Last weekend brought widely-reported laudatory exchanges between outgoing Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and St. Louis Cardinals principal owner and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr.
While the former has now officially retired at the age of 80, the latter at 73 years old is building upon his very successful two decades leading the Cardinals while continuing to take on more responsibility helping to shepherd the game of which he has been a part his entire life.
Celebrated by some and ridiculed by others were Selig’s words as he was awarded the inaugural Red Schoendienst Medal for invaluable service to baseball by the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“As I travel around to all these cities, there is supposed to be a neutrality,” Selig said last Sunday evening. “But I have said this many times and I am going to say it again. You are the best baseball town in America and there is no doubt about it.”
Earlier that afternoon, in remarks to those of us assembled in a media briefing at the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up, DeWitt did not mince words in his praise of Selig, either.
After recapping many of the game’s accomplishments under the outgoing commissioner, including labor peace and revenue sharing, DeWitt’s conclusion of Selig’s time in office was clear.
"I think he will go down as the greatest commissioner,” the Cardinals owner asserted without qualification.
DeWitt was also rumored to be one of the strongest supporters of new Commissioner Rob Manfred during the 2014 search process. DeWitt was the selection committee chairman, leading seven owners through the alternatives to replace Selig. Manfred eventually was chosen by the same “unanimous” result made famous during the outgoing commissioner’s reign.
As part of the quarterly Owners Meetings held just before the St. Louis festivities, MLB’s eight-owner Executive Council was almost entirely turned over. Long-timers Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago White Sox board chairman, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry and Cincinnati Reds owner Robert Castellini were among those exiting.
The reconfigured body now advises Manfred, who likely wanted his closest allies among this group. Their formal mission includes monitoring rules and regulations, as well as assuming the role of commissioner if there is a vacancy, such as when Fay Vincent was forced out and Selig first ascended into the role on an acting basis in 1992.
Incoming council members include a cadre of newer owners - general partner Hal Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg and Texas Rangers co-chairman Ray Davis.
The other two Executive Council members are holdover DeWitt, named chairman, and Minnesota owner Jim Pohlad. The latter’s family has owned the Twins for over three decades.
I asked DeWitt about the new Executive Council.
“Rob Manfred did a good job in putting new people in that,” DeWitt explained. “There have been a number of new principal owners and get more involvement from some of the newer, younger group but keep a couple of the legacy members... I was the one from the National League and Jim Pohlad from the American League.”
In his role, DeWitt looks to serve as a buffer between some of his peers and baseball’s new leader.
“As the chairman, I am more really a sounding board if someone does not want to call the commissioner and has some issues, that type of thing. So I am looking forward to it,” DeWitt concluded.
Bottom line, it is clear that DeWitt has been a key player in the MLB hierarchy under Selig and may play an even greater role under Manfred.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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