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07/14/09 4:45 PM ET

Selig: This may be 'our greatest season'

Economy, PEDs among topics in annual address

ST. LOUIS -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday that given the difficult economic circumstances, 2009 "may be in a sense our greatest season."

Selig made these comments in his annual "State of the Game" address at a meeting of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

"I think we're really having a remarkable year in many ways," Selig said. "The Dow Jones is off 41.4 percent since its high, and that's affected everybody's lives, it's been very pervasive. Unemployment is between 9 and 10 percent now, which is really horrifying to think about.

"I had set a goal that we would hit 40 million [in attendance] by the All-Star break. We were 400,000 below that. So we really came remarkably close. Attendance is down about 5 percent, which is, I think, amazing. Everybody I talk to in American industry is just stunned at that.

"Now, if you take the two New York ballparks with less capacity, we're probably down about 3.8 to 4 percent. So I think this may be in a sense our greatest season.

"It really is a testament to this sport. I'm proud of the last seven or eight years in terms of the economics. The sport has never been this popular. Yet 10 or 15 years ago, everybody was feeling sorry for baseball. 'Ah, it's boring, it's dull, it's past its time.' It's been declared moribund for six decades by many people. Well, these numbers keep adding up.

"I make no predictions about what will happen in the second half, but the popularity of this sport comes through in a more meaningful way this year than I have ever seen it."

In an hour-long appearance that included a spirited question-and-answer session, Selig covered a wide range of subjects. A particularly topical one was the return of Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers following a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy.

Selig said he, along with many other people, was surprised by the amount of positive reaction to Ramirez's return.

"You always come back to: "Fans want their team to win.'" the Commissioner said.

He indicated that Ramirez's suspension proved that the drug program played no favorites, that this was the only positive test out of 2,400 tests this year and that all of this underlined the validity of baseball's drug policy.

What Selig wants changed in the process is a current provision that allows the suspended player to go out on a rehabilitation assignment before his 50-game suspension ends. Ramirez was in this situation. Selig said he thought that the player involved should not be able to go a rehab assignment until the full 50-game suspension has been served. The Commissioner suggested that this topic would be a point of discussion in the next collective bargaining negotiations with the players' union.

"I think that's something we may have to address in the next labor negotiations," Selig said.

In recent years, a constant topic in these sessions has been performance-enhancing drugs. Selig was asked a question regarding how to judge players who used PEDs as candidates for the Hall of Fame.

"That I'm going to leave to all of you," Selig said. "You all have to make your own decisions. I would not, however, disregard history. That's a very fair question, and I understand it's bothering a lot of people. But you'll have to make your own judgment."

The Commissioner's point regarding history was that there had been previous problems with substance abuse in baseball. As he noted, before the PED era, there had been the cocaine era.

Reporters who have been Baseball Writers' Association of America members for 10 consecutive years are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. The topic of how to judge players with PED pasts remains a central and unresolved issue for the BBWAA.

After the Commissioner's appearance was concluded, the BBWAA members rejected a proposal to form a committee for developing guidelines on evaluating players from the PED era in Hall of Fame voting.

The proposal was rejected, 30-25. The argument against the proposal was that this process was a matter of individual judgment, and even well-intended guidelines would be inappropriate.

Current Hall of Fame rules ask voters to consider a player's "record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

Players need 75 percent of the votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame. In the one test case from the PED era to date, Mark McGwire received about 23 percent of the vote in his first two years on the ballot, and only 21.9 percent of the votes this year.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.