Selig answers questions about baseball

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McClatchy Tribune
Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bud Selig has been baseball commissioner since 1992 and, after some early labor strife in his reign, baseball has enjoyed peace between management and players for more than 15 years.

A darker side of the game has emerged in the last decade or so with reports that some of the gameís biggest stars have been involved with performance-enhancing drugs. Still, baseballís popularity seems as high as it ever has been as fans apparently have chosen to watch what they like rather than dwell on what they donít like. On a recent afternoon in his 30th floor office in Milwaukee overlooking Lake Michigan, Selig addressed all of these issues and many more in a nearly hour-long, question-and-answer session. As a Milwaukee Braves fan in 1956, he still laments the two catches a nondescript Cardinals outfielder named Bobby Del Greco made on a Saturday night in St. Louis to cost the Braves what would be their first pennant.

ďWe lose 2-1 and Bobby Del Greco makes two catches he couldnít make again if his life depended on it,Ē said Selig. ďI was mad at him that night. I didnít sleepóand Iím still mad at him.Ē

As for more current matters, here are the highlights:

Q: Do you worry about the impact the recession will have on baseball?

A: I worried about it last fall, no question about it. I used to think that in some of the previous recessions that baseball was recession-proof. But not this one. So far, while advertising sales are down and clubs have had some trouble with sponsorships, our attendance is down between four and five percent, which is remarkably good.

Q: When you hear the names of Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa linked to performance-enhancing drugs, how does that make you feel?

A: All it proves is that our program is working and nobody is above the law. Iím the only commissioner of any sport who ever called on an outsider, George Mitchell, to do a study of the sports. He made 20 recommendations and we adopted every one of them.

This is a subject of collective bargaining. It cannot be unilaterally implemented. When I could do it, I did it. Weíve toughened our program three times, had the Mitchell investigation. Iím proud of what baseball has done.

Anybody whoís still living in the í90s, who said we should have done something, well, I canít talk to them. But itís easy, in the retrospect of history, to be very smart 11 years later. Iím very protective of the image of the sport.

Sure, do I wish it hadnít happened? Of course, I do. Do I worry about it? Of course, I do. But Iím proud of our players. Iíve had players call me and tell me, ĎNo, everybody didnít do it. Most of us didnít do it. And thatís unfair.í And I do think some members of the media have not only overreacted, theyíve overreacted without any facts.

Q: Would you be in favor of the list of other 103 players who tested positive in 2003 being released?

A: There was a list that was supposed to be eliminated. That was the agreement, in all fairness. It wasnít, for some reason, as the playersí association didnít get (it) thrown out. The answer is that it was supposed to be anonymous, but itís now in the governmentís hands. But I would want to say something to all these people who are grumbling about these things. If we didnít force those tests, none of this would have ever been public. Does that tell you that weíre not hiding and have never tried to hide anything?

Q: Do you concern yourself with the fact that, somewhere, there are chemists at work trying to concoct some other potion to beat the system?

A: Yes. All of us in sports worry about that. But weíve come a long way in our understanding of this. Will there be new chemists? Of course, there will be. And we just have to be very vigilant and have to stay ahead of the game. Steroids are not a baseball problem. Steroids are a societal problem. Could I sit here today and say, ĎWeíve got everything under control.í I wouldnít even make a statement like that. It would be foolish.

Q: In the last eight years, there have been 13 different teams in the World Series. How good is that for baseball?

A: I looked out at the field last year and saw Tampa Bay in the World Series, I said, ĎThatís a great thing for the sport.í It wasnít always well-received on the East Coast, but if baseball canít survive in Middle America, baseball wonít be the sport we thought it could be.

Q: Do you perceive that the Home Run Derby has taken on a bigger life than the All-Star Game itself?

A: Itís big. Itís the highest-rated cable show of the summer.

But I was in St. Louis for the All-Star Game in St. Louis in 1966. I was trying to get a team for Milwaukee. All I can remember is I sat down in a seat that was so hot, I had a Coke in my hand and I spilled it all over the friend I came with. But it was a one-day event. People came in, saw the game and left. What (you saw) in St. Louis is really a celebration of the sport for six days. The Home Run Derby is huge, no question about it. But does it eclipse the game? I donít think so.

Q: Whatís your favorite All-Star Game memory?

A: I guess Cal Ripken (hitting a home run in his last All-Star Game) in Seattle in 2001. Cal Ripken is everything baseball should have. You want me to go back? OK, 1955, Stan the Man right here in Milwaukee off Frank Sullivan. Iíll never forget it. There was the All-Star Game I went to with my brother in 1950 in Chicagoís Comiskey Park. I believe Albert Fred ďRedĒ Schoendienst won that one with a 14th-inning homer.

Q: Least favorite All-Star memory? Was it the 11-inning tie in 2002?

A: It was unfortunate because it happened (in Milwaukee). My wife left early that night. She was smart because she was about to have hip replacement surgery. Joe (Torre) used Barry Zito for like one hitter and I said to my wife before she left, ĎI hope to hell Joe knows what heís doing.í And she said, ĎOh, donít worry, Buddy, he does.í

But when the umpire (Gerry Davis) came over to me and told me that (Vicente) Padilla was laboring and Joe was worried about Freddy Garcia. We were out of pitchers and Iíll tell you how it happened. In 1993 in Baltimore, when Cito Gaston didnít use Mike Mussina, the crowd booed the hell out of him. The managers (then) decided they were going to get everybody in the game. Sandy Alderson (Seligís right-hand man) and I worried from the late í90s on that something like this was going to happen. It happened. It was unfortunate. Now weíve added some pitchers and itís never going to happen again.Ē

Q: What are you proudest of in your tenure as commissioner?

A: The economic reform. Iím proud of the wild card, Iím proud of interleague play. Remember the sport had no changes for four decades. But the economic changes had to come and they came very painfully. They came with a lot of heartaches.

I taught a couple of classes at college and an often-asked question was, ĎWhat are you proudest of?í I love the wild card and how itís worked out, despite all the criticism when I did it. Iím proud of interleague play. But itís been the changing of the economic structure.

In the early í90s, we were in deep trouble. We had an economic structure that was an anachronism. It just didnít work. It didnít work for the St. Louises of the world, the Pittsburghs, the Cincinnatis, Kansas City and Milwaukee. Today, we have more competitive balance, greater than itís ever been. That doesnít mean the system doesnít need some work in the next two or three years. Baseballís revenues have exploded. When I took over in 1992, the revenues were a billion-two. This year, weíve got a shot at seven billion dollars.

Iím proud of all the things in the economic reformationówhether itís revenue sharing or whether itís the Major League Network or all the other things that have created the competitive balance we talked about. You could never have dreamed a decade ago or 15 years ago that the revenues of this sport have gone where they went. But for the economic recession, weíd have done 80 million (in attendance) this year.

The strike of í94 and the loss of the World Series broke my heart. That was the eighth work stoppage in my career. But you almost had to go through that heartache. It was horrible. Since then, who could have ever believed after watching (commisssioner) Bowie Kuhn and (union chief) Marvin Miller fight every day for 16, 18 years that weíre going to have 16 years of labor peace? Nobody thought that possible.

Q: And least proud moments?

A: Iíve asked myself 1,000 times about 1994. Iím hard on myselfómy wife and family will tell you that and they think Iím way too hardóbut I do a lot of introspective thinking. What did I miss? Why did I miss it? But the sport is growing. Itís the greatest sport in the world and itís growing because we do have labor peace.

I donít think any of us understood for 30 years how all those work stoppages really alienated people. They were mad at commissioners, they were mad at owners, they were mad at players. Owners hated players, players hated owners, everybody hated the commissioner.

Q: Does the interleague play need to be adjusted, i.e., do natural rivals really need to play six games a year, rather than three?

A: The natural rivalries are so good. The first time I ever heard interleague play talked about was by (Bill) Veeck and (Hank) Greenberg in the late 1940s. Our attendance is up for interleague play by 19.5 percent. Veeck and Greenberg were absolutely right. And our fans like it.

Yes, there are some scheduling things that arenít perfect. But whatís interesting is that youíve got a lot of rivalries that people likeórivalries that people didnít know about. Pittsburgh wants to play Cleveland. Cincinnati wants to play Cleveland and they fight over it.

Q: The DH was instituted more than 35 years ago to help improve attendance in the American League with more scoring. Now that that goal has been achieved, isnít it time to have the same rules in both leagues?

A: The American League clubs really do like it. The National League clubs clearly do not. (Former Philadelphia owner) Bill Giles said to me a few years ago that a little controversy helps. Eventually there will be some event that will force us to make a decision, but not yet. Thatís not an issue I want to force right now.

Q: What do you think of Albert Pujols as a player and ambassador for the game?

A: His career stats so far are stunning. Off the field, he has been spectacular. Youíre proud to be the commissioner of baseball when you have players like Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter and Trevor Hoffman.

Q: Do you have fun in this job?

A: Iím not sure Ďfuní would be the right word. You have 30 owners with 30 different agendas. But I do love the challenges and the responsibilities. I do question my sanity sometimes. Iíll be 75 years old on July 30 and when this term is over, Iíll be 78. Let me put it this way. Itís been a remarkable journey.

Last updated: 10:56 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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