes influence on his successor.

Long a lightning rod with fans, Selig was the best commissioner in sports since Pete Rozelle turned the NFL into a license for owners to print money, even those in Green Bay. Mark Attanasio says Selig saved the Brewers in Milwaukee and may have kept baseball viable in other small markets, but he did just as much for the Steinbrenners and Henrys in cities like New York and Boston, and Derek Jeter's career earnings of $253 million speaks to his influence as well.

Here's the question: Which task is less enviable? Stepping in as commissioner when Selig did or replacing him?

Either way, you might as well be trying to hit Clayton Kershaw.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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