Commissioner Bud Selig on Baseball Beat with Charley Steiner
Friday, May 24th, 2:05 p.m. (eastern)/11:05 a.m. (pacific)
Charley Steiner: Hello, Bud. How are you?
Bud Selig: Okay, Charley, How are you this morning?
Steiner: I am fine. Thank you. When last we saw one another there were 115,000 friends and neighbors surrounding us and prior to that we were in China. Now it’s just a telephone call, but a pleasure nonetheless.
Selig: Well, that’s right. We saw each other in Beijing, China which was a wonderful experience. I think you would agree. Then of course, coming back to the Coliseum which brought back a lot of memories for me. I was a kid in Milwaukee following the Milwaukee Braves in those days and I remember all those Coliseum games. Wally Moon’s moon shots. Actually, Charley, the Milwaukee Braves lost the pennant in a playoff game in the Coliseum. Felix Mantilla threw the ball away. Not that I’m a poor loser, but its 49 years later and I’m still mad about it.
Steiner: Well, you know, you’re just going to have to work your way through it.
Selig: I know.
Steiner: Alright. We’re past the quarter pole and we’re almost a third of the way through the season.
Steiner: Overall assessment of the year that has been so far.
Selig: Fabulous year. Remarkable year. I mean really… In fact, I’ve just been going over the standings. You know, I love the competitive balance today. I think the stories are just remarkable. We’re going to have great division races. I think now every division… I have a few concerns about a couple divisions but they’ve tightened up. It’s just been remarkable. We’re going to go over 22 million in attendance tonight. Running ahead of last year our record year in spite of some horrendous weather in the Midwest and east coast. I don’t know Charley, I’m knocking on wood right now. It’s remarkable. I’m not sure how it could be much better.
Steiner: Let me ask you a big question. A big picture question. That is its no secret that the economy is in a very difficult period of time now. The gas prices are going through the roof and their not going to get any cheaper any time soon.
Selig: They are horrendous. They are horrendous.
Steiner: How do you suppose that will impact on baseball down the line? To what extent are you preparing for it to any degree or what?
Selig: Well, there’s no way to really read that. I’ve been in the sport a long time now about 45 years, so I’ve been through some recessions and economic downturns. You can always debate if this is a classic economic recession or not. The one thing that I’ve seen so far which has always been true (is) that baseball for the most part does well in these times. I don’t know why. There’s all kinds of different theories. None of us will ever know. Maybe people travel less because of it and frankly they stay home and go to ballgames. I don’t know the answer to this, but so far given our attendance… When you think here on May the 23rd Charley we’re going over 22 million, now that’s an amazing number. I’ve very concerned about the price of gas. There’s no question it’s affecting the economy in a very, very serious and severe way. Its consequences are really myriad and difficult. I talk to all the clubs all the time and so far it doesn’t seem to have an appreciable effect. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot of concerns because quite frankly I do.
Steiner: There are a couple hot button issues that have arisen over the past several weeks. Let’s begin I supposed with replay. That Sunday night game with Carlos Delgado…
Steiner: …then the home run that was or wasn’t with Alex Rodriguez…
Steiner: …and now there is… You are old school as I am. Always been reluctant for replay. Has your position in general changed to any degree that maybe it is time at least on home run calls that this may be the way to go?
Selig: I don’t know if its… I’m doing… What I’ve said to people and Charley I would say to you, look I am reviewing everything. I saw the Sunday night game. There was a dispute in the Chicago/Houston game on Monday night. Another dispute on Alex Rodriguez’s ball on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. The general managers last November made by a 25 to 5 vote a very limited recommendation, so everything in this area is up for review. Everybody knows how I think about these issues. I really am a traditionalist because I think it is right to understand the history of this sport. To be very careful anytime you make a change. But what I would say to you is, I am very seriously reviewing this entire matter and then we’ll take it from there. I can’t say anymore now because I don’t know how its going to come out.
Steiner: When you say, “seriously reviewing” that seems a little more extreme from obviously what you’ve said over the years. Is your mind beginning to fluctuate a little bit?
Selig: I still… There are a lot of people who talk about replay in the other sports. Reading an article this morning, and I happened to agree with the writer, he said, ‘look it hasn’t really worked out very well in other sports and he had a lot of negatives. Now people can debate that, but having said that. Look when I say, when I say seriously and I’ve told everybody in baseball this, if there is something that doesn’t in my judgment tamper with the history and tradition of the game in a negative way than I will seriously consider it. That’s where we are in this process.
Steiner: Alright, if not video tape. Would one possible solution be like what we see in the playoffs and the World Series? Have six umpires.
Selig: Well, we haven’t determined any of that. We’re looking at a lot of different scenarios. And, frankly no decisions have been made.
Steiner: Okay, one thing I read that the Arizona Fall League there will be some experimentation.
Selig: I read that too, Charley. That’s what I read. Right now, I am really considering and reviewing the basic question.
Steiner: Okay. The next question, and again we’ll use this in a generic sense, quote unquote maple bats.
Steiner: Yes, there are all sorts of bats. Different bat companies and so on. One thing that we have all noticed over the last few years are these projectiles. I mean there are times when a given batter goes through three bats in one at-bat. And these are not just broken bats, but there are javelins that impale the ground. Actually, one got a piece of Don Long the hitting instructor of the Pirates when he was here at Dodger Stadium. How serious is that an issue for you? Let’s just begin with that. Where are you on that?
Selig: Well, we had our May meetings in Milwaukee last week as you know and we had very significant and serious conversations about ‘em. I’m concerned about ‘em and therefore we are meeting with the union. Rob Manfred and Michael Weiner have scheduled a meeting. I watch a lot of games Charley, as you know, and I’ve seen bats shattering in a way… And there’s been a couple instances, the one in Pittsburgh where their coach really suffered a significant injury but it could’ve been a lot worse. They are not only breaking, but they are shattering. We need to get to heart of that and we need to do it quickly.
Steiner: Back when we were watching a million years ago you had a broken bat and just to finish it off you broke it over your knee. Now of course they are literally exploding.
Selig: That’s a fact. Yes, I do have deep and abiding concerns about that.
Steiner: How do you go about… Because obviously the players want as much torque as they can possibly get out of their swing. The handles are shaved down to just pretty near nothing. The composition of the bat itself, the wood itself. Where do you even begin on a journey like that?
Selig: That’s why their meeting. Our people are also reviewing it. I let all the club’s speak about. The club’s got up and talked about some of the things they had seen. I have asked them to meet really expeditiously and come back to met with recommendations. I’ve also talked with some bat people. I have already recommendation on what we should do.
Steiner: Do you now see that as a legitimate safety in the workplace issue?
Selig: Yes, I do.
Steiner: The other issue has been of late the umpires. Another game at Dodger Stadium where Kerwin Danley took one right on the facemask. I’m not even sure if he’s back working yet. You’ve had another four or five umpires who are out, who have either had mild concussions or neck injuries. We tend to forget, and we talk about this on this program all the time, these are human beings who are there working. They are not just umpires and they are not just players. These are human beings. Again to what degree are you concerned about that and what if anything can be done about that?
Selig: Well, that’s an interesting question. We do, we do worry about that and again we get into the health and safety of people. I’m not sure what can be done about that. We need, we need to watch that very carefully and we need to be very, very conscientious in how we handle those situations.
Steiner: Okay, one of the issues also that I know you want to work on is time of game which is roughly what about two hours and 50 some odd minutes.
Selig: And getting a little longer. I’ll step in here, Charley. Look it’s not the time so much, I always say, it’s the pace of the game. And, I don’t want to sound like an old timer but I told a story to the club owners last year when back in the fifties, early sixties I’d go to a ballgame. Bob Buhl you remember pitching for Milwaukee. He was a wonderful pitcher.
Steiner: Wore number 10 on his back.
Selig: That’s right. You could, you could Charley know that the game started at eight o’clock and you were gone by a quarter to 10. Hour and 45 minutes. Bang, bang, bang. I’m not suggesting we’re going to have that again, but there are rules that need to be enforced. I watched the other day I was interested, I watched a player stepped out of the box he hadn’t swung, ball one, and he was readjusting his gloves. Now I was sitting at home and I thought to myself, “Well, that’s interesting. He hasn’t swung. What could possibly have happened to the gloves?” It’s the pace of the game as I tell the clubs. And by the way, they are very supportive of that.
Steiner: How then do we…
Selig: We’ve had games that really are… Sometimes there are two to one games that last three hours and ten minutes. It’s the pace of the game. We are working on a whole series of things. We sent out directives to the clubs this week. There are existing rules, but what I’ve said to everybody is whatever other rules you need we ought to do this. And I must say the cooperation from the clubs so far has been wonderful because it’s in everybody’s best interest, Charley.
Steiner: But in the days of Bob Buhl, players (laughing) did not leave the on deck circle to music accompaniment.
Selig: Well, I understand that it’s different and I said that. But, we had begun to reduce the time to 2:40, 2:38, 2:37. And now we’re back up again and it is just not acceptable.
Steiner: How do you police it?
Selig: Oh, by enforcing. By making sure everybody knows the rules and then tell the umpires you will enforce it. It’s very simple.
Steiner: Are we going to see at some point umpires with stop watches?
Selig: Well, we use whatever mechanisms we need. The rules are clear anyway. If there’s a 12 or 15 second rule you bet that’s what will be enforced.
Steiner: Okay. As they say in real life, yesterday’s 50’s are today’s 40’s and yesterday’s 60’s are today’s 50’s. Today’s 600 home runs are yesterday’s 500 home runs.
Steiner: What… Over the last couple of years, visa vie the Mitchell Report and all of the other stuff that we have gone through. Big picture what does this all tell you about statistically where we are now. It appears home runs are down. Pitching velocity is down. Anecdotally just talking to scouts and all, scouts are saying we are now beginning to assess young players at the high school and college level more athletically rather than in terms of sheer brawn. Big picture how has the game adjusted post steroids? Post all of that?
Selig: Well. Extremely well. I tell ya the thing that makes me really very proud. I know people are critical, “they were too slow to react” and “they should’ve known”. All of those are debates that I could participate in very aggressively, but let we review the bidding here for you Charley. We today have the toughest testing program in American sports. We’re proud of that. I’m very proud of it. We’ve banned amphetamines. For those of us who have been along for a long time and that includes the two of us, that’s a very, very significant thing. Amphetamines have been around for 80 to a hundred years in different forms. This idea that other generations haven’t used things to make them play better or whatever is just not true. We banned them. Nobody asked us to ban ‘em. We did it. We’re funding a study and a program with Dr. Catlin in Los Angeles with the National Football League to find a test for human growth hormone. My minor league program, Charley, is now in its eighth year, so the great young stars the Ryan Howards and the Prince Fielders and Ryan Brauns and Chase Utleys and on and on and on. There are a lot of them on every team. Have now been tested for eight years. Not just tested the last year or two. SO this idea that we didn’t react well is just not right. You know steroids… By the way, I would go and get George Mitchell again. That’s how, that’s how delighted I am that the report. That we got the report and it worked. But baseball reacted well. It’s a societal problem, Charley. It isn’t a baseball problem or a football problem or anything else. Not a sport problem. It’s a societal problem. We’re doing a lot work with the partnership for Drug Free America. All the players named in the Mitchell Report, and many other players who want to, are doing public service work with the partnership, so I am satisfied. You go through life… I said to Jerome Holtzman, who is our baseball historian, whom you know obviously very well is a remarkable human being and has a wonderful knowledge of the sport. I asked him about a year ago to go back to the twenties and point out to me each decade what problems commissioners had, what problems the sport had because people were writing in the late 90’s and even four, five, six, seven, eight years ago, “Oh, this is terrible. Baseball never had problems.” And of course they had. They’ve had a lot of problems like this. And, so I am proud of the fact. I give the Players Association a lot of credit they reopened two or three times and they didn’t have to, which shows you that our 16 years of labor peace which is also unprecedented today that we did react well. So a problem is a societal problem. We were in the forefront of taking action and doing things. Whatever happens as a result of that frankly that’s just fine. That’s what we meant to do.
Steiner: The game appears to be changing now and for us old timers I think in a more positive way that they are going back to the basics. Games are becoming more fundamentally sound. Their a little more athletic. They are not just one Paul Bunyan after another stepping up to the plate to hit one 500 foot home run after another. Just from a game point of view do you see this as a better thing than what we experienced the last 10, 15, 20 years?
Selig: Well, I’m not sure because back in the… I mean there are adjustments being made. You’re right. You can drop conclusions. I don’t have to tell you back in my day running the Milwaukee club we were playing the Baltimore Orioles and Earl Weaver theory about how to win was to have a bunch of three-run home runs and he played for the long ball. And a lot of clubs played for the long ball. So, look everybody plays the game differently even in that day you had Whitey Herzog playing small ball and you had in Milwaukee we had a home run hitting team. Baltimore had a home run hitting team. Everybody plays the game differently. And even today as I watch a lot of games Charley, different clubs have different styles. But look, we’ve met the challenge. We’re the only sport that had a George Mitchell come in and do a remarkable job. I said to people at the time and I would say to you, we are not afraid… I don’t ever want you or anybody else to be able to say to me or any of our fans, “Where were you people hiding? Why didn’t you have somebody come in?” So we had the great statesman of our generation, George Mitchell whose reputation is impeccable, come in and do this. And so we’ve done everything our past, our present, and our future. How it changes the sport around I think is each club is going to have to adjust to it in anyway that they have. Some of them are still playing for the home run and others are playing small ball.
Steiner: Its one thing about playing for it. It’s another to just amassing one large human being after another who (laughing) became large for various different reasons. I guess the other question I have… Anytime I can use the word reproach ma on a radio show it’s a good day.
Selig: Yes it is.
Steiner: The reproach ma that you had with Don and Gene, that’s to say the Players Union and management. Could this have been done without the help of Congressional intervention?
Selig: Well, I think it could of. I know a lot of people say that’s what pushed us over. I happen to think their wrong, but that’s a debate probably not worth having. We proposed a steroid program in nineteen hundred and ninety-four. That’s a negotiation that broke down and the players were on strike so there was no World Series and we had a rocky period in the nineties. We had eight work stoppages from 1972 on. Now here we are with 16 years of peace. We fought like the dickens in 2002 and it was the last item. Andy MacPhail and Peter Angelos were the two representatives at that time of ownership. Andy called me one night, I was home in Milwaukee and he was of course in New York and after kidding me he’d like to watch his team play, but I’d had him there for about two and a half months. He said, “I wish you could have seen what went on today.” I said, “What happened.” He said, “Have you heard from Rob or Bob today?” Obviously, Rob Manfred and Bob Dupuy. I said, “I have but just briefly they arte going to call me tonight.” He said, “I have to tell you it was worth the price of admission. Angelos got in to a brawl with Gene Orza over steroids and drugs and it was three hours of…” He said, “I’ve never heard anything like that.” So I had to make the decision at 6:30 in the morning Charley, do we take a program that I knew was not as strong as I like but have now since improved it a lot or have another work stoppage? I believed another work stoppage would hurt the game badly for maybe two or three generations and never it never came back. So you know the union, I don’t say this critically, they would not quarrel they had the privacy issues and other issues, they were dead set against it. So sometimes in life Charley you have to reach a certain point before you are willing to change, but people talk about the Congressional thing. Remember my minor league program went into affect in 2001. We were working with the Partnership for Drug Free America. Drug testing is something that has to be collectively bargained. That is not something that the Commissioner can do unilaterally. People don’t say it much any more, but I used to hear “well, if Landis was still the Commissioner.” Well, there’s two facts involved. One he isn’t and two he didn’t have to deal with the Players Association and life was much different. Commissioners are bound by rules too. Was it Congressional intervention that really did it? Look I think it probably helped to some degree, but we were already there and frankly, owners don’t get enough credit. I want to tell you something Charley, no owner has ever said to me “Gee, I like the home runs” or “this is good.” Owners have always had deep and abiding concerns and last year, last week when we approved the new drug testing program, which we did in about 30 seconds after Rob Manfred got done, Frank McCourt of the Dodgers really wanted to be the club that did this. (He) got up immediately, there was a second. I asked if there was any discussion. A vote was taken. Thirty to nothing. Done. Over. That’s always been the case.
Steiner: So when you hear those who have criticized you and baseball that McGwire and Sosa in ’98 and the home run chase and all of that was a manufactured way of bringing fans back to the yard that is a theory with which you have complete disregard.
Selig: Charley, I’ll tell you what it is. It’s sheer nonsense. Number one, the attendance numbers don’t even support that. You know, somebody said it and other people believe it. It’s absolute sheer nonsense. Let me give you two or three facts. Number one, no club ever said to me, “Gee, their concerned about it.” There’s been a lot of second guessing that “Oh, you should have known, should have known.” Charley, I’ve had a significant number of writers say to me, “We were in the clubhouse we didn’t know.” By the way, two or three of the writers who have said that to me are in the Hall of Fame.
Steiner: We were there too. You know I was covering McGwire and Sosa in ’98 and all of that. You know that was one of the things. Let me just jump in and be rude for a moment. We were un-indicted coconspirators. All of us. Because we did not know. At least I did not know. Hey, I flunked biology in high school and college so what do I know. Above and beyond that, these kids were becoming bigger. We just thought bigger, stronger, faster and all of that. And we were a bunch of beat writers and broadcasters and this was an impossible thing to prove because you don’t see somebody shooting the stuff or swallowing the pills or whatever it is they do. And so then when it finally did come out it was far uglier in the rearview mirror than it was at the time when we were looking at it through the windshield.
Selig: Well, that’s exactly right. Look, look my point to you is that people in retrospect… There’s really some people in the media “Oh, you should have known and I knew and this guy knew”. No they didn’t. No they didn’t. Look some people had concerns. I had concerns. That’s why I put the minor league program in. That’s why in 2002 we fought to get a program. That’s why in ’94 we had… None of us ever really understood the significance. You really didn’t know. After all, I’ve had many a person say to me, “What was I looking for? What was I supposed to be looking for?” That’s a great question and so the idea that we knew and we liked it because of home runs is sheer nonsense. By the way, since we’ve had these programs, and they get tighter and tighter, attendance is booming like it never has. So that theory its, its just folly Charley. I know there’s some writers they keep saying it, but where were they. I said to a writer to the other day, pardon a little sarcasm. About a month ago he wrote a column and I called him I said, “You know, I’ve had our people review every column you wrote during that period. You never once mentioned steroids and you were covering a team.” Dead silence on the phone. It’s very easy in retrospect, 10 or 15 years later, to say “Oh, they should’ve known” or “I knew.”
Steiner: We simply didn’t know how to report the story, Bud. That was the thing. It’s not like we caught anybody doing anything. And, and…
Selig: That’s exactly the point, Charley.
Steiner: That was what made it so difficult for all of us.
Steiner: At least thankfully, we are heading in the right direction. And, I think your point…
Selig: We’re really headed in the right direction. One thing I do regularly Charley is meet with trainers and the team doctors. And I had a great meeting in January with them. I’ve since talked to a lot of trainers. A lot of doctors and also the doctors around medically. There is no doubt in their minds that we have really made stunning progress. Let me give you some facts. Last year, we only had three positive tests and ’06 two. So we’ve come so far and I’m proud of how far we’ve come. We’ve been very candid about it. Examined our past and did everything. I’m very comfortable where we are now and where we’ve been.
Steiner: And again if you want to talk strictly business, and I think you hit it right on the money, folks forget that in 1999 attendance actually went down from ’98 number one. And number two as we were talking about before yesterday’s 600 is maybe today’s 500 and we’re getting so close with Ken Griffey, Jr. by the way. Attendance is up, so that’s one argument that goes right out the window.
Selig: Yeah. By the way, I am very happy for Ken Griffey, Jr. He’s really a great young man. He’s really one of the nicest people that I know. I’m delighted. He’s had a lot of tough injuries, but he’s really had a remarkable career and he’s been great for baseball. Anyway, I am very comfortable where we are. We’ve dealt with our problem. We’ve dealt with everything. Some people can say we were too slow to react, well I don’t happen to agree with that. I think that there was a lot of knowledge. None of us were experts. None of us really knew. I give all the club people at the club level… I’ve had a lot of general managers. John Schuerholz would not mind me saying this. I’m sure because he is one of many GM’s. Brian Cashman said it last year when they asked him if he was going to apologize after the (Jason) Giambi thing and he said, “I have nothing to apologize for and I’ve been here since 1995.” John Schuerholz will tell you the same thing in a very stern and aggressive manner and so have a lot of other managers and general mangers. I have enormous respect for him and for all of them and I share that view.
Steiner: Bud as always, thank you for coming on. Don’t be a stranger. Come on back real soon.
Selig: I will do that Charley. As always, its been a pleasure to be with you.