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Much-criticized Selig gets 3-year extension

January 18, 2008|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Congress might not love him, anti-doping experts might not love him and the players' union might not love him. But Bud Selig works for the 30 major league owners, who unanimously awarded the commissioner a three-year contract extension Thursday.

Selig's contract now expires in 2012, when he will be 78. He said he would retire at that time, although he had previously said he would not accept an extension and would retire in 2009.

The extension comes two days after Selig told Congress "all of us have to take responsibility, starting with me" for the explosion of steroid abuse during his term. The new deal reflects the owners' pleasure with baseball's unprecedented economic boom.

Under Selig, who replaced the ousted Fay Vincent on an interim basis in 1992 and accepted the permanent job in 1998, baseball's annual revenue has jumped from $1.6 billion to $6 billion. If he completes his contract, the only commissioner with a longer tenure would be the first one -- Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920-44).

In an era of labor peace unprecedented since the formation of the players' union, baseball has set attendance records in four consecutive seasons. Selig spurred owners to adopt the wild card and share substantial revenue, two innovations that have contributed to more competitive balance and more September drama. He also persuaded owners to let his office control individual club websites, turning the Internet into a virtual cash machine for ticket and merchandise sales.

Selig said he plans to focus on international growth, starting with the renewal of the World Baseball Classic next year.

"By the time I leave, you won't recognize the sport," he said at a news conference at the owners' meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz.

To some fans, Selig could go down in history as the man who canceled the 1994 World Series, in the midst of a players' strike that wiped out the last part of that season and the first part of the 1995 season.

And, to others, Selig might be remembered as the embodiment of what former Sen. George Mitchell called baseball's slow and ineffective response to the steroid era. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) criticized owners for extending Selig's contract.

"I have found Selig's glacial response to this growing stain on baseball unacceptable, and I have called on him to step down," Stearns said in a statement. "This three-year extension . . . is a vote of confidence in his record, which includes taking minimal steps in ridding baseball of these drugs."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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