Bud Selig said Thursday that he plans to retire as baseball commissioner in January 2015 after a term of more than 22 years marked by robust growth in attendance and revenue along with a canceled World Series and a drug scandal.
Some owners -- and even his wife -- have been skeptical in the past that he really would do it, but this marked the first time that Selig, 79, issued a formal statement that he intends to step down from the sport's top job.
"It remains my great privilege to serve the game I have loved throughout my life," Selig said in a statement. "Baseball is the greatest game ever invented, and I look forward to continuing its extraordinary growth and addressing several significant issues during the remainder of my term.
"I am grateful to the owners throughout Major League Baseball for their unwavering support and for allowing me to lead this great institution. I thank our players, who give me unlimited enthusiasm about the future of our game. Together we have taken this sport to new heights and have positioned our national pastime to thrive for generations to come. Most of all, I would like to thank our fans, who are the heart and soul of our game."
Selig said he will leave Jan. 24, 2015, which would mark the second-longest term for a baseball commissioner behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who served from 1920 to 1944.
He also said he will announce a transition plan shortly that will include a reorganization of central baseball management.
Selig's tenure included splitting each league into three divisions from two, adding wild cards and additional rounds of playoffs, expansion to Arizona and Tampa Bay, instituting instant replay, starting the World Baseball Classic, launching the MLB Network and centralizing the sport's digital rights under MLB.com.
"The game has grown under him tremendously. He's made every effort to try to clean the game up," New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's left his mark on the game. There's no doubt about it."
Selig bought the Seattle Pilots in bankruptcy court in 1970 and moved the team to Milwaukee. He was part of the group that forced then-commissioner Fay Vincent's resignation, and in 1992, Selig took over as acting commissioner.
He repeatedly said he would not take the job full time but was formally elected commissioner July 9, 1998. He agreed to new contracts in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Although he presided over a 7½-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years, MLB and its players have had labor peace since.
Selig was at the helm while baseball was criticized for being slow to react to the rise of performance-enhancing drug use. Management didn't have a drug agreement with its players from October 1985 until August 2002, and drug testing with penalties didn't start until 2004. Selig has repeatedly defended his record, saying baseball acted as fast as it could in a matter that was subject to bargaining with players.
"When you step back and view the dramatic transformation Major League Baseball has undergone during Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner, it is truly quite astounding," Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "A social institution with a long and rich history like baseball is often very resistant and slow to change, yet ... Selig has introduced dramatic, sweeping innovations to improve the game, like expanded playoffs, comprehensive drug testing and competitive balance.
"These changes have left a lasting impact on baseball, most importantly for the fans of this great game. At his heart, Bud is a baseball fan, and that perspective has driven all he has done during his time as commissioner. That is his legacy."
Owners have repeatedly praised Selig's financial stewardship, which has led to record franchise values as shown by the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. MLB revenues, which totaled $1.7 billion in 1992, are projected to top $8 billion this year, and the average player salary has tripled during Selig's tenure to more than $3 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.