07/09/2002 2:08 pm ET
Transcript of Commissioner's chat
Here is a transcript of the chat Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig held Tuesday on MLB.com from Milwaukee, site of the 2002 All-Star Game.
Well, good afternoon, everybody. It's nice to be here today, particularly to be in Milwaukee. This is the second one of these (I've) done. I'm told that they have had thousands of questions from all over, so I think we ought to get started, and hopefully that will deal with all of the subjects that you all want to talk about.
First question is: "Were you encouraged by the players union decision [Monday] not to set a strike date at this time?" Ron from Bloomington, Illinois.
The answer is that I'm happy that they didn't set a strike date. As I have often said, this has to be settled at the table. The only way that we're going to solve the problems that exist is at the table and hopefully starting Thursday when we can get back at it, and in the coming weeks, make substantial progress towards an agreement.
John from Montreal: "What are you doing to convince the Players Association that the future of baseball is at stake during the next negotiations?"
Well, John, some people think I've done too much (of) that. Others think I've done too little. It only proves that as the Commissioner, you cannot please everybody. There is no doubt that wherever I go, in every city, first question people say is, "When are you going to fix the problems, when are you going to level the playing field?" And I understand.
The one thing I have often said, all of you I think have heard me say this in the past; that if I can be critical of the last 35 or 40 years, and I have been part of this game now 32 years, 33 years, is that we have not dealt with our problems. And therefore, once the '90s came and there was a real sea of change in the economics and much that surrounded things, the failure to fix those problems has now become very obvious, and so, this is a very important negotiation. We need peace, we need quiet, but as I have often told the others, I am on the horns of a difficult dilemma. I know that we need peace. I know that people are tired about hearing about all of the strife and all of the anger from both sides.
On the other hand, the status quo clearly is not working. There could be no quarrel about that. And so, we have a difficult challenge ahead of us, but one that I believe can be done.
Jonathan from Chattanooga, Tennessee: "Do small-market teams like the Royals have a chance to win any more when teams like the Yankees and Braves can buy any player that they want after small-market teams have spent the time to develop these players?"
Well, of course we've dealt with that a lot as you all know, Jonathan. People can use different statistics in different ways. Every time we have an aberration from the rule, people say, isn't that interesting, look at the aberration. In this case, the Minnesota Twins are having a wonderful season, but the Minnesota Twins are already worrying how they can keep their team, and know that they can't under this system. And the fact of the matter is, I did what I do often. I did it at the All-Star break; we took the payrolls of the teams that were in first place of the divisions plus the wild-card and everything is running pretty much to form, with one exception. It's always interesting to me that we spend time talking about the aberration.
But again, I think we've made our case, in fact. There are no questions; I think people understand there is a competitive balance problem. I don't like to talk about it in an ongoing way because I think people do understand it, and now it's time to have peace and quiet and get a labor deal going. I don't think we have to prove anymore that there is a competitive imbalance. I could sit here all day and talk to you about why the Yankees won years ago and so on and so forth. While we can take you through the National League at that time where different teams were winning often, but I'm not sure that's useful anymore.
There is a competitive balance problem in baseball, and there is no question about it. And certainly from the owners side, for those of you who come from a lot of different markets, there is no doubt in any of their minds, and I think that's absolutely right.
I think the Blue Ribbon Report is as germane today as it was in '98, and more so in a very compelling manner and I would urge all of you to go back and read it, just to test the theory.
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Kevin from Norfolk, Massachusetts: "Would you ever consider opening the books to let people see where MLB is financially? I know some of the players demands are excessive, but I don't think people believe so many teams are on the brink of closing."
Well, Kevin, let me tell you. We have, in 1985 -- let me give you a little historical background. I believe it was the first year we started turning all of our financial information over to the players. Since then, there have been a lot of clubs that have released numbers. We did this December, to a high level of cynicism, in Washington, released all of our numbers. The problem with the cynicism in Washington, if I can be very blunt with you today, is they had not looked at the numbers yet. I can be cynical about a lot of things, too, but I guess at some point I have to be either encumbered or be ensmirched by fact.
Those have that looked at our numbers, whether it's Paul Volcker, George Mitchell, Rick Levin, our bankers, who I am going to meet with when I leave this meeting, a lot of other economists, all of the clubs and the Players Association, I want to be very careful about that, nobody who looks at those numbers doubts them.
In fact, on May 29 of this year, at a Major League meeting, since I'm the one that serves as a lightning rod, I put up all of the numbers on the board. The clubs have the numbers, but I put them club by club.
When I got all done, I said, well, ladies and gentlemen, these are the numbers, worse than we thought last December by a small amount, but the losses were huge. And these are the numbers that I've taken a fair amount of criticism and ripping on your behalf; does anybody have anything to say? No. We have Tom Werner today, new owner of the Red Sox; so he witnessed them in the meeting along with (MLB president) Bob DuPuy and a lot of other people. Nobody questions them. The people that lend this money don't question it; they question why we are doing it, but that's a whole other story.
So I would like to say I'm amused at some of the criticism, but I am really not amused. I'm disappointed. In Washington, when you heard some of the criticism, they were still boxed up. Let me say it again, the numbers were still in the boxes.
So there is no doubt about that. When I was at the Los Angeles Times in May, I was questioned about how many clubs can survive the status quo, as this all gets very complicated and I answered six to eight and I stand on that. In fact, at the May 29 meeting there were some who rose to say that they thought I was conservative but I don't think so. I'll stand on that number. Because there are clubs under this current economic system that just cannot think.
Now, I know that isn't happy news and I know that isn't what people want to say, but when I'm asked a question now, in that context, I have to be candid about it.
Sarah from Cambridge, Massachusetts: "Since the Expos and Twins are both doing so well, does that change your plans for contraction?"
Well, Sarah, our plans for contraction have nothing to do with a performance of any particular year. The whole contraction thing, which was very thoroughly discussed the two previous years, much publicly and many of you sitting in this room know that. I said for a long time that contraction was a viable option. I didn't like it at first. I didn't like it, but Paul Beeston, in particular, kept on me, each day, day-in and day-out, until he frankly was the one that finally convinced me with the help of Fred Wilpon, George Steinbrenner, Tom Hicks, Drayton McLane, David Glass, the Red Sox people, it was everybody. I had done something in the last two months, and I want to get back to the criteria.
I re-asked every club either privately or publicly, is there anybody who has a different view on contraction? The vote is still 30-0. It has always been 30-0.
Now, there were two criteria for contraction. One, what was the gross revenue? And this is frankly more of a big market, I think Jerry McMorris came up with the idea, this is more of a big-market thing. They are paying those who pay money into revenue sharing, want to know two things: a) what is the gross revenue of a club that is generating; and, b) how much subsidization do they get from revenue sharing; and then, c) is the result of that, what is the likelihood of improving that.
Now, the thing that drove contraction was really "c", because a big-market club, especially those relying on paying a lot of money said to me often, one of them just said it again this morning: "Look, I don't mind sending money, but shouldn't they try to improve their situation? And if there's no hope, what are we doing?" I want to repeat that: If there is no hope, then what are we doing?
So the fact of the matter is, when you look at the clubs that were under consideration, and as Bob DuPuy has often said, there were four, six, and there was a lot of back and forth. It was really the ultimate question was, what can they do? Is there any hope? Is there an owner? Can they build a new stadium? What can they do? They are being heavily subsidized now to the tune of well over $20 million a club.
I think it's fair, particularly for those big-market clubs paying into that, who believe, by the way, unanimously that it should be four clubs; I'm still getting that pitch, strongly. I've told them there's been enough heartache for two, so that's all there's going to be for a while, but they really believe that.
So, this idea that there was some clandestine reason for doing it, it was only supposed to be something that was a chip. It was supposed to be something that benefitted the Milwaukee Brewers, is just sheer nonsense, or any other club. In Montreal's case, there's no question. Ever since Mr. (Charles) Bronfman sold the club 11 or 12 years ago, there have been a lot of problems there and we have tried very hard to solve those problems. We have other markets where we are trying to solve problems.
But the clubs have convinced themselves that we need less clubs because the drain on revenue sharing -- remember, we're in an environment where these clubs are losing a lot of money. We don't have, frankly, that option of luxury just to continue to drain money when they are losing. And so, the clubs are very critical and feel very strongly about contraction.
Mark from Atlanta, Georgia: "If there are cities such as Washington and Portland willing to take on Major League Baseball teams, wouldn't it be more beneficial to sell existing teams to those cities instead of contracting franchises?"
Well, it would, but it depends on the system. The way I view things, we've looked at teams before. If you're going to keep the current system, and merely move teams into markets the same size, because most of our franchises today have the same problems. Years ago, we used to have what was called a big-market caucus and a small- and medium-market caucus. The small and medium is pretty much everywhere now, with a few exceptions. Moving teams doesn't solve your basic economic problems.
Should we consider relocation once we've solved those problems? You bet we should. We've said that before. Do these cities have Major League ballparks and are they willing? Only time will tell. But, you know, we can complain about the economics of the game and everything else, but clubs today have a burden of producing a lot more revenue, as they do in other sports, by the way, that have a lot of revenue sharing.
I said to somebody the other day, they would not be spending the money there, and rightly so, on Lambeau Field, if the Packers did not feel the need to produce more revenue, because you have an obligation to each other when you share that kind of revenue. That's what contraction is about, and that's what this is.
Steve from London, England: "Can you see the expansion of the Major Leagues to other countries in the future. If so, what are the most likely markets: the Caribbean, Japan, the U.K. or Europe?"
Well, I hope so. I'm not sure in my commissionership, quite frankly, but I am hopeful that this game will become more international. We are going to try to do a lot of that in the future in other ways. I hope that we open the season, and we will in other markets, and maybe play more games. And ultimately, we will expand to other markets, but we are a ways away from that now.
Philip from Singapore: "Dear Commissioner, being a baseball fan from Singapore, I would like to know what Major League Baseball is doing to bring the sport to the international fan like myself."
Well, Philip, I think a great deal more than we have done. I think, certainly, that internationally, we have made enormous inroads in the last five or 10 years. I give Tim Brosnan and Paul Archey and all of the people in international a great deal of credit. I think they have done a remarkable job between radio and television all over the world and taking the game to the places that we have. We will continue to do that, and I hope, Phillip, that we will really intensify those efforts, and I can assure you that we will.
Troy from Tasmania, Australia: "Good day from down under. "I was wondering " -- the way I feel today, I feel like I'm down under, too -- "I was wondering when you're going to make random drug testing on MLB players a thing of the future, like other sports in America and the world."
Well, Troy, this is a very sensitive situation, and I think that the only thing I can say to you is about a year and a half ago, the team doctors had asked for a meeting with me. It was going to be right after the first of the year, and unfortunately, I'll never forget it. I had fallen down and broken my kneecap, and so I was really struggling, but I didn't want to pull the meeting down because I knew that they were so anxious to have the meeting. We met here with about 10 or 12 team doctors that represented all 30 clubs and they shared all of their concerns with me. I had my own doctor who was an expert in that field and who I had spent a lot of time talking.
As a result of that, (MLB vice president of labor relations and human resources) Rob Manfred was here, and Rob and I and others in our organization started the testing in the Minor Leagues, started the educational program. We did everything we could do up to a certain level, and developed even more empirical data, have done a couple of studies at Harvard, that frankly, we paid for. But the one component missing is testing at this level. I have a different view there. As far as some people who have suggested that the owners dependent like that because it would hurt the home run production. That's ludicrous. I've never heard that, other than reading it, frankly, and with all due respect, in the media.
The fact is, I believe that we need to test. It's a subject for collective bargaining. I think it's the health and welfare of the players that should be the only issue, nothing else. I'll say it again: It's the health and welfare of this current generation of players.
The more doctors I talk to, the more concerns I have, and that's the only reason I think we should do testing. Testing is a sensitive issue and I think there are ways that it could be worked out to everyone's satisfaction. I understand some of the players' concerns on that score, but I think that they can be worked out.
Berto from Sacramento, California: "How would you describe the feelings of Milwaukee hosting the All-Star Game since you are so closely related with that community and the organization?"
Well, I've said last couple of weeks that I thought I was more uptight than usual, many of you sitting in the audience would say, well, he's right and some of you sitting out there who know me well and talk to me on a regular basis, it's true, because I really wanted everything to go well here. And I would say, Major League Baseball, the Brewers, the City of Milwaukee, the State of Wisconsin, everything has been done beautifully. I am very proud and it's been a great experience.
It was fun for me to watch people last night having so much fun at the Home Run Derby. The crowd reaction was just terrific. And the Fan Fest, it's just been a great experience. It's been a great experience for Milwaukee and Wisconsin, in spite of all of the problems. I don't mind telling you, this has been a very nice three days.
Peter from New Castle upon Tyne, England: When and where is next year's All-Star Game?
Comiskey Park, Chicago.
Comiskey Park next year, Minute Maid Stadium in Houston the year after and then I have decisions to make in 2005. We have a lot of cities really aggressively pursuing this.
You know, I can't tell you how many people want this game, and I have noticed the intensity has picked up. I have a suspicion all of those cities have representatives here the last three or four days that understand really how good it is.
I want to say, because I was at the 1955 All-Star Game here and obviously brought the 1975 All-Star Game and this thing has grown. It was nothing like it was in 1955 or 1975. 1975 was a game. We had Henry Kissinger here. We had a nice game, had a little dinner before the game, kissed everybody goodbye after the game, and that was it. This is, you know, Fan Fest opening last Friday; it's been wonderful.
So we have lots of competition for the All-Star games starting in 2005, and I'm going to get at that whenever we have a break in the action.
Michael from Inverness, Nova Scotia: "This being a chance to e-mail you, I thought the coincidence was too much to pass up. I was wondering from the MLB All-Star Game should be in a USA-World format like the Futures Game."
That is an interesting idea. I believe in the World Cup. I think we all do. I know the Players Association, I, they, we all know that we need to do something. We need to work something out in that regard. We obviously have a lot of scheduling problems. It's very tough, as hockey has done, and to really do some of these things in season. But we have a lot of ideas. I hope before my commissionership is done, I believe that we will have some type of World Cup format.
Rock from Wooster, Ohio: "Is there not something that you can do as Commissioner to negate the trades the Yankees are making to create their "superteam"? Many believe their trades, although wise moves on the rookies' part, are clearly not in the best interests of baseball."
You're right, a lot of people do believe that. First, the Raul Mondesi trade and then Jeff Weaver. But the answer is, really, no, the Yankees properly say that this is the system, they are playing under that system. And while we've had cash requirements, I have waived a lot of them over the last four or five years using my own judgment and instincts, because I have to consider not only the Yankees and the team they are making the trade with and other teams.
So the fact of the matter is, that this is a manifestation of the very subject that I have been talking about. I don't know how else to say it. I am not going to be critical of the Yankees because they can properly and rightfully say they are playing by the rules that exist, and they are.
But, when people say, well, there's not a problem, this and that, it's not possible if you follow the game closely, and this is a dramatic manifestation of that.
"What is your current stance on the designated hitter? Is it something you want to address in a new Collective Bargaining Agreement? Will the DH be abolished?"
Well, I voted for the designated hitter in 1972 at the Plaza Hotel and it's the only thing in my career I ever agreed on with (former Oakland owner) Charlie Finley. But I did because offense was down and (former American League president) Joe Cronin and everybody thought that we ought to do something to liven up the offense a little bit.
Now, you have a situation where the National League, obviously, will never go to the designated hitter. American League clubs like it, but I would say, John, to you, what I have often said; that I think it will take a (cataclysmic) event, whatever that is, a lot of realignment; I think that's the way that we will move the designated hitter, where both leagues are playing by the same rules.
Having said that, (Phillies chairman) Bill Giles, who is not a controversial guy, said to me a few years ago, "So what's wrong with the leagues having different rules? It makes for a lot of great conversation and rivalry and I don't think it's so terrible."
Well, I have to agree with him. I would like to have a standardized rule. I would, under the circumstances, but with all of the problems that we have facing baseball, this is not something I spend a lot of time worrying about.
Henry from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania: "To have a future, baseball must make fans among the young and to make fans among the young, baseball needs to have faster, crisper ballgames. What specifically are you doing to correct the length-of-game problem that is crippling baseball?"
There is a lot of dissent about that. I happen to agree with Henry. And (MLB VP) Sandy Alderson and his staff have really worked at it, Bob Watson, Frank Robinson before him, we have spent a lot of time talking about it.
I agree that games should be crisper. It's the pace of the game; not the time of the game. I think there's a general misunderstanding of that. But I want to say to you, to all of you, the following, because I don't get a lot of letters -- and in our polling, we don't get a lot of that.
Now, the one thing I keep reading from some of you, is about the game and the numbers. The fact is, whether you want to face it or not, if you look at the attendance numbers of our sport, we have set attendance record three or four times in the last five years in the midst of a very soft economy, we are still shooting at 70 million people. Our television ratings are up. Locally, the clubs are doing very well in television right now. I hope, we'll see what happens here, but we have a lot ahead of us, hopefully.
And so, if I look at the attendance numbers in the late '40s and '50s, the best year was 1949, they drew five million people when they were playing games in an hour and 20 minutes.
Now, again I want to reiterate here, I am for faster games. My guys get tired of me talking about it. We have reduced the time. Sunday afternoon, I listened to Greg Maddux pitch a game in Atlanta, two hours and 18 minutes, it reminded me of Bob Buhl's days in Milwaukee. He used to pitch about an hour and four minutes. So it can be done and there are things that we are working on. Pitchers need to stop fiddling around as much and we have some hitters, you know, they look like defensive backs in the National Football League; they have so much equipment on, and they have to stop all of that. There are ways to deal with this. We have talked about it.
But when you talk to fans, and then you do in-depth polling and you do focus groups, it is not a big item to people. It's bigger to me than it is to fans. And I'll repeat. When the average franchise is drawing two and a half million people, and the total television ratings are as good as they are, I think that we have to be very careful that we don't do things to the game, the game itself, intrinsically and inherently, is very good.
Jordan from Tenafly, New Jersey: "Major League Baseball is being handed to the hitters. Offense sells tickets, I love long home runs more than most people but the integrity of the game is being destroyed. Do you think that this is a problem?"
No, I really don't. I don't think the integrity is the problem. I think that there's no question we've had -- everybody has different theories. Everybody I talk to, wherever I am, I like to talk to players of today, players that have played in the past. I spend a lot of time talking to people about it. Some say it's the ball. Some say it's the bat. The new parks are certainly homer-friendly. We have had two expansions in the 90s. We diluted pitching. There are a myriad of factors. Players are bigger and stronger. We have already addressed the steroid issue.
Remember, these players work out, in some cases, every day. Their diets are better, vitamins are better, their medical care is infinitely better. I used to talk to Bobby Brown about that when he was president of the American League. He would compare the medical attention they got in the '40s and early '50s as opposed to today. So there are reasons for it, and as a result of that, you have more home runs, and you have balls flying out of ballparks. But I don't think that diminishes what the players of today have done. I think that's unfair. And, in fact, I think that is not -- there is no logic behind that, other than to say, well, so, and so could have done it. But the fact of the matter, there's only a few guys doing it now. So if it were easy, everybody would be doing it, and they are not. So I think they deserve all of the credit in the world.
Randy from Owensboro, Kentucky: "Has there been any discussion about going back to a more balanced schedule? Rivalries are nice but with six teams in the NL Central, they play each other too many times. Thanks for your thoughts, a Cardinals fan."
Well, I'm the guy that went to the unbalanced schedule. The only story I can tell you, in 1977, I guess we are getting ready for the '77 season, we were in an unbalanced schedule. The Brewers had wound up in the American League East and I was happy with that, but (AL president) Lee MacPhail, we were bringing in Toronto and Seattle and he couldn't make an unbalanced schedule come out. So we agreed after a lot of -- we had a very stormy meeting. Lee MacPhail, I think, if he could have thrown George Steinbrenner and myself out the window, he would have done it. But we agreed to take a one-year hiatus and study and try to get back to the unbalanced schedule.
Because look, Randy, if you go to divisional play which we did in 1969, you play as many games outside your division as inside your division. Somebody can ask the question, "What the hell did you go to divisional play for?" If you're going to win your division -- now there are six teams in there because we have 16 and 14 and he makes a very valid point.
Katy Feeney, who does the schedule, her father before her, and I spend a lot of time talking with her, they are tough problems to solve. But the fact is, it's worked out well. And the unbalanced schedule, it's wonderful. It's the way it's supposed to be. The Yankees are going to play the Red Sox more, the Cardinals are going to play the Cubs more and on and on and on. Everybody likes it. I tell you, I have had no complaints at all from the clubs, and most clubs bitch about schedules all day long. I know, because I was the worst of the whole group. But the unbalanced schedule has really, really worked out well.
"How is the Interleague schedule determined for each team? Why do some teams get to keep the rivalries going and others create a discrepancy revenue?" This is from Jay in Ohio.
Jay, I believe in the geographical rivalries. I love Interleague play. I have often said, the first two people I heard talk about it were Hank Greenberg and Bill Veeck in 1948 and they were absolutely right. When you go and see the White Sox and the Reds and the Cubs and the Mets and the Dodgers and the Angels, you don't want to destroy those. No. 1, every game is sold out between the Cubs and the Sox. The fans like it.
I keep saying to the owners, whether some of you like this or not, if you think the format is fair or unfair, the fans like it. Are there some Interleague rivalries that are not good? You bet. There's some Interleague rivalries that are not good, either. I guess we could use the same logic, but we are not going to, because we try to preserve as much of that as we can, and then we are rotating the addition so every team sees everybody else.
You know, I will say this. The Interleague play (attendance) was up 20 percent this year over our average game, and so I'm happy about that. And I also think it puts a lot of excitement in the midst of the season.
And watching and listening to all of the games, listening to the announcers and broadcasters talk about, isn't this great, this is what it's supposed to be the excitement, whether it's Chicago or New York, there's a lot of them, in Cleveland's case, they like to play Cincinnati; Pittsburgh would also like to play Cleveland, we've created some really interesting rivalries that we had not thought of. Boston-Atlanta has worked out well. Atlanta sold out for all three games, for the first time since Opening Day.
So Interleague play has worked out great, but, yes, Jay, no question, because trying to preserve some, it does create a little bit of inequity. That's why we play 162 games, we hope to clear most of that up over the season.
Thank you, everybody.