Selig's big day historic yet normal
A behind-the-scenes look captures Commissioner
NEW YORK -- What happens with the Commissioner of Baseball in the hours leading up to one of the most important public appearances of his life?
With this Commissioner, Allan H. (Bud) Selig, what happened was the usual, but more so. This is a peripatetic man, a man who rarely maintains a stationary position for long. He is a bundle of nervous energy, which should not be confused with nervousness.
Yes, the Mitchell Report, the result of a 20-month investigation into baseball's steroid past, was now a public document, and the Commissioner would have to respond to it directly. This whole episode might define a large portion of Selig's legacy as Commissioner. That's a fairly large moment for a 15-year tenure.
"No, I'm not nervous," Selig said. "Listen, I commissioned this thing. Do I hope this goes well? Yes. Nervous? No."
If you did not know Selig, you could have been fooled. He spent time leading up to his appearance before the media at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel prowling the Major League Baseball offices at 245 Park Ave. But this was largely business as usual for him.
At one point, Selig requested the presence of one of his aides. He was informed that the individual in question had gone outside for a cigarette. The Commissioner was asked if he wanted to see the individual about his response to the Mitchell Report.
"No, I just wanted to rip him," Selig said with a grin. And at that point you knew that the Commissioner of Baseball's sense of humor was intact, and that, as important as this report and this moment was, life might go on.
Selig arrived in New York on a flight from Milwaukee, just in time to see Sen. George Mitchell's news conference. Mitchell had a strong and forthright performance, defending the work of his investigation, acknowledging what he did not know and pointing the direction for abuses of performance-enhancing substances to be eliminated.
"He did a great job," Selig determined. And that set opened up the avenue for the prowling, as the Commissioner went from a office to office, seeking out the opinions of his staff on both the Mitchell news conference and the post-news conference coverage. The news was generally good.
The Commissioner set a rapid pace, in his in-office travels. Staffers who were looking for him were generally one or two offices behind him in their initial searches.
Then there was the business at hand, which was the Commissioner's media appearance. He would deliver a statement, and then there would be a question-and-answer session.
There was practice with the teleprompter, a truly high-tech teleprompter, known in the trade as the "presidential teleprompter," which had been lugged across town and set up in a conference room, so that the Commissioner could practice with it before using it for his actual speech.
But the Commissioner didn't much like the teleprompter. "George read his speech," the Commissioner noted. That was it for the presidential teleprompter.
Then there was a ritual for public figures in these media-driven times, the rehearsal of questions that the public figure might have to answer when he faces the media.
In the case of Selig and the Mitchell Report appearance, the rehearsal was conducted by no less a personage than Ari Fleischer, former presidential press secretary.
To Fleischer's credit, the questions he posed to Selig were almost uniformly the questions that the reporters eventually asked. To Selig's credit, the answers he gave to Fleischer didn't require any alterations.
There was a point at which Fleischer suggested that the Commissioner could be a bit more concise, cutting down on some of the historical background in his answers.
"I'm going to give long answers," Selig said. And you realized again that this appearance might be more momentous than most, but it wouldn't be different than any other for this Commissioner. When Selig says he is "a student of history," he means that, on these matters, he will also be a teacher of history.
There was also the issue of responding to Mitchell's recommendations with action by the Commissioner. That was the Commissioner's plan in the first place, that was the whole idea of this undertaking, but there was the question of the verbiage involved.
"I don't want to try to make myself look heroic," Selig said.
You were reminded in this moment that while the Commissioner of Baseball is one of the most powerful men in sports, he is also someone who grew up in relatively modest circumstances in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood, was educated at good, solid public schools and remains very much a product of that down-to-earth Middle American environment. He has gained power, but he has not added pretense.
In other words, on one of the most important days of his life as Commissioner, Bud Selig did not turn into somebody else.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.