MILWAUKEE — The Fall Classic can wait. For baseball, this is the classic fall.
In a good way. The regular season delivered meaning down to the final day, sparked by teams’ jockeying to avoid the new one-game wild-card playoff and crowned by the first triple crown winner in 45 years. The division series featured three walk-offs within 24 hours and — for the first time — all four series extended to the full five games.
Commissioner Bud Selig stayed awake past midnight here Wednesday, watching Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez and stun the Baltimore Orioles, then watching the Oakland Athletics jolt Jose Valverde and force a decisive fifth game with the Detroit Tigers.
“After that game was over, I couldn’t sleep,” Selig said. “It was an unbelievable night. It was just incredible. I think back to the last day of last season, when everybody said, ‘Oh, you’ll never duplicate that again.’
“Only baseball could produce a night like last night. It was remarkable. And here we are, going again today.”
So, as Selig met with The Times in his office Thursday, the television was tuned to Game 5 of the series between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants. Selig alternated between the interview and the game — until the bottom of the ninth inning, when he reached for the remote control, turned up the volume and put the interview on pause.
You pushed for the additional wild-card team in each league, and for the one-game wild-card playoff. How has the new format worked out?
“Phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. It sort of reminds me of the first wild card. I knew it was the right thing to do, just like I was sure about these two wild cards. I don’t know how it could work out any better than it has.”
Under the new system, the retiring Chipper Jones and the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers were eliminated in one game. Any regrets?
“No. When we started, I made the first decision: We are going to do it. Then I used my 14-man committee just for format: Do we do this two out of three? I sort of favored that, because I am cautious. You play all year. You worry all year about your team, and the weather and everything else for 162 games, and you’re gone after one game.
“But, much to my surprise, the whole committee was for it, including the four managers, and without equivocation. And then I talked to a lot of baseball people, and I got no pushback from anybody.
“So, no, I love the way it worked. The one weakness we had in the previous plan was that you didn’t reward teams enough for winning your division. That was a fair criticism. I accept that.
“If you don’t want to be in a one-game playoff, then win your division.”
If the first wild card in each league has worked out well, and if this second one has too, why not two more wild cards and another one-game playoff?
“No. I meant what I have said all along. I always worry that we are really affecting what I call the integrity of the game. Ten out of 30 [teams in the playoffs] is a good number. That’s fair. Any more? Absolutely not. Not while I’m around.”
In the wake of the controversial infield fly call that went against the Atlanta Braves, would you consider reducing playoff umpire crews from six to four? That would make sure no umpire is in an unfamiliar position, since four umpires work every regular-season game.
“I think, overall, having umpires on the lines is OK. I appreciated Atlanta. They’re a classy organization. What they said is, ‘Look, our defense beat us, not the umpiring crew,’ which is true.”
You have said you want to expand instant replay to include reviews of fair or foul balls and trapped balls. Will that expanded replay be in place for next season?
“I think we’ll have it for sure. They’re working on cameras in all the ballparks. We need the right cameras. Should we have them by next year? We’d better.”
You have been an advocate for new ballparks. In 2016, the year Angel Stadium turns 50, owner Arte Moreno can exercise an escape clause in his stadium lease. Do you believe the Angels need a new ballpark?
“I have a lot of faith in Arte. He is very marketing-oriented. He has never communicated to me any thought that he needs a new ballpark.
“Does he? They have drawn great crowds. The franchise has been beyond spectacular. They would have to make that judgment.”
His marketing strategy has involved broadening the Angels’ appeal beyond Anaheim — and adding Los Angeles to their name. Could there be an advantage to considering a move to Los Angeles, or do you want them to stay in Orange County?
“That is a judgment I cannot make. They have to make it. They live there. They understand the demographics. They understand where people are. You know your own market better than anyone else.”
The Dodgers were in Bankruptcy Court this time last year. Now they have owners who bought the Dodgers for more than twice the previous record sale price for a baseball team, and they’re talking about spending billions more to buy AEG. Would you prefer that novice owners master the baseball business first?
“They’ll get experience. People worry. They worried when we were in Texas: ‘Oh, they’re in bankruptcy, this is going to be terrible.’ That turned out very well.
“The Dodgers are a very important franchise, one of our great signature franchises, with a wonderful history. I’m happy with the way things have worked out there — given where we were, the travail of the previous 18 months, two years, even longer. Baseball came out of that as well as anybody could have expected. I think it has resolved itself remarkably well.”
You essentially forced out Frank McCourt. Under the MLB Constitution, a franchise cannot be revoked unless the league delivers a list of grievances, affords the owner a hearing and submits the matter to a vote of the other owners. You did none of those things. Why not?
“The way it got handled, it worked itself out very well. The result at the end justified all the things that led up to it.”
Were you worried about setting a precedent, or persuading other owners to vote for a procedure to get rid of an owner?
“No. At some point, you have to finally say, I have to do this or do that, because it is in the best interest of the sport or that franchise.
“Yes, I do worry about precedents. In this job, you worry all the time about precedents. In this case, I think it worked out well. Was it difficult? Yes. Was it very time-consuming? Yes. In the end, doing everything that I did and everything that baseball did had a very positive outcome for the Dodgers and for their fans.”
McCourt’s last lifeline was a television contract with Fox that you rejected, in part because he intended to use $173.5 million for purposes unrelated to the team. You said television revenue belonged to the team and should remain invested in the team. Yet, when John Moores sold the San Diego Padres this year, you let him keep $200 million in revenue from a new television contract, one that was not approved until after he put the team up for sale. Is that not a double standard?
“The San Diego thing was different. John Moores was going. A new group was coming in, with beautiful credentials. They found, in their projections, they could live with what had been done. And so they and John Moores worked that out.
“They knew what part of the sale price was. They felt that, even with that lack of television money, they could run a very good operation. They were themselves very well-financed. With what John Moores took out — because he thought it was part of the sales price — they feel there’s enough other television revenue and enough other income that they can live with it.”
But why didn’t you tell Moores that television money belongs to the team — not to him — and then let him sell the Padres for the best price he could get?
“It didn’t matter. It was part of the sale price. The buyer has to make that determination. They made the determination that they like the deal, even with that money gone.
“The analogy of the Padres did not apply to L.A. That was a far different situation.”
The NHL owners have locked out players. The NBA and NFL have locked out players within the past two years. All those leagues say they need a salary cap for economic survival. Baseball has not had a labor dispute since 1995, and business has flourished, with annual revenues approaching $8 billion — without a salary cap. How?
“We have a lot of other devices — I call them economic mechanisms — the debt service rule, revenue sharing, we have done a lot of things. Salary caps are essential in other sports, but I think we have worked around it. There may be a day — long after I am gone — when somebody will say it is time for a salary cap. But I think, overall, we have worked this pretty well. I am comfortable where we are.
“Using other mechanisms, we have come a long way. We have increased competitive balance. It has accomplished the things we set out to do. I reasoned that, if we could do all these things and avoid a work stoppage, we would be better off. We have come a long, long way.”