Monday, October 31, 2011

A well deserved victory lap for Bud Selig

In what may be a case for Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is more respected today than NBA Commissioner David Stern.

The NBA is embroiled in a maddening labor dispute that has seen Stern cancel NBA regular season games through November 30. Selig and MLB just completed an exciting World Series and are poised to sign a historic collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association.

"I would not be ashamed to tell you that [Thursday] night in the 11th inning after everything that went on, I told a couple of people, 'I'm really proud tonight to be the Commissioner of a sport that can produce what just happened,'" Selig said following the classic Game 6 that ended with a David Freese walk-off home run in the 11th.

"But it wasn't only [Thursday] night. Since September, we've really had an incredible [couple of] months, topped off by Sept. 28, which everyone said we couldn't replicate. But you play Spring Training, a 162-game season, a month of postseason games, and it all came down to Game 7. I said to my wife on the way over, 'This is the one time all year you can say there's no tomorrow.'"

Speaking with the media during an impromptu press conference Selig touched on a number of important issues, starting with the status of the current CBA negotiations between baseball’s management side and the MLBPA. The current CBA expires on December 11, 2011.

“Look, they've been quiet, they've been thoughtful, they've been constructive, both sides. And given where we used to be, given where -- you've heard me say that, Marvin and Bowie used to stand in the middle of the ring like Zale-Graziano and just bang at each other, you guys are all too young to remember that, and just bang at each other. We've come a long way, and this is what I like.

“Nobody could have conceived, starting with me, that 16 years ago we'd have labor peace. You just couldn't -- you had labor in '72, '75, '76, '80, '81, '85, and ‘90. You couldn't have conceived of it. What I think in retrospect that I really have come to understand is how badly that hurt us. So I will give Michael Wiener and Rob Manfred a lot of credit. There's a lot of work to be done yet, so I won't do that, but the talks have been constructive and very thoughtful. Very thoughtful.”

While a new CBA wasn’t announced during the 2011 World Series it’s all but a certainty to be announced in the not too distant future. Regardless, don’t expect MLB owners to lockout the players like the NFL, NBA and NHL owners have in the past 6 years.

MLB owners have learned hard lessons in starting a season without a CBA in place (the 1994 World Series cancelation) and will never put themselves in a position were the players can force the owners hands. It’s really just about dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s right now.

The 2011 World Series will long be regarded as one for the ages. Down ten and a half games in the National League wild card race on August 25, the champion Cardinals comeback and subsequent World Series win creates an opportunity for Selig to promote his idea of adding one more wild card team to each league in time for the 2012 season.

The two wild card teams would play a one game playoff elimination game with the winner moving into their respective league divisional playoff series.

Selig made one point clear Friday night – even if more teams are added to MLB’s playoff mix baseball will do what it needs to do to ensure the playoffs are completed in a timely manner.

“I must say, you know how I feel about November.

“I told you there would be a little sarcasm every so often, so here we are on October 28th.
You know, I don't know that. We'll have a meeting shortly, and that will be -- but I like the tightened schedule anyway. And I do think -- you can have an off-day here and there, but the tightening up really has been helpful, and we've avoided November and done okay. That's a question that we'll deal with.”

The idea of a one-game playoff elimination, while exciting, may not work in terms of allowing teams to set up their pitching rotation for the playoffs. It will, however, reward excellence for teams winning their division.

The Tampa Bay Rays and the Cardinals completed remarkable comebacks on the last day of the regular season. Under Selig’s new system the Red Sox would have met the Rays and the Braves the Cardinals in a one-game elimination.

Baseball has been slow to accept technology. While instant reply is now a part of determining if a homerun is indeed a homerun, the Lords of the Diamond seem determined to remain stuck in the infield when it comes to expanding the use of instant reply.

“We'll do some minor things, talk about things. He (Joe Torre) said the other day, which is absolutely correct. We'll always look at things, we'll look at what we do. We've made a lot more changes than I would have guessed 18, 19 years ago when I started in a lot of things.

“But you know how I feel about the pace of the game, and surprisingly they all do, too. That committee has been great, and I talked to a lot of baseball people, a lot of managers, a lot of general managers. And look, fair, foul, down the line, things like that, there's things we can do, but we'll continue to discuss that.”

What baseball needs is what technology offers – the opportunity to ensure whoever won the game wins the game. Umpires aren’t perfect and from time to time they’ll miss a call on an out. The technology exists were baseball can determine on close plays at any base if a runner is out or safe. Ninety nine per cent of the time the umpire will be right, but if that one per cent costs a team a game and that game costs that team a chance to win a championship then baseball owes it to that team, its fans and to the integrity of the sport to get it right by more effectively using technology.

Selig made one issue clear as his game seven press conference ended – he still expects to retire at the end of the 2012 season. Who might replace Selig, as Selig noted first baseball has to put a Selig succession plan in place.

“There isn't a mechanism in place, but it's something that I've thought a lot about and we'll continue to talk about it. I know it's a year from December 31st, and there are some people on both sides of the room, starting with my wife, I'm happy or sad to say, but she's somewhat skeptical. I'm trying to be kind to others in the room. So on that happy note, we'll continue to look at things. But there isn't at the present time.”

Cardinals’ manger Tony LaRussa Monday announced his retirement as a baseball manager – 33 years and three World Series later LaRussa had a great career as a manager. Selig’s lasting legacy has yet to be determined but at the end of the day he’ll likely leave the sport in better shape then it was when he became interim commissioner in 1992. The 2011 season may be baseballs finest both on and off the field for all the right reasons.

"Somebody said on television, baseball has had a coming-out party since Labor Day," Selig said. "I don't think so. I think it's always been there. I've said over and over and over, and I believe it of course, that it's the greatest game in the world. I've believed it since I was 5 years old. It's produced for this country, really, a remarkable chain of events.

"[Baseball] binds generations together. It does it like nothing else, but it takes moments like this to understand it. The game has never been more popular. There's no doubt about that by any criteria you want to use. But its impact is greater than it's ever been. This has been a proud moment for the great game of baseball."

Bud Selig earns an astounding $18 million annually as MLB commissioner – more than any major sports commissioner. MLB revenues will exceed $7 billion for 2011. All in all the business of baseball and Bud Selig is pretty good right now.

For Sports Business this is Howard Bloom

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