SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Commissioner Bud Selig's contract has been extended by Major League Baseball's 30 owners for three years, taking him through the 2012 season.
The decision was made in an executive council meeting on Wednesday and was ratified by the owners on Thursday, making the new deal the most significant news that came out of this year's first quarterly meetings. But the ground began to swell for an extension after the previous owners meetings this past November in Naples, Fla.
Lew Wolff, owner of the Oakland A's and a frat buddy of Selig's when both attended the University of Wisconsin, said he sent an e-mail to Selig last month professing those feelings in a six-word statement: "You can't retire until I expire."
"I looked at that about four times a day," Selig said on Thursday. "And actually began to take it quite seriously."
So did the collective owners who asked Selig to step out of both sessions as they briefly debated the merits of the extension. When the doors swung open, Selig returned to loud standing ovations.
"I spent a lot of time agonizing over it, mainly with myself," Selig said about agreeing to the consensus growing among the owners. "I had to make a decision. But they really convinced me."
The owners again endorsed Selig, who replaced the deposed Fay Vincent on an interim basis on Sept. 9, 1992, on the heels of the release last month of the Mitchell Report, the result of an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. At Tuesday's four-hour Congressional hearing on Capitol Hill, the Commissioner was commended by a number of elected officials for having the foresight to seek former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell to spearhead the investigation.
"This was well-deserved, well-earned," said Ken Kendrick, who replaced Jerry Colangelo as managing general partner of the Diamondbacks in 2004. "I'm relatively new at this, but he's done an outstanding job for all of us."
Selig, 73, just finished his 15th full season as Commissioner. As a business, the sport has never done better, setting records last season in gross revenue ($6.1 billion) and total attendance (79.5 million). Projections right now are for attendance to easily soar over the 80 million ticket mark and revenue to surpass $6.5 billion in 2008.
The sky's the limit, Selig said about the future of the sport.
"I will make this prediction to you," he said. "By the time I leave, you won't recognize this sport. It's going to be that much more popular and we'll have branched out into so many other things. This sport is poised right now, really poised to take a quantum leap into the future."
When Selig will leave is certainly a matter of conjecture. At the end of his extended term he'll have been in office 20 years, second only to the 24-year run of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's first Commissioner, who was hired in 1920 in the wake of the Black Sox scandal and died in office in 1944.
Selig had said a few years ago that he would retire at the end of his current term, which was set to expire after the 2009 season, saying during a conference early last year that, "Even in Monopoly, you get a 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card, and I'm going to use mine." But at the same time he backed off that assessment a bit, saying, "You never say never about anything."
Similarly, in 2003 he also mused that he would probably retire at the end of his term, but on Aug. 17, 2004, the owners extended him through 2009.
On Thursday, though, Selig declined to leave his tenure open-ended.
"Look, when this is over I'm going to be 78 years old," he said. "And I know what people will be saying at that point. But I can say this without equivocation: at age 78, my wife better come and grab me out of here. I'm very comfortable telling you that."
Selig, who once owned the Milwaukee Brewers, was given the job as Commissioner permanently on July 7, 1998, and since then has presided over unparalleled labor peace and an economic sea change in a sport that was barely generating more than $1 billion a year in revenue at the time he took over as baseball's ninth Commissioner.
Under his watch, Selig fought for and won approval for Interleague Play, the consolidation of the American League and National League under one office, the three-division format and a Wild Card berth in each league, the unbalanced schedule, worldwide recognition of the sport, steroids testing of Major League players beginning in 2003 and home-field advantage in the World Series for the winning league in the All-Star Game.
For the third time, MLB is slated to open its regular season in Japan, with the A's set to match the defending World Series champion Red Sox in March at Tokyo Dome. Also in March, the Padres and Dodgers are projected to play exhibition games in Beijing, the first time Major League games will be played in China. Selig said he plans to be at both events.
And in 2009, the second World Baseball Classic is scheduled to be played, capitalizing on its popular inaugural in 2006.
All this and more are the reasons why the owners want to keep him in place.
"I just want to make it clear that this has all been coming from the clubs who were unanimous in their desire to not only compliment the Commissioner on his leadership, but also to insure stability for a few more years moving forward," said Tom Werner, the chairman of the Red Sox who was the majority owner of the Padres in 1992 when Selig took over. "I know the Commissioner wrestled with the decision to remain, but his devotion to the game during his tenure has been stellar."
To be sure, it hasn't always been sugar and roses. Early on Selig's watch, MLB was fractured by the 1994 player strike that abruptly ended that season, led to the cancellation of the World Series and delayed the start of the 1995 season. But it was the last event of its kind.
In 2002, the owners and players avoided the ninth consecutive work stoppage over three decades when they signed a four-year Basic Agreement that distributed revenue more liberally from the big-revenue clubs to the smaller ones. Likewise in 2006, the two sides extended the agreement for six years, assuring labor peace through 2012, which coincidentally coincides with the expiration of the Commissioner's latest contract.
Until then, Selig, well-known for his indefatigable energy, said he plans to continue at the same pace.
"I love the job," he said. "I don't plan to change a thing."