Next week is going to be weird for the game of baseball. It might not seem that different, but it will be the first week since August of 1992 without Bud Selig as the commissioner of baseball. Selig's been on the job for a little over 22 years, or to put it another way, all of Bryce Harper's life.
Baseball was such a different game when Selig took over--there were only four divisions and 26 teams, the highest-paid player was the Yankees' Danny Tartabull at $5.3 million, and Derek Jeter was just an 18-year-old prospect struggling to a .626 OPS season in the low minors. Hell, the team that won the World Series that year was the Blue Jays; Canada is still looking for its first playoff team since the first year of the Clinton administration.
There's no denying that Selig has been a controversial figure throughout his tenure. He has his demons, as the 1994 players' strike that cancelled the World Series and the blind eye to rampant PED use for over a decade can attest. Although obviously not entirely Selig's fault, the complete collapse of the Montreal Expos thanks to the strike and other MLB factors can be marked on his record as well, as can the stupid rule that made the All-Star Game relevant to World Series home field advantage.
Of course, as Craig Calcaterra noted at Hardball Talk the other day, he's certainly had his positives, too, such as embracing advanced media, the immense revenue growth, and the eventual addition of instant replay. Indeed, there have been five moments in particular that have highlighted Selig's time on the job, and they stand out as unquestionably the greatest things he ever did.
1. Presenting the 1996 World Series trophy
As then-acting commissioner, Selig was in attendance at Yankee Stadium after the conclusion of Game 6 of the 1996 World Series. In an act that was lauded by many as the most heroic moment of a generation, Selig handed the World Series trophy to Yankees manager Joe Torre. He then chivalrously backed away slowly, and unsure of what to do with hands following this act of derring-do, kept them hovering in the air for a few seconds while taking the time to stare at the camera, as if to say to the audience:
I'm not a hero.
I'm just doing the work of a saint.
Also we have some very affordable 1990 Buicks in stock.
2. Presenting the 1998 World Series trophy
His head nodding with the assurance similarly displayed by Jonas Salk when he confirmed the success of the polio vaccine, Selig handed the World Series trophy to owner George Steinbrenner, in the wake of the dominant 1998 Yankees' sweep of the Fall Classic in San Diego. Magnanimous as ever, he offered a handshake to the Boss, a hug for Torre, and then quickly departed the scene, selflessly letting the team that won the World Series bask in its glory.
Quoting Thoreau, Selig noted, "'What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us'... also I was hanging around Chip Caray and his weird hair for too long."
3. Presenting the 1999 World Series trophy
It was an emotional scene at the old Yankee Stadium for Steinbrenner after the Yankees swept the Braves to finish off the century of baseball and the 1999 World Series. Steinbrenner's voice cracked as he spoke about the tumultuous season the Yankees had gone through to reach that point, from Torre's prostate cancer crisis, the deaths of Yankees icons Joe DiMaggio and Catfish Hunter, and the passings of three players' fathers, including Paul O'Neill's the night before.
Sensing his longtime friend's emotional state, Selig did not want to make him uncomfortable, so with a few short words, a handshake, and a pat on Torre's back, he made his exit after giving Steinbrenner the trophy.*
*In all seriousness, this was actually a nice moment with touching words between two friends that might make the room you're in a little dusty if you can ever find and watch the clip.
4. Presenting the 2000 World Series trophy
The Yankees began the new millennium the same way they ended the old one--with a World Series series title. They weren't at Yankee Stadium but still in New York at Shea when they closed out the Mets in the five games for their third consecutive title. By now, Bud was a pro at giving the trophy to Steinbrenner and Torre. He had the speech memorized, the presentation down, and while he could have simply gone through the motions, he could still mix it up a little bit. This time, he offered a half-hug to Steinbrenner, gave him the trophy, and stepped away before Randy Levine could get too close to him.
Seriously, keep your eyes on the right side of the GIF. You will never not be able to see Levine's looming face. At least he wasn't undergoing hair trauma back in those halcyon days.
5. Presenting the 2009 World Series trophy
The last spectacular moment of Selig's tenure would have to wait nine years and a move across the street to the new Yankee Stadium. The setting had changed from the locker room, which Joe Buck had previously described as "a very wet place" (pause) to the field at the new park. This time, it was Steinbrenner's son Hal receiving the trophy with the rest of Yankees leadership surrounding him. Even his brother Hank was unleashed from his Pop-Tart wrapper-laden chambers in the basement of Epcot to celebrate this occasion.
Lost in the scene though was Selig's farewell. You might have missed it. Take a closer look:
Right next to Chris Rose's blank, cod-like stare at the camera was Selig, holding him in the air in a gesture somewhat like a wave. Looking at GIF, one might think that it was just his arm awkwardly hanging upward like a marionette after giving the trophy to Hal. But we know the truth. Selig knew that even though he would stay on the job a few more years, this would be his final signature moment as commissioner.
Selig was waving farewell to the game. We wave farewell back.
I’ve had the time of my life
And I’ve never felt this way before
And I swear this is true
And I owe it all to you