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Q&A: Commissioner Bud Selig talks baseball

The commissioner says labor peace and the implementation of revenue sharing are the accomplishments that he's proudest of.

July 11, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

A: Labor peace, clearly. Nobody ever thought it possible. The change of the economic system. We were in great trouble in the '90s. We had no competitive balance. The small-market teams won something like 3% of the playoff games.

Obviously, the wild card worked out. I took a lot of criticism for a lot of these things. Today, I think 96-98% of fans love the wild card. Interleague play. It wasn't my idea. I heard [former executive Bill] Veeck and [Hall of Famer Hank] Greenberg talk about it when I was a kid growing up.

It's a whole series of things. Our gross revenue was $1.2 billion in '92. This year, hopefully, it will be close to $7 billion. We're at attendance numbers nobody ever thought possible.

And I'll tell you another thing I'm proud of. Given that this is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, baseball has done remarkably well, and we're off to a good start this year.

So I would say the changing of the economic system, which was still back in the Ebbets Field/Polo Grounds days, and labor peace along with that. Those are the two things I'm proudest of.

Q: And yet many historians might start your legacy with "Bud Selig, the commissioner who presided over the steroid era …"

A: They can do whatever they want. I referred to the cocaine era, when there was no drug-testing program. Certainly, one can talk about amphetamine use that was at a very high level for a very long time. We have now cleaned the sport up. My minor league program is in its 10th year. We didn't sit around waiting.

In 2002, it was the first time it was the subject of collective bargaining. The players' association wouldn't argue that they fought it at every turn. It's a fact. You know that and I know that. The fact we've gotten to this point is remarkable.

There are people who say, 'Well, you should have known.' And I have a lot of people who resent that. What were we supposed to be looking for? I don't understand that. They did this stuff away from the ballpark.

You can call it a steroid era. Derek Jeter resents that a lot. He's said that to me, and he's named off all the players on the Yankees who didn't do it.

In the minor leagues now, every young star has been tested from day one, whether it was [ Albert] Pujols or [Ryan] Braun or [Ryan] Howard or [Prince] Fielder or [Chase] Utley or Andre Ethier, on and on. So it's one thing if we hadn't done anything about it, but I'm really very proud of where we are, and we did it in spite of a lot of difficulty.

This is a subject of collective bargaining. I think I pushed hard. I'm very proud of that. How historians look at it may be a different story. I would have to say to that, 'How come I'm the only commissioner that has gotten a drug-testing program, and it's the strongest in professional sports?'

Q: One of your reforms was to broaden drug testing beyond players, to those who come in contact with players. How often are you tested?

A: They can test me anytime they want. I have been tested. Everybody should be tested. They can test me too.

Q: How often?

A: It's been a couple of years. Everybody in the office, clubhouses, everywhere. That's the way it should be.

Q: Did you test positive for anything other than frozen custard?

A: A lot of ice cream. A lot of frozen custard, no doubt. And probably hot dogs from my delicatessen.

Q: Since your office consults with the managers on the All-Star game rosters, did you consider putting Stephen Strasburg on the National League roster? Did Fox ask you to consider doing so?

A: No. The fans vote. The players vote. We have tried to be fair. You're never going to get it perfect. The amount of interest and intensity is really wonderful. But did we interfere? Did Fox interfere? No.

Q: You live in Milwaukee. How tired do you and the fans in Milwaukee get of seeing the Yankees and Red Sox on TV all the time?

A: I don't. The Brewers have already been on national TV three or four times. Our broadcast partners, I think, have been very fair. I have no quarrel with them. Look, it's in our best interest. My job is to make sure baseball grows and continues to grow — and so, if they're ratings-conscious, so am I. That's good for the sport. I really don't have any quarrel with that.

Q: You're just down the road from the Green Bay Packers, and you're a big fan. How about a community-owned team in baseball?

A: I don't think it works. No. 1, if you lose money, who is going to pay?

The Packers' story is unique. You notice no one else has done it in sports, including in football. It's a great story. I give the NFL credit. Their economic system saved the Packers and let the Packers grow into what they are today, which is a remarkable institution. But does it really work in today's economics, if you're just starting now? No.

Q: In your youth, baseball was the unquestioned national pastime. Why do you think the NFL has passed Major League Baseball in popularity, and is that irreversible?

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