Q&A;: Commissioner Bud Selig talks baseball
Full text of a recent question-and-answer session with baseball Commissioner Bud Selig at his office in Milwaukee:
Question: When you awarded the All-Star game to Anaheim, you called the Angels “a model for all our franchises.” In what ways are they a model?
Answer: Since [owner] Arte [Moreno] 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.
Q: Many baseball people thought the Angels were a gold mine waiting to be tapped, given the large Southern California market and the demographics of Orange County. For all its marketing magic, Disney did not do what Moreno has been able to do in marketing the Angels. Why do you believe he has succeeded where one of America’s most successful entertainment companies did not?
A: That’s an interesting question. 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.
Q: In an ESPN poll last year, the Angels were selected the most fan-friendly team in the four major North American sports leagues. Before he bought the Angels, Moreno was a part-owner of a minor league team, and of the Arizona Diamondbacks. How important are those kinds of experiences to the success of owners, and do you look for those kinds of experiences when recruiting and approving new owners?
A: You bet I do. You know, whoever said ‘Experience is the best teacher’ is right.
Many people were critical in the early ‘90s when I became commissioner. They thought an owner shouldn’t be commissioner. But, in fact, every issue that has come to me, I had to face when I was the president and owner of the Brewers. It was helpful. It really gave me an insight into the sport.
In Arte’s case, he came with really considerable experience, and I think he has used it very wisely. He’ll do what I used to do: roam the ballpark, watch concession stands, watch how people are operating. Again, experience is a great teacher, and his experience clearly has contributed to the success of the Angels.
Q: You talked about the benefits of an owner becoming commissioner. Your job as commissioner is to represent the owners, yet you also are charged with acting in the best interest of baseball. How do you reconcile that?
A: The office has changed dramatically. A lot of people don’t understand that. [Former players’ union chief] Marvin Miller, whom I rarely agreed with, had it right many years ago. In his many confrontations with Bowie [former commissioner Bowie Kuhn], he said, ‘I represent the players. He doesn’t represent the players.’
The commissioner has extraordinary power. He or she has the ability to do a lot of things. But the office has evolved. The players have their representative. The owners have their representative, the commissioner.
I have a lot of constituencies. One is the players’ association. Two is the owners. And then there is television. There is a whole series of things. I think a commissioner in any sport today — because they all have evolved in the same way — will understand what he should do and what he can do and, just as importantly, what he can’t do.
Q: If the union represents the players and the commissioner represents the owners, who represents the fans?
A: I think I do. I think anybody who knows me has always said they understand my passion for the sport. I care what fans think. I listen to them. I answer every piece of mail, every day.
There have been more changes in the last 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.
I believe that one of the things that didn’t happen in the 30 or 40 years before me was that we didn’t listen to the fans enough. We were more bound by tradition and history and unwilling to change. All the changes we’ve made, I believe, are the reason the sport is more popular today than ever before, in terms of attendance, in terms of gross revenues, in terms of everything else. It’s because we do listen to the fans.
Q: The Dodgers’ reputation as one of baseball’s flagship franchises has been tarnished by a divorce that has revealed owners spending lavishly on themselves and on their lawyers while reducing the spending on players to a mid-market level. What can you do to assure Dodgers fans their team will not deteriorate into mediocrity?
A: 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.
Q: In the interest of due diligence, how seriously have you had conversations with potential investors should all or part of the Dodgers be put up for sale?
A: 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.
Q: George Mitchell delivered the report you commissioned on baseball’s steroid era — 700 interviews, 115,000 pages of documents — in 21 months. It has been 16 months since you commissioned a report on the Oakland Athletics’ stadium situation, an issue that does not appear anywhere near as complex. The A’s still want to move to San Jose; the San Francisco Giants still say no. Why have you not been able to broker a deal between the A’s and the Giants?
A: I’m proud of the Mitchell Report. Let me get to that first. We have the toughest testing program in sports. We’ve banned amphetamines.
We had cocaine in the ‘80s. It was brutal. We had the Pittsburgh drug trials — 29 people went down, four guys went to jail. They couldn’t get a drug-testing program. Steve Howe was suspended seven times.
I have doctors and trainers here all the time. I monitor this very closely. Everybody really assures me we are doing well. I really am very proud of that. We have to be very zealous in the future. We’re trying desperately to get a test for HGH.
So I’m glad you gave me that opportunity.
Now, as far as the San Francisco-Oakland thing: It’s complicated. I like both parties a great deal. We have territorial rules. I put a committee together that has the qualifications to understand. They’re still hard at work. They’ve still got things to do. This has a lot of ramifications to it.
Eventually, I will make a decision. What I want to say — because I’m generally very deliberate, as everybody knows — is that I didn’t want to have anybody say at the end, ‘Did you look at this? Did you look at that? What about X? What about Y?’
Q: Why is it not as simple as: The Giants claim their business will be severely damaged if the A’s move to San Jose, so you quantify how much their business is hurt and write them a check?
A: It isn’t that simple. You’ve got two parties involved here. There are a lot of questions that people raise about damage. It’s up to us to check everything out. There are a lot of questions the other clubs can ask — and I will ask — before we can make any move. I know that people want a decision. I understand that. But my job is to get it right. If it takes a little longer than people thought, so be it.
Q: The A’s and Tampa Bay Rays are the two teams still looking for a new ballpark. When the collective bargaining agreement expires next year, so does the moratorium on contraction. If the ballpark situations are not resolved, would you consider folding the A’s and Rays?
A: No, I wouldn’t. I think we have moved past that.
We’re going into 16 years of labor peace. I regard that as maybe the prime reason for the growth of the sport.
I love the new ballparks. I love revenue sharing. I love interleague play and the wild card. But I don’t think we understood how those labor confrontations were damaging us, whether it was 1972, 1973, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1990 or 1994.
There is no question that both of those teams need new ballparks. We’ll just have to work our way through it. Tampa has done a marvelous job running their team. [General Manager] Billy Beane has done a terrific job in Oakland. With the economics of baseball today, you’ve got to have a new stadium.
Q: You are fond of saying how baseball is a social institution with enormous social responsibilities. Yet, when you had the chance to address the issue of whether you should move next year’s All-Star game from Phoenix in the wake of Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, you pointed to baseball’s progress in minority hiring, which did not address the issue. Since half the major league teams hold spring training in Arizona — in ballparks built at almost no cost to the teams — how might those business ties have influenced your decision not to address the issue?
A: No, they haven’t. I believe we are a social institution. I believe more than ever we have addressed our responsibilities. We’re setting up a lot of academies in the inner city, starting with Compton, going on to Houston, Miami, Philadelphia. We’ve had the great Civil Rights Weekend.
[Sports ethicist] Richard Lapchick, who can be very tough and very difficult, gave us our highest grades. I think the thing I will always be proud of is that he said Bud Selig has made the front offices look like America now. That was the highest compliment he could pay. That’s what I said when I answered the question.
Q: But that doesn’t address the issue.
A: I think it does. 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. But I want to say this again: We will do things where what we do really influence the outcome.
Q: So do you foresee any chance that next year’s All-Star game will be moved?
A: I think I’ve given you the answer.
Q: How did you find out about Armando Galarraga’s not-quite-perfect game?
A: I was watching it. I was sitting in my office at home, watching the game and excited.
Q: You have such respect for tradition that it is difficult to imagine you actually considered awarding Galarraga a perfect game, but you did consider it. How seriously, and what ultimately swayed you not to do so?
A: Not much. I really knew that, 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.
And, no, I didn’t think very hard about it.
Q: You have said you are wary about expanding instant replay because you don’t want to open a Pandora’s box. But you already have limited instant replay, so how would you explain that Galarraga might have lost his perfect game on a blown call at first base, which could not be reviewed, but might not have lost his perfect game on a blown call down the left-field line, which could have been reviewed?
A: 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.
Q: So would you foresee any replay expansion?
A: The only thing I will say is that I’ll continue to review it. I’ll give everybody the chance to continue to talk about it.
Q: Is it on the agenda for any meetings?
Q: On the one hand, nine teams have played in the World Series in the past five years. On the other hand, seven teams have not appeared in the playoffs even once in the past 10 years. How would you assess the progress toward giving every fan the hope and faith you often talk about?
A: We have more competitive balance than any other sport. We have more competitive balance than ever before. The economic work that we have done, which was so difficult and painful, has had a great economic effect on baseball. So you’ve got Cincinnati, San Diego and Texas this year. You’ve had Tampa.
I was a Yankee fan when I was growing up here. From ’49 to ’64, they won [the American League] 14 times and won the world championship nine times. I rest my case.
We’ve had more teams in the playoffs than any other sport.
Q: How do you get to the point — or can you get to the point — where the quality of management is much more determinative than economic disparity in determining whether a team is a consistent winner?
A: That is my goal. That is a very profound question. We have made enormous progress. Think about this: 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.
Q: You have been in charge of baseball for almost two decades now. What accomplishments are you proudest of?
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?
A: I’m not sure I won’t quarrel with that. Our gross revenues have exploded. Our attendance is at numbers you and I could not have guessed five and six years ago. There was a big story the other day that baseball has outstripped the NFL in merchandising.
Look, the NFL has done great. [Former commissioner] Pete Rozelle will always be one of my heroes. I think [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell has done a remarkable job. There’s no question football has enjoyed great success.
Baseball was, as I said, stuck in neutral for a couple decades, in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. I really think we have come alive. People will say, ‘Look at their ratings.’ They produce great ratings, don’t misunderstand. But, overall, we have a lot of teams with their own networks. We are doing remarkably well.
And I will say this to you: If somebody came back to baseball that wasn’t there in ’92 or even 2000, they would be stunned at how well it is doing today. If you want to know why and how, just look at BAM [Major League Baseball Advanced Media, known to most fans as mlb.com] and our network. Amazing story. They’re two of the great business stories — forget sports, two of the great business stories of all time, which are manifestations of popularity.
Q: In time, I suspect that the World Baseball Classic will be remembered as one of your greatest successes. But there are still many parts of the world that pay little or no attention to baseball.
A: 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 — is international. We have other parts of the world we need to get to.
Q: How would you explain to someone who never has seen a game why the sport is so compelling?
A: The more I watch baseball — which is a lot, much to my wife’s chagrin — it’s the greatest game in the world. 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.’
There is something about it that is so engaging. The more you watch baseball, the more you realize what a remarkably great game it is. There was a period in life where people thought baseball was dull and boring, back in the ‘60s.
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.