From 2nd base to 1st in charge


June 17, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

Gene Budig often tells the story of how when he was a kid, he longed to be the second baseman for the New York Yankees.

"My mother wanted me to be a priest, and we both were disappointed," Budig said.

Perhaps not. In his new role as American League president, Budig (pronounced BEW-dig) will get to be around Yankees and other teams -- without any risk of injury.

And given the seeming multitudes of problems confronting the lords of baseball, Budig, who was named last week, might be wise to consult heaven as early and as often as possible.

But Budig, who will leave the chancellorship of the University of Kansas to take over for outgoing president Bobby Brown on Aug. 1, is nothing, if not optimistic about what lies ahead.

"The owners expect significant things, and they painted an attractive picture in talking with me. I believe the only limitations on this office will be self-imposed," Budig, 55, said.

The newly named AL president brings an impressive set of credentials from the academic world to Park Avenue.

Budig was the youngest president of a land-grant institution in the country when he took over as president of West Virginia University in 1977 at the age of 38, just four years after running Illinois State University.

In 13 years at Kansas, Budig led efforts to provide more than $400 million in physical improvements to the school's campuses, as well as raising $550 million from private sources.

During his time at Lawrence, Budig became friends with the late Ewing Kauffman, a philanthropist who owned the Kansas City Royals.

Kauffman, who died last summer, encouraged Budig to take a stronger interest in the game and gave his name to a search committee that was charged with finding a replacement for Brown.

Kauffman also named Budig as one of five directors empowered to run the Royals after his death until a local buyer could be found.

"He would ask me about educational trends and management improvement. We spent hours and hours talking about baseball, and I am in the position I am in because of him," said Budig, whose first job was as a sportswriter in his hometown of McCook, Neb.

Budig, in a phone conversation this week, would not offer specifics on his plans or outlook for the game, citing a need to get a better feel for his new office.

Budig called the owners' decision on revenue sharing "a step in the right direction" but did not say how he stood on the issue of a salary cap, a matter that may force a player walkout. Budig did say he was "hopeful" that a fair solution will be agreed upon and was "optimistic" a walkout could be averted.

Budig cited on-field violence as one of his prime concerns and said he plans to consult with players and umpires for solutions.

He stopped short, however, of committing to adopting new National League president Leonard Coleman's stance of bringing suspension appeal hearings directly to players, rather than allowing them to wait until the offending party comes to New York.

Budig called this year's realignment "the right thing to do" and said early response seems to be positive, though he admitted the realignment "may need to be refined."

Budig said he will study the recommendations of former umpire Steve Palermo, a special assistant to the commissioner's office, on ways to shorten the games. He called three-hour games "simply too long."

He said he favored continuing the 21-year-old designated hitter rule, saying it has "enlivened the game," and will look for ways to better market and promote baseball, especially in urban areas.

By the way, Budig raves about Camden Yards, though his first look at it came under unusual circumstances.

Budig was giving a speech in town last fall and wanted to see the ballpark.

"I talked this guy into letting me in, except everywhere I looked, it's said, "Welcome to Cleveland.' I was wondering what was going on until someone told me they were filming "Major League II.' It was very funny," Budig said.

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