NEW YORK — Gene Budig, the self-effacing educator and baseball fan from small-town Nebraska who became the head of three major universities and the last president of the American League, died Tuesday. He was 81.

His death was announced by the commissioner’s office and the Charleston RiverDogs, a minor league team he co-owned. No cause was given. He had been in hospice in South Carolina.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement that Budig was a “friend to many” in baseball and praised his “lifelong connection” to the game. Former Commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday he “appreciated his work and his support,” calling him a ”wonderful person.”

Budig succeeded Bobby Brown as AL president in 1994 and augmented his staff with Larry Doby, the first Black player in the AL. Budig held the job until baseball owners abolished league presidents under a reorganization urged by Selig in 2000.

By then, with interleague play already a part of the game and umpires being put under the control of the commissioner’s office, it was clear those longtime positions were being phased out.

MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Minor League Baseball President and CEO Pat O’Conner abruptly announced his impending retirement amid talks between the minors and Major League Baseball to dramatically restructure baseball’s developmental pipeline.

O’Conner was with MiLB for 28 years, including a 13-year run as president. He was re-elected to serve a four-year term last December, but he said in a statement Tuesday that he will retire on Dec. 31.

His departure comes weeks before the Sept. 30 expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body for the minors. MLB proposed shrinking the affiliated minors from 160 teams to 120 last year, drawing outrage from minor league team owners, fans in those communities and public officials including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Then the coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season in June. The NAPBL said at the time that more than half of its 160 teams were in danger of failing without government assistance or private equity injections, changing the calculus of the PBA talks.

A restructuring of the minors that includes contraction now seems likely. O’Conner won’t be the person to oversee that change.

“It has been a privilege to serve in Minor League Baseball leadership for the past 28 years and I will be forever indebted to all of the staff who worked with me in St. Petersburg over the years,” O’Conner said. “It was an honor to work alongside the owners, executives, players, umpires, fans and communities that have made our organization so successful.”

Revenues and franchise values grew at unprecedented rates under O’Conner, and he also worked with Major League Advanced Media to package digital rights to minor league broadcasts.


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