Playoff expansion moves to next stage
Special committee to take up issue at Winter Meetings
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Playoff expansion will be a key topic, as promised by Commissioner Bud Selig before this week began, at the next gathering of his special committee on Dec. 7 near Disney World during the Winter Meetings.On the table for the 14-member committee Selig assembled late last year is that issue as well as instant replay. The former was the subject of a lot of chatter during this week's General Managers Meetings. "We will move ahead [on it] and move ahead pretty quickly," Selig said about the playoff issue after Thursday's joint meeting of owners and GMs had ended. "Eight is a very fair number, but so is 10. I just need to work my way through it. When we're ready we'll take it to all constituencies and move forward. I pretty much know where all the constituencies [stand] right now." There isn't much opposition. Judging by Selig's demeanor, he evidently would like to have something formal on the subject to present to the owners and GMs when they meet again Jan. 12-13 in Paradise Valley, Ariz. About expanding the playoff pool from eight to 10 teams by adding a second Wild Card in each league, Selig said he's in the process of formulating a structure for the format in his own mind, "but I'm not there yet." Expanding instant replay beyond home run boundary calls -- in or out, fair or foul -- is a different matter. It was not a topic of discussion at all here this week, Selig said. "And I'm very grateful for that," he added. "Instant replay did not come up at any of the meetings I had. However, it will be a subject of the special committee. On that one, there are opinions everywhere on it. Managers have opinions. General managers have opinions. Owners have opinions. I want to hear them all and look at it." On other key issues, Selig said that he was pleased with Major League Baseball's economics this year, stating that annual gross revenue for the sport will be very close to a record $7 billion. He also sounded comfortable about labor relations between the owners and Players Association as both sides head into collective bargaining for a new Basic Agreement next year. The current five-year pact expires on Dec. 11, 2011. On MLB's economics for 2010, Selig said: "Given where this country has been in the greatest economic downturn since the great depression, these may have been the two best years we've ever had, considering the environment. Am I satisfied where we are? I'm satisfied. The last six years have been the best in baseball history in attendance. "While were down a little bit from a few years ago, it's remarkable where we are. So I feel good about it. Sure, there are some clubs that are down and owners who are disappointed, but I'll deal with that on a case-by-case basis." After more than 30 years of labor distress that ended with the 1994 strike, Selig again said he's ecstatic about labor peace that began with the signing of the 1995 Basic Agreement. The goal is obviously to extend that perhaps to the end of the current decade. "I can't forecast what's going to happen," Selig said. "But given the history you see a huge difference. I give [MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources] Rob Manfred and [union executive director] Michael Weiner credit for a constructive relationship. It isn't Marvin [Miller] vs. Bowie [Kuhn] and all the anger. "Both sides will be very intense and have things that they want, but when you think about what went on for years nobody could have ever dreamed that we'd have 16 years of labor peace, given that we had work stoppages in 1972, '76, '80, '81, '85, '90 and '94. In American labor history it's probably as bad a relationship as ever existed." The union, of course, is one of the constituencies Selig was talking about when it comes to expanding the postseason and fitting perhaps another short best-of-three series between the Wild Card teams already into a very tight schedule. On Tuesday, Manfred addressed the issue and made it clear that MLB was in no position to unilaterally implement such a change without full agreement from the union. He also said that it would be very difficult to re-open the current Basic Agreement and negotiate that one particular item in a year of collective bargaining. Thus, any change in the playoff format is unlikely until the 2012 postseason. "There is no timetable," Selig said when asked whether it was possible to expand the playoffs by 2011. "It just depends on how everything moves." Weiner, who last year replaced Don Fehr as the union's executive director, said during the World Series that players are certainly open to discussion, but like the GMs there's a wide variety of opinions about adding more playoff teams and how to incorporate those extra games into the postseason. Selig said again on Thursday that there's no support among the owners to shrink the regular-season schedule from 162 games back to the pre-1961 expansion era of 154 or play doubleheaders that are not slated for separate admissions during the day and night. One possible solution to the problem is the addition of as many as three day-night doubleheaders a season to shrink the schedule. "There's very little support for doubleheaders from the clubs and I can understand that," Selig said. "I went to a lot of doubleheaders in the late 1940s and '50s, but games were played a lot quicker, too. We're living in a little different era."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.