Bud Selig: Ready to play ball

April 1, 2011: 5:00 AM ET

Major League Baseball's commissioner on the Mets and Madoff, Pete Rose, and labor problems in  other leagues.

Interview by David A. Kaplan, contributor

Bud Selig at the Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix during spring training

FORTUNE -- Opening day is upon us, and with it the dreams of summer. Allan H. "Bud" Selig, 76, can't wait. He's been commissioner of baseball for 19 years, and he still rejoices in the rites of that first pitch. He's also pretty happy with the state of Major League Baseball: Revenue last year was a record $7 billion, up from $1.2 billion when he began. There's labor peace, and steroid scandals seem to have abated. What's left to worry about? For starters, the mess the New York Mets are in over the Madoff fraud -- its owners are being sued for $1 billion by the trustee representing the victims. Fortune talked by phone to Selig in his Milwaukee office. Edited excerpts:

Do you wish you had disclosed MLB's $25 million loan to the Mets sooner?

No. I've known [owner] Fred Wilpon for 32, 33 years and have great affection for his family. I'd do it the same way again. There was precedent.

Are press reports correct there won't be any more loans to the Mets?

Fred gives me daily updates, but that matter has not been discussed.

Does that mean that a request for another loan from MLB would automatically be rejected?

No.

The Mets are an iconic team. How much do their travails affect baseball as a whole?

There will always be difficult situations. But ticket sales overall are doing well. I'm bullish.

Will you ever reinstate Pete Rose [who was banned for life for gambling]?

I'm the judge on the case, so shouldn't comment. We're reviewing it.

Free swing -- what's going well?

We have work to do, like on upcoming labor negotiations. But the grand old game has never been more popular by any economic measure. We've been able to change the culture: We share more revenue with groups such as BAM [Baseball Advanced Media, MLB's digital arm].

As CEO in an industry with 30 other bosses [owners], what have you learned about leadership?

Building consensus, but having the courage to stick with what you believe in. I was criticized heavily for introducing the wild-card system [in the playoffs] and for interleague play -- now both are a great success.

Thoughts on football's labor troubles?

Football is where we were in the 1990s. Baseball had a terrible labor history from 1967 on. I don't think we understood how bad those stoppages were.

Are you really going to retire at the end of 2012?

I expect to be done -- I'll be 78, and it will have been 20 years. But my wife would say, "Cut it out, Buddy."

How would you do running another business?

Way back, I wanted to be a history professor, and I wouldn't mind doing that. I'm teaching at Marquette University -- sports law. I have 60 students.

So your title has gone from Mr. Commissioner to Professor?

Exactly.

Also from Fortune:

Join the Conversation
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.