CHICAGO -- Bud Selig's voice quavered. Now he was in charge of all of baseball, not just the Milwaukee Brewers.
"I hear people say, `He's an owner and he's one of them,' " Selig said Thursday, minutes after fellow owners unanimously elected him baseball's ninth commissioner.
"First and foremost, for those who know me, I am a fan. There is no one who could love this game more than I do -- its history, its tradition, its honor and, above all, its decency."
Turning their back on a tradition of independent commissioners that began in 1920 following a thrown World Series, owners voted 30-0 for the man who had been baseball's acting head since Sept. 9, 1992, two days after they forced the resignation of Fay Vincent.
It was very much a day of celebration for Selig, who has devoted his entire adult life to baseball. Selig, 64 later this month, spent so much time at ballparks during the past 33 years that it contributed to the breakup of his first marriage.
On the day of his coronation, he was surrounded by his second wife, two daughters and four of his five granddaughters -- the owners even allowed the little kids in their meeting room following the vote.
"This is a very exciting day, an overwhelming day and a day obviously I will never forget," said Selig, who repeatedly said he wouldn't accept a draft. "All my grandchildren are here. I wish we could go for ice cream, but we'll do that later on."
Selig, elected to a five-year term and given a salary one official said was about $2.25 million, grew up wanting to be "the next Joe DiMaggio."
"After I saw my first curveball, I knew I had to do something else," he said.
Instead, Selig entered baseball management, at first becoming a minority shareholder in the Milwaukee Braves, then purchasing the Seattle Pilots in bankruptcy court in April 1970 and moving the team to Milwaukee.
Wendy Selig-Prieb, one of Selig's daughters, has gradually taken over many of Selig's duties with the Brewers and is expected to become the team's president and chief executive officer. Her father will resign as a trustee of the trust that owns the team. Sal Bando will remain as the general manager.
"The happiest people, because they don't have to put up with me, must be Wendy Selig-Prieb and Sal Bando. Sal must be drunk already," Selig said.
The change will be a tumultuous one for Selig, a man of habit who walks through the stands at County Stadium each night, cheering his players when they succeed and screaming when they don't. He will move his office from the ballpark to downtown Milwaukee, and he promises to make more frequent appearances at the commissioner's office in New York.
Former Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, hired last July 22 as baseball's chief operating officer, will continue to run the sport's day-to-day operations.
"The team of Selig and Beeston is the strongest possible thing that's happened to baseball in 25 years," New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said.
Owners twice established search committees to find a successor to Vincent, but aborted the process each time. Atlanta Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay recommended former Northwestern president Arnold Weber and former U.S. Olympic executive Harvey Schiller in January 1994, but owners decided to stick with Selig until they got a new labor agreement with players.
Colorado Rockies chairman Jerry McMorris, appointed search committee head in January 1997, said he came up with five candidates -- NL president Len Coleman and four he wouldn't identify. Some teams wanted an outsider to come in, but their minds were changed by the majority of the group, fearful of another forceful leader who would ignore their wishes and follow the pattern of Peter Ueberroth and Vincent.
"I would be disingenuous if I would say we were in favor of the process that got us here," Chicago Cubs president Andy MacPhail said. "But we have a responsibility to baseball to move forward in a unified fashion."
Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad and Houston owner Drayton McLayne headed the group that pressured Selig.
"Finally," Selig said, "a month or so ago, two months, one day when I was driving to work -- I seem to do my best thinking when I was driving -- I said to myself, `I'm going to do it.' Even then, I was kind of startled."
His daughter said the change was gradual.
"I think it got the point he was hearing from so many people and getting so much pressure, he became comfortable with it," Selig-Prieb said.
With labor peace ensured through 2000 -- 2001 if players exercise their option to extend the agreement -- Selig faces a future that promises to be less contentious than the last five years.
Major issues coming up are the fate of the Twins, who have talked about moving to North Carolina; what to do with Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who is eligible to resume daily control of her team next season; realignment; and Pete Rose's petition for reinstatement.
Rose's case figures to be the least thorny. Selig has always supported A. Bartlett Giamatti's decision to impose a lifetime ban on the career hits leader, who was accused of gambling on baseball.
Selig will take a long time to rule on the petition, one official said Thursday, and has no inclination to reinstate Rose, ineligible for the Hall of Fame as long as he's on the banned list.
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