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Support for Selig strong among owners
12/21/2007 4:58 PM ET
NEW YORK -- Bud Selig could be baseball Commissioner for life if he wanted.

His backing among owners is as strong as ever after the Mitchell Report, which accused owners and players of ignoring performance-enhancing drugs.

"I'm not sure exactly what you'd say was Bud's crime? I mean, what was he supposed to do?" former Commissioner Fay Vincent said. "He has no magic wand. He has got to work with owners. He has to work with the union."

Two things matter most in professional sports: winning and profits. Selig has delivered both.

More clubs have a chance to win the World Series because of the revenue-sharing rules negotiated during his 15-year tenure. And the league set attendance records in 2007, topping $6 billion in revenue for the first time.

"He has total support of the ownership, total support," Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said.

Selig received $14.5 million in the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 2005, according to Major League Baseball's last available tax return, and owners think he's worth it.

"He's a terrific commissioner, and he's doing the right thing in trying to clean up the sport," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said through spokesman Howard Rubenstein. "I am fully supporting him."

Selig has said he plans to retire in two years, when he's 75, but some owners think they can persuade him to stay on.

"Believe me, we're going to certainly try," Reinsdorf said. "The job is not done yet. He shouldn't leave until he knows that he's accomplished all he wants to accomplish and there's somebody in place to pick up the ball and go the rest of the way."

Selig, who had owned the Milwaukee Brewers since 1970, became acting commissioner in September 1992 when clubs forced out Vincent. Selig became permanent Commissioner in 1998, was elected to a five-year term and gave up running the team, which his family sold in 2005.

Only Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920-44) and Bowie Kuhn (1969-84) have served longer among the nine Commissioners.

If anyone is to be faulted for the doping mess, owners said it's the Players' Association.

"I think we all knew there was an issue, but we all felt we had our hands tied by the collective bargaining agreement, and until that could be resolved in '02, there just wasn't a whole hell of a lot that could be done," Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks said. "Well-meaning people were trying to protect privacy, and they weren't protecting their constituents from the biggest danger they had, which was steroids."

But Don Fehr, head of the players' union, twice has reopened the 2002 drug agreement, toughening the rules before the 2005 and 2006 seasons. In his report last week, Mitchell recommended baseball move its testing from a joint labor-management committee to an independent body.

Steve Greenberg of Allen & Co., an investment banking firm that advises owners on sales, blames individual players "that went out there and made the choice to essentially cheat, break the law and distort the record books." The son of Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, he can see both sides: He was a player agent, then became deputy commissioner under Vincent.

Greenberg understands what appears to be ambivalence among some to the Steroids Era.

"I think there are a significant number of fans, and I think maybe mostly the younger fans who don't remember Roger Maris, let alone Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, who don't think it's a big deal," he said. "There are significant other segments of the fan population, like myself, who are concerned about it."

Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican who sponsored a bill and held hearings on drugs in 2005, called on Selig to resign.

"Certainly, a lack of leadership and oversight in MLB enabled these abuses to continue," Stearns said. "After 15 years of slow action, a new Commissioner is needed to guide the league out of this era of drug abuse."

That kind of blame-the-boss mentality led to the ouster this year of Citigroup Inc. chief executive officer Charles Prince and Merrill Lynch & Co. CEO Stan O'Neal, both booted after their companies took massive hits for subprime mortgages.

But under Selig, baseball economics are the best they've been since the free-agent revolution began in 1976, a transformation that saw the average player salary increase from $51,000 to nearly $3 million in three decades. Industry revenue rose from $182 million to its current $6 billion mark over the same span.

Under Selig, baseball instituted the popular switch to three divisions and a wild card in 1997, started the biggest ballpark building boom ever, signed record television contracts, started its own Internet business and ventured overseas for the first time, starting the World Baseball Classic and playing regular-season games in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Japan.

His detractors said he was slow to make many of those moves and pushed ahead with decisions only after he formed a consensus. He prefers to call his pace studied and deliberate.

And the positive changes came only after his attempt to institute a salary cap provoked players into a seven-month strike in 1994-95, a work stoppage that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in nine decades.

"The game has prospered. He's done all sorts of great things. And the only thing that has held us back in the steroid and HGH area is Don Fehr," Reinsdorf said.

Fehr argues the union has moved far in a short time to combat the problem. He has agreed to discuss Mitchell's recommendations but said, as he usually does, that union leadership will consult with players before making any determinations.

Players and owners already have agreed to adopt any validated urine test for human growth hormone. If a validated blood test is developed, that would have to be negotiated. Baseball's drug-testing agreement doesn't currently allow blood tests.

"If they develop a test for HGH that's based on blood, what's the big deal to take your blood once in a while?" Reinsdorf said.

Hicks is one who believes it's a science issue.

"You have to be able to have a test for human growth hormone. That's the main public recognition, I think, that's going to come out of the Mitchell Report," he said. "We have to get the technology right."

But Vincent recognized the problems go far beyond baseball.

"I think over time it will become clear to all fans that competitive sports are really seriously at risk, and I don't have the answer. How can you get people to stop cheating when the financial rewards of cheating are so enormous?"

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.