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Bud Selig: Arte Moreno 'has had the right touch'

In an interview, baseball's commissioner praises the Angels owner, insists that the Dodgers won't deteriorate during the McCourts' divorce and says he feels good about how Cincinnati, Texas and San Diego are doing.

July 11, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

The office of the commissioner is in New York. The commissioner himself works in Milwaukee, his hometown, out of a 30th-floor office with a sweeping view of Lake Michigan.

He is the First Fan, more at ease at a game with a hot dog in hand than at a podium before a national television audience. The lobby in his Milwaukee office features baseball-themed carpets, a sofa with bases as cushions and bats as armrests, and a clock that plays "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on the hour.

Family pictures are most prominent in the executive suite, but there is no shortage of baseball memorabilia. In particular, Selig cherishes two framed messages, one the 1942 "Green Light Letter" from President Roosevelt encouraging Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to "keep baseball going" during World War II, the other a 1970 telegram from Vince Lombardi congratulating Selig on his acquisition of the Milwaukee Brewers.

In an interview in his office, Selig shared his thoughts on all things baseball with The Times. Here are some excerpts:

On the Angels under owner Arte Moreno: "Since Arte has taken over, their attendance has been tremendous. Their revenues have grown remarkably. So have the revenues for all of baseball, but theirs have even exceeded that. You look at their operation — from [former General Manager] Bill Stoneman, to [General Manager] Tony [Reagins], to Mike Scioscia — it's a well-run, well-disciplined organization, not only in their baseball operation but in their marketing. It's just a really well-run franchise."

On why Moreno succeeded at marketing where Disney failed: "Disney knows the entertainment business as well as any entity. They're remarkable. I loved the Autrys as well as Disney.

"But it's the second-largest market in America, which is the way you analyze things. Arte has had the right touch. He works hard at it. He has the right people in position. You have to give Arte Moreno a great deal of credit."

On whether the commissioner can work for the owners and represent the fans: "I care what fans think. I listen to them. I answer every piece of mail, every day.

"There have been more changes in [my] 18 years than ever before in the history of the sport. I believe they are fan changes. I believe the fans wanted the wild card. They love it today. I think the fans like interleague play.

"Even all the economic changes were meant to give hope and faith in as many places as possible. So you have to know I feel good about how Cincinnati, Texas and San Diego are doing today."

On concerns that the Dodgers might deteriorate in the wake of Frank and Jamie McCourt's divorce: "I'm comfortable saying I am very confident it won't. I don't want to comment on all the things that have happened to the ownership of the Dodgers. It is a flagship franchise, a great franchise, with a great ballpark. Every time you see the Dodgers, it's like when you see the Yankees or the Cubs.

"I watch every franchise every day. I understand the concern. It has been a flagship franchise, and it will continue to be. I will monitor the situation, but we have to let that [divorce court] proceeding take place."

On whether he has had conversations with potential investors should all or part of the Dodgers be put up for sale: "I have not had any conversations. The team is not for sale. There are proceedings ahead of it. Those will take place. I have not talked to anyone."

On baseball's plans to keep the All-Star game in Phoenix despite the controversy over Arizona's new immigration law: "We will be socially active when we can do something to change life. We'll do everything we can to do what Jackie Robinson set us out to do. I'll stand by our record....

"We will do things where what we do really influences the outcome."

On why he did not overturn a missed umpire's call and award a perfect game to the Detroit Tigers' Armando Galarraga: "If I did that, the precedents would be overwhelming. I had a club say to me the next day, 'If you do that, we lost this game this year and we might lose our division by one game, and you've got to look at that.' It could go on. One thing about this job: You are always guided by precedent.

"The Detroit organization was tremendous. The pitcher was great. [Umpire] Jim Joyce was great.

"You know what happened as the result of that? It was a wonderful lesson to kids all over the country, people all over the country, about how to accept disappointment in a gracious manner. I think baseball looked great."

On baseball's partial use of instant replay: "I reluctantly agreed to this, and yet I am happy with what we are doing now. The umpires convinced me they had to run 200 or 300 feet in new ballparks, and it was tough for them to see. That wasn't fair.

"I know how I feel, but I'm interested that — whether it's on my special committee, or fans that I talk to, or media — there is very, very little pressure [for more replay]. The player polls were very supportive — not only of my decision, but they didn't want any more instant replay.

"The more I listen to managers and general managers, I like where the sport is right now."

On quality of management vs. economic disparity in determining whether a team is a consistent winner: "When I took over in '92, there was almost no revenue sharing. This year, we'll have about $450 million in revenue sharing. We have more competitive balance.

"Management is certainly more important. But that is the goal, to have management take over and not just money. Is our system perfect today? No. But we have made enormous progress. I feel good about it. There is work to be done."

On whether he is tested as a baseball employee under the sport's drug policy: "They can test me any time they want. I have been tested. Everybody should be tested. They can test me too."

On whether he considered putting Stephen Strasburg on the All-Star roster, or whether Fox asked him to: "The amount of interest and intensity is really wonderful. But did we interfere? Did Fox interfere? No."

On whether the Yankees and Red Sox are on TV too often: "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."

On expanding baseball's global popularity: "Before I leave, that's really what I want to concentrate on. We're very popular in Japan, Korea and Central America. We're getting interest in Europe. We've opened an office in China. We've done great domestically. We've got work to do here, so please don't misunderstand me, but my next great dream — having gone from $1.2 billion to $7 billion [in revenue] — is international. We have other parts of the world we need to get to."

On what makes baseball compelling: "There was a great old announcer, Bob Elson, who did the White Sox games for about 40 years. He had a lot of great lines, but one of his greatest was, 'The only predictable thing about the greatest game in the world is its unpredictability.' …

"It's different every day, because the pitching is so different. It's not a game that you can really figure out. It's the greatest game in the world. All you have to do is watch it.

"[Former commissioner] Bart Giamatti used to say to me, 'On a daily basis, baseball is a metaphor for life.' And, you know, it is a metaphor for life, in so many ways. That is what makes it what it is."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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