Thursday, July 24, 1997
Interim suits Selig
but forget permanent post

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bud Selig will not be budged. He has stuck with his story for nearly five years now, and each day it grows a little more absurd.

The interminably interim commissioner of baseball swears he is not interested in having the position made permanent. Honest. And no amount of arm-twisting, sweet-talking or power-tripping can persuade him. Really.

Selig is like the live-in lover who is terrorized by the thought of monogrammed towels. He has a hard time with commitment.

''What I have said to everybody is, 'Look, there are a lot of things in life I want to do,''' Selig said Wednesday afternoon. ''I had an owner tell me this morning, 'You should do this permanent,' and I said, 'I have. I've done this for five years.'''

Selig introduced a new first mate to the baseball media Wednesday, but showed no indication that he will soon abandon the ship he has reluctantly steered since Sept. 9, 1992.

Paul Beeston, late of the Toronto Blue Jays, is baseball's new president and chief operating officer. He will report only to the interim commissioner until or unless there is a permanent commissioner. In the meantime - however much of that there is - he will try to convince Selig to change his mind.

''I won't deny that I would be thrilled if Buddy would take the job,'' Beeston said Wednesday. ''(But) that kind of persuasion is in the past. You've heard his answer and his answer has been consistent. If I can make his job easier and free up time for him do things he wants to do, maybe he can be in a position where he could at least consider it ... Maybe I can make him think this is not all that bad a deal.''

The noted New York headhunters, Heidrick & Struggles, have been commissioned to discreetly find baseball's next commissioner, but it Selig's name inevitably surfaces first when the position is discussed at the ballpark.

He has run the show on an interim basis longer than any of his three most recent ''permanent'' predecessors, and he appeals to his fellow owners as an insider who understands their obstacles.

As owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, Selig has served as the champion of the small markets without enraging the richest clubs. He has walked baseball's political tightrope like a Wallenda.

Baseball's owners resented Peter Ueberroth, who arrived with all the answers. They revered Bart Giamatti, who spoke so well and died so soon. Then they revolted against Fay Vincent, for acting without asking.

They support Bud Selig because they know he won't surprise them. He is a known quantity, a man who leads by consensus rather than conviction. Bud Light may not inspire the owners, but neither does he frighten them.

Control is the issue

Baseball doesn't want a commissioner it can't control. It wants a figurehead with an air of authority, someone who can communicate the game's poetry to the public and safeguard its anti-trust exemption before congressional committees. In short, a lawyer.

Bud Selig made his money selling cars. He is intelligent enough, but not especially glib, and owns the television personality of a man pitching burial plots. Away from the cameras, Selig is a passionate and profane fan, but his love for the game has its limits.

''There are a lot of things in life I want to do,'' he said, by way of explaining his resistance to run baseball long-term. ''It's been five years of a lot of travail. Let's just let the whole commissioner thing take care of itself.''

Selig's stated desire is that the search committee soon agrees on the ideal candidate for commissioner. His stated preference is that that candidate is someone else.

But what happens if the committee can only agree on Bud Selig?

''I'm not trying to be anything but straightforward,'' Selig said. ''(But) I'm just not going to deal with hypotheticals. I have great hopes they will come to a successful conclusion.''

That sounded suspiciously like ''maybe.'' Absent an emphatic ''no,'' Bud Selig leaves the impression he will eventually say yes.