The Commissioner also reacted to Thursday's statement from Devil Rays outfielder Alex Sanchez regarding his steroid suspension, and briefly touched upon the NHL's labor dispute, an issue near and dear to Ilitch. However, the majority of his speech and the ensuing questions from the audience focused in general on competitive balance and specifically on the Tigers, a longtime division rival of Selig's former team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Selig recalled learning from former owner John Fetzer and general manager Jim Campbell.
"You don't need me to remind you, but I know how painful [it was] two years ago," Selig said, referring to Detroit's 119-loss season of 2003. "I mean that very sincerely: This is a remarkable story, and all of you should be proud. You've got a chance to win this year."
Selig credited that in part to the changes brought about over the past decade, including the collective bargaining agreement signed three years ago. There's no division, he said, in which he does not see a race for the title.
"Revenue sharing has changed the economic landscape of our sport," Selig said. "Is it perfect yet? No. Is there work to be done? Yes. But as president of the Brewers, I used to give a speech, and the speech always said on April 1, the job of our sport -- the Commissioner and all the clubs -- is to provide hope and faith so that somebody sitting here in Detroit can say, 'My team has a chance.'
"We have more teams with hope and faith today than we've had in a long, long time. Back in the '90s before all this started, maybe there were seven, eight, 10 [contending teams] certainly no more. Today, [there are] at least 20 [teams in contention] and maybe more than that. The last two years, we've had 20 teams still in contention for a playoff berth as late as Labor Day."
Ilitch credited Selig with his ability to build a consensus among owners, and jokingly asked if he could help the National Hockey League.
On the subject of Sanchez, the former Tiger suspended earlier this week for violating baseball's drug policy, Selig reacted to the outfielder's statement Thursday pointing to an over-the-counter supplement as the reason he failed the test.
"One thing we've spent a lot of time on is education," Selig said. "Our doctors went to every clubhouse this year in Spring Training. There's been a huge educational process going on. ... I don't think there's any question in anybody's mind that they know what they've been taking and they also know what they shouldn't take.
"It's obvious that he had violated the policy. He violated the policy, it's as simple as that. People talk about the timing. The timing was that's when they told me and so I did it. I said in Washington that anybody who violates the policy is gone. The only quarrel you can have is whether 10 days is long enough, and I can understand that. On that, reasonable people can disagree. And I don't disagree."