Interim baseball commissioner Bud Selig insists that published reports of his impending coronation have been greatly exaggerated, which can only mean one thing.
Selig, who often says no when he means yes, will soon put his ownership interest in the Milwaukee Brewers in trust and become the first baseball commissioner to serve a full term since, well, Bud Selig.
In other words, nothing has changed and nothing will. Selig has been the world's highest-paid telephone operator since he filled the leadership vacuum left when the owners forced former commissioner Fay Vincent out of office six years ago. Selig rules by conference call, taking the pulse of ownership on every issue and taking the heat when the consensus becomes a curse -- as it did during the last labor war.
It's no wonder that, among the owners, he might be the most popular commissioner in history.
Still, he remains coy on the issue of removing that pesky modifier -- interim -- from his title. He has a new stadium going up in Milwaukee and wants to spend as much time as he can in his luxurious new owner's box. He's finally going to have the revenue to field a truly competitive club, and he is about to be saddled with a job that requires at least the appearance of neutrality. What fun is that?
So the charade will go on for a while longer. Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris, who heads baseball's commissioner search committee, has spent the past few months compiling a list of candidates, but anyone other than Selig is going to be a tough sell.
The election of a new permanent commissioner requires the approval of at least 23 major-league owners -- a three-fourths majority -- which means that a group of just eight stubborn owners could block any other candidate. It won't come to that because everyone in ownership knows that Selig is the only one who could garner the necessary level of support.
Give the owners credit for one thing. They have done a great job of clock management. There was a time when the appointment of Selig would have created a firestorm of criticism from the public and pushed Congress closer to revoking baseball's antitrust protection, but he has outlasted his critics.
The antitrust crusade lost steam when Major League Baseball mollified legislators from Arizona and Florida with the latest expansion. The anti-Selig sentiment in the general public has dissipated as the bitter memories of the 1994-95 baseball strike have been replaced by a renewed excitement about the game on the field.
Selig probably is the perfect man for the job, now that the job has been redefined as a management position instead of a public trust.
The time has long passed since the commissioner held dictatorial power to act in the best interests of the game. The emergence of the Major League Baseball Players Association as a powerful counterbalance to ownership has made the concept of an impartial overseer obsolete.
The players wouldn't stand for it and, as the firing of Vincent proved long ago, the owners wouldn't, either.
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire said on Thursday that he is considering cutting back on his batting practice routine because of the circus atmosphere it has created at ballparks throughout the National League.
That would be a mistake. The batting practice "circus" is great for baseball, adding another reason for alienated baseball fans to come back to the ballpark. It also is a huge tribute to McGwire, and should be accepted as such instead of as a burden.
"It's totally out of hand," McGwire said. "I feel like a caged animal."
This might be the first recorded instance in which a baseball personality complained because there were too many people in the stands, but McGwire is a shy guy who is uncomfortable with all the attention that has come with his assault on Roger Maris' single-season home run record. He'll just have to get used to it.
The last thing he should do is change his pre-game routine at a time when he's hitting home runs at a higher rate than anyone else in the history of the game. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Just a hunch
No one should be surprised by McGwire's reluctance to embrace the limelight. He expressed similar frustration when the media closed in during last year's run at the record.
That frustration, however, may be tied more to the performance of his team than his reluctance to be the center of attention. The Cardinals were supposed to win the NL Central but have spent the first half of the season hovering around the .500 mark.
McGwire lost patience with the home run talk Monday night, when he hit his 32nd and then watched the Houston Astros stage a four-run comeback in the ninth inning. If the Cardinals were winning, he probably would be enjoying himself a little more.
If the Chicago White Sox are planning to trade third baseman Robin Ventura -- and there has been speculation to that effect throughout the season -- they sure are doing a good job of hiding it.