Thursday marked the beginning for dozens of potential playing careers, but it was also the final stop for one man in particular: Commissioner Bud Selig, who presided over the MLB Draft for the last time before his upcoming retirement. Selig took some time during the first round to answer questions on the growth of the draft, how MLB is trying to speed up the game, and his favorite draft day memory.
STRIKE ZONE: You’re doing this thing where each thing you do, it’s the last time you’re doing it. Is this a little wistful?
SELIG: I’m not to that point yet. That’s a great question, but I really don’t think about it in that regard. I guess I would say to you that I’m so comfortable with my decision that I’ve sort of accepted this now. And I’ve still got eight or nine months. Near the end, I think that’ll be more on my mind.
SZ: You went to the Fan Cave today for the first time. What was that like?
BS: Very good experience. I loved the questions. I love these kids that are here. I’m pulling for all of them to be drafted—I can’t imagine sitting here while your name gets passed over and over. But it was great. I enjoy being around kids. It was a nice experience.
SZ: Did that dimensionalize it for you after getting reports all these years?
BS: I pretty much knew what was going on, but this was good. It was fun.
SZ: You had never been to the Fan Cave?
BS: I had never been to the Fan Cave. I’ve seen all the pictures, all the videos, so I wasn’t surprised by anything I saw today. I want to go back.
SZ: You talked about the world draft and how you’d like to see that at one point. What evolution has there been in the draft and when you look back at your accomplishments and achievements, the growth of the draft into what it is now, does that rank up there and what do you see this thing turning into?
BS: It does. There are improvements that we’ve made and as I’ve often said, when they went into it in 1965, they had a clear objective, and that is to level the playing field. In those days, they were terribly concerned about the Yankees, and the Yankees were winning all the time. A few years ago, we had problems because clubs were not drafting for need, which was unfortunate, but we’ve rectified that. When I think of the drafts that I participated in with the Brewers and what it is today, this is amazing. On television! It used to be on the phone. There were years when you wouldn’t even divulge to the press who your draft choices were! So we’ve come a long way.
SZ: Do you have a favorite draft day story?
BS: In the 1973 draft, we were the third pick and there was a huge debate between our general manager and our scouting director. One wanted—I won’t tell you who—Richard Shubert, a pitcher from northern New York, and one wanted a kid from Woodland Hills, Calif., Robin Yount. And finally the scouting director, who prevailed, picked Yount. I never saw a tension like that. It was unbelievable. And in 1977, which was a critical draft—we had a lot of kids coming along—we were the third pick, and the first pick was [the White Sox, who took Harold Baines]. The third pick was a kid from St. Paul, Minn., by the name of Paul Molitor. So we got lucky, and that’s why this is so interesting, cause you’ve gotta have breaks, and you’ve gotta have luck. Our first year, we picked two guys—and this is a great line—I was told they were can’t-miss. We picked two guys. They both missed. One of them made the big leagues, but a very short time, and the other didn’t.
SZ: Would you remember that story as fondly if you guys had picked Richard Shubert?
BS: No, and frankly I wouldn’t have told you that story!
SZ: Who was the GM and the scouting director? Do you remember?
BS: I do, but I don’t wanna embarrass anybody.
SZ: Apparently they’re getting close on the long lease extension for the Coliseum. I imagine from your perspective that’s helpful to calm things down a little.
BS: Stability is always helpful.
SZ: With the draft's growth and it being on TV, can you see any more growth with this?
BS: I hope so. Everybody wants to compare it to the NBA and the NFL, but you remember college kids get great publicity. College football is so big and college basketball is big. But I think we need to do more. I think we need to publicize more and do more things. Because in the end, to all these millions of fans of every franchise, this is the lifeline. I told you some stories; just think of how that affected the Milwaukee Brewers for many years. Both guys wound up in the Hall of Fame. But it’s that important. I cannot stress how important I think this day is.
SZ: You’ve talked about how pace of game is a priority for you guys these days. Whether or not it has anything to do with replay this first year—
BS: Well, it doesn’t have to do with replay. We’re monitoring it closely. Joe Garagiola is doing this and it’s an interesting thing. We’ve had a lot of two hour and 20 minutes, two hour and 30 minutes games recently. Unfortunately we’ve also had some long ones. Everybody’s aware of it and I think we’re making some progress. And I think we need to make progress. Joe Torre and I had a long conversation about it, Joe Garagiola and I have a lot of conversations about it. So we’ll keep at it.
SZ: In Joe monitoring it and you guys studying it, what have you guys found, preliminarily?
BS: Well, let us do it. We’re in the process of doing that now. Joe Garagiola’s spending a lot of time doing it and he’s not ready yet to give me all his conclusions. But we’re deadly serious about this, no question about it.
SZ: Where are you on the upcoming All-Star Games?
BS: No different. Frankly, I haven’t had time lately. But before I leave I will do a couple more.
SZ: 2016 and 2017 [decided] by the end of the year?
BS: I would hope so.
SZ: There was a player the other day, Jon Singleton, who got $10 million who hadn’t played a game in the big leagues, and there were a lot of opinions on it. Did you have any thoughts?