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2005 All-Star Town Hall transcript

2005 All-Star Town Hall transcript

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THE MODERATOR: Welcome to our fourth annual Town Hall Chat with the Commissioner of Baseball. We started this chat a couple of years ago in Milwaukee, and we moved on to Houston last year and we are here at John Hancock All-Star FanFest in Detroit.

We have been soliciting questions from fans over the last week or so on MLB.com and took the most prevalent and best questions. We'll put this PowerPoint presentation that you see on the screen, and then after that, we're going to open up to you the fans out here. And what I want to you do, folks, is if you have a question, grab a mic off to your left over here. You'll come up after that, tell us your name and what city you're from, and we'll answer those questions.

But first I want to introduce to you the Commissioner of Baseball, Allan H. (Bud) Selig. Commissioner, welcome. (Applause)

It was an international day yesterday, definitely, but last night's CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby was amazing and there are a lot of very happy people in Venezuela right now.

COMMISSIONER SELIG: Well, I can understand that. Bobby Abreu put on a spectacular performance and, you know, we were criticized in some quarters for not having some of the more recognized home-run hitters, but between Bobby Abreu and Pudge Rodriguez and Carlos Lee, everybody just did a great job. It was really, really spectacular.

MODERATOR: That's fantastic. You ready to hear some questions now?

SELIG: Yeah, I certainly am.

Q. First question, from the Netherlands.

SELIG: "You mentioned last year that in the next year or two there will be some games in Europe. Is that still in the plans? I hope it will be in Holland, because the only two countries with a real baseball tradition in Europe are Italy and the Netherlands."

Well, he's right in that the Baseball Classic will take place next March. Italy and the Netherlands are going to have teams there. You cannot underestimate how important the World Baseball Classic will be -- it's going to take the sport from one end of the earth to the other -- China, the Netherlands, Italy and Japan and Korea -- and it just is so exciting.

So there will be more games in Europe. I tell them again that we'll be back here to do it, but this has really been a very, very great experience, and next March, remember, watch the World Baseball Classic, because it will be spectacular.

Q. On to our next question.

SELIG: "With the Nationals and their fans enjoying not only their first year in Washington, but a pennant race at that, when will an owner be selected? We need ownership to lead the franchise and also fight the fight to get the games on local television."

We have eight groups bidding on the Washington franchise, and I believe we'll bring that to a conclusion sometime in the next month or six weeks. You'll have an owner, and I believe an outstanding ownership group, and the Washington franchise will do very, very well.

SELIG: "Will the Major Leagues ever have their own network, and when will the launch date for the network be?"

We're talking about a baseball channel. We're working on a baseball channel which will be in place shortly, which is exactly what the NFL has and the NBA have done. Ours will be up and running in the very near future.

"Many people, including myself, feel Interleague Play takes away from the uniqueness of the World Series. Baseball was unique in the fact that the two leagues met only in the All-Star Game and World Series. Interleague Play really works in cities like Chicago, but an Arizona/Detroit series is baffling. Is there a chance Interleague Play will end in the near future?"

No. Interleague Play is a spectacular innovation. There are some Interleague rivalries that are very good, too, and the same teams generally that don't match up well, but what we've had in Interleague Play, the natural rivals have been great -- the Yankees and the Mets, the Cubs and the White Sox, the Dodgers and the Angels, the A's and the Giants, Houston and Texas have been terrific rivalries. The Brewers and the Twins, the Cardinals and Kansas City, particularly in Kansas City.

But more important than that, we've got a lot of new rivalries. Let me just take Cincinnati. Both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati want to play Cleveland, and so what we're having is a very hard time trying to figure out how we can take care of all of these people. Even Boston went to Philadelphia, and on and on and on. Interleague Play drew 12 percent more than the average this year. More important than that, it really energizes the sport -- and, frankly, go talk to people in New York and Chicago and L.A. and Houston and Dallas and Philadelphia and on and on and on. Philadelphia and Baltimore, the great rivalry, Baltimore and Washington will be a great rivalry next year -- they love Interleague Play.

Interleague Play is what our fans want, so the answer is, it's here to stay. And it does not take away from the World Series.

MODERATOR: All right. This one from Oscar.

SELIG: "How do you think the World Baseball Classic will help baseball get more global around the world?"

There's no question that it will. We will not only take baseball to countries where it's very popular, where it's very important and it's very, very popular, but we will take baseball to places where they don't have a lot, and therefore, I'm very comfortable telling you today that the World Baseball Classic is going to internationalize the sport a lot more than I think people understand.

"Why is Kenny Rogers being allowed to pitch in the All-Star Game despite his 20-game suspension, please explain? Thank you."

At least he thanked me after he asked the question anyway.

Kenny Rogers' suspension is under appeal. It's 20 regular-season games, plus a fine, $50,000. And it would not have affected the All-Star Game because the players voted him in, and in accordance with our labor contract, he was entitled to come whether he was or wasn't on suspension. The appeal is going to be heard in the very near future.

"When will New York host another All-Star Game?"

The Mets hosted the All-Star Game in '64 and the Yankees last hosted the Midsummer Classic in 1977. The American League has some slots coming up, and that's a very, very good question.

MODERATOR: Would [the Yankees getting the All-Star Game] work in conjunction with a new stadium once it's built in a couple of years?

SELIG: Yes, it would.

MODERATOR: The next question.

SELIG: "Have you continued discussions with the players' union about tightening the current steroid policy, and if so, where do those talks stand?"

Well, you know, on April 25, I wrote a letter to Don Fehr and I said that I wanted the penalties to go to 50 games, 100 games and life. We're having ongoing discussions, also independent testing. The current program is working. Make no mistake about it, it is working. But, there's an integrity issue here, and that's why I believe baseball needs a tougher program so that people understand that we will rid the sport of steroids under all circumstances.

"Are there any plans for expansion in either the American or National League in the coming years."

No.

MODERATOR: Simple as that.

SELIG: Simple as that. There are no plans. We are not even thinking about expansion.

MODERATOR: Next question. This is a long one.

SELIG: All right, that's a long one.

"I grew up in Detroit and had many great times at Tiger Stadium and really enjoy Comerica Park. As much as baseball relies on its rich heritage, and we do, it's great to see MLB move forward, along with owners such as the Illitches, to provide such a great venue for baseball while still holding fast to and honoring the generations of players and fans that have kept baseball alive and well in the city of Detroit. What is the most difficult challenge you encounter as Commissioner?"

Well, there are so many, I don't know where to start. I think continuing the economic changing of the landscape which enables all teams to be very competitive, that is a very difficult challenge, along with the marketing of the sport and keeping up with the technology that is changing on a daily basis. So, I guess if I had to name one thing, I would say it's the ongoing economics of the sport.

"Who is your favorite player of all time, and why?"

MODERATOR: A Brewer or a Brave?

SELIG: No, it really isn't. I would say my favorite player of all time is ... when I grew up, I was a huge Joltin' Joe DiMaggio fan, and I guess Joe DiMaggio will always be my favorite player from my own career. Tough to have favorite players, because there have been so many. But if you pressed me, one would be Robin Yount during my Brewers days, and the other would be somebody I had literally grown up with, and that's Hank Aaron.

MODERATOR: OK. Next question.

SELIG: "I'm a 14-year-old kid who loves watching baseball every night, and I'm a huge White Sox fan. Well, anyway, I think the idea of having a World Baseball Classic is great. But I don't understand why baseball can't be in the Olympics; could you please tell me why?"

Well, they just asked us to leave the Olympics, along with softball, which I think is most unfortunate. But I guess what I would say to you is that they want two things. No. 1, they want to play during the season, and there's no way we can stop the season for two weeks. Imagine stopping the season the last week of August, the first week of September in the middle of a pennant race and then trying to resume again and playing 162 games; it is just not possible. It would not be fair to the teams, certainly would not be fair to the players, those who went and those who didn't go. So there's a practical problem that is just impossible to surmount.

MODERATOR: On to our next question.

SELIG: "Are you surprised at the success of the Washington Nationals, and are they America's team?"

I am surprised they are doing as well as they are doing. Frank Robinson has done a wonderful job; Jim Bowden, Tony Tavares and the players have done just great. They have become America's darlings so far, but I don't think they are quite yet America's team.

MODERATOR: Do you think it's also because they found a home in Washington full-time?

SELIG: No question. Having a team back in the nation's capital has been very, very helpful.

MODERATOR: Next question.

SELIG: "Is there any possibility of eliminating the designated hitter rule in the American League? I realize the players' union would be hard-pressed to agree to this concession, but perhaps if teams were allowed to have a 26-player roster they may go for it."

Well, what I would say about that is that I like the difference, actually. I was in the American League when we voted for it. The American League teams still like the designated hitter rule. They like it a lot.

The National League teams will never have the designated hitter rule. So what I have said in the past is that it will take some precipitous event like maybe overall Major League realignment to do that, but in the meantime the American League is comfortable with it and Bill Giles of the Phillies, who is not a controversial guy, all he says to me, "It's good to have a little difference there; it's all right," and I think that that's right. If one league likes it and the other doesn't, there's nothing wrong with using it that way.

"Can you explain the rationale for the current appeal process for disciplinary reasons? Why is there such an extended time period between the incident, the decision, the appeal and the rendering of a ruling on the appeal?"

A lot of it has to do with the arbitrator. He has some things going on that are taking a long time, longer than I would like, but the fact of the matter remains, that's part of our legal process. In the cases that I hear or Bob DuPuy hears or John McHale, those go pretty quickly, but players need a certain amount of time to prepare their appeal or managers or anybody else who is being disciplined.

"Have you ever thought of using instant replay in baseball? We have seen umpires make mistakes in critical situations and then ejecting players for the call they just made."

No, I think the human element in baseball is really very important. The umpires for the most part do a wonderful job. Sure, there are controversial decisions as there are in every sport, but I think overall, the umpires have really, really tightened up on everything, and I'm satisfied with the job they are doing right now.

"I'd like to start off by saying that you have been doing a great job anchoring baseball. My question is about the First-Year Player Draft. It has become a problem signing drafted players. I was thinking of some type of maximum signing bonus for drafting. Have you thought about issuing such a rule?"

I have, and we do certain things like that. There are certain slotting procedures which accomplish what Jordan has asked for here. I think it's worked out well. There's no question there are some players who are very difficult to sign. But we have a slotting procedure, we have made a lot of progress in this area.

"What is being done in regards to enforcing the rules of the strike zone?"

Well, we've gone back to the rule-book strike zone. Sandy Alderson, when he worked for me, was was very aggressive. I think since then, I think the umpires have been calling it for the most part the way it appears in the rule book.

MODERATOR: That's it with the e-mailed questions. We are going to open it up to the fans.

What is your name and where are you from?

Q. Bruce Webber, originally Raleigh, N.C., now from Pittsburgh. I would ask you if you could help me get two tickets for Pittsburgh next year, but I want to ask you this question: Do you think realistically if my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates or your beloved Milwaukee Brewers will ever contend in our lifetime?

SELIG: Absolutely. That's a good question. I just talked to a Pittsburgh writer about it who asked me the same question.

When I took over in '92, and I'm very sensitive to that, obviously I came from a market very, very similar. There was no revenue sharing. The landscape had changed and baseball had not done anything about it. We went through a lot of heartache; we went through a lot of travails. Today there is almost $300 million of revenue sharing and the Pirates get a lot of money from revenue sharing. There's work to be done. We also have debt-service rules and we also have a tax on payrolls. We have really begun -- I don't think people today understand how much the economic landscape of the sport has changed.

I feel good about it, and the answer to your question, I can say to you unequivocally, they will contend and they should contend in the near future.

Q. My name is Jim Gray from Brooklyn, N.Y. I would like to know what your feedback has been from the players in reference to the All-Star Game playing for something. And on a personal note, from one parent to another, I appreciate what you did on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

SELIG: The feedback has been good. Let me go back on the All-Star Game a little bit. Years ago, the players played the All-Star Game with real zest. I just told the writers the other day, I was a kid watching the All-Star Game in Commiskey Park, Chicago, in 1950. Ted Williams broke his elbow in the first inning and played all 14 innings, with a broken elbow. They played to win.

Something happened in the '90s. Cito Gaston, the Toronto manager, got booed because he didn't use Mike Mussina. And after that the managers decided they are going to play everybody, they are going to try to get everybody in the game.

All-Star Game 2005

And the game lost its luster. I had a lot of players who played in the '50s and '60s who would say to me, "They are not playing the game like we used to." So when you gave it home-field advantage, you put a little life back into it. And I think for the most part, whatever decision you make, there's always going to be somebody, but for the most part the players have been good.

And watch them tonight. They will be into that game, both dugouts. The first time we did it was in 2003 in Chicago. I happened to be sitting next to the American League dugout and when Hank Blalock hit that home run in the last of the eighth inning, they went crazy, they were all there. A couple of years before, they were all gone. They were dancing on the field and hugging each other. It counts, and it's a good thing.

Q. My name is Doug Myer from Deerfield, Ill. I have a 7-year-old son who is starting to get very into baseball but when we get to the World Series, because of games on the East Coast and the Central time zone ending at 11, 12 o'clock, they are not able to stay up that late to watch the games. Is there any thought of putting some of the weekend games, perhaps starting them at a more reasonable hour so kids can grow up being huge fans by seeing the end of ballgames?

SELIG: I'm very sensitive to that. We try to start them as early as we can. And the most interesting part of that is the longer the games go, the greater the ratings become, and that's the problem, frankly. I can't blame the networks -- after all, they want to make the greatest rating.

The problem with trying to play some day games on the weekend is that the networks have a lot of football commitments and therefore they don't really -- they can't. But our ratings have been great.

I am sensitive to that, and we're going to try to figure out something and try to get them to do something with it.

Q. My name is Karen. I'm from Detroit and I was wondering -- we're talking about taking baseball to another level. Would it be affordable for families to still enjoy these outings?

SELIG: Well, baseball is a family game, and we have done so far a very good job of keeping it affordable. In fact, the clubs not only have special days, but special discount days where you could take a family of four and get a hot dog and a Pepsi or Coke and a ticket. Really interesting, I saw the Tigers had some billboards up here and you can go to a game, a family of four, I think it was for $49 or something, which included drinks and so on and so forth.

We have the lowest ticket prices in sports, but you are correct -- we need to keep our ticket prices down so that families, particularly with young kids, can afford to go to those games. That's absolutely correct.

Q. Hi, Commissioner. My name is Richard from St. Catherine's, Ontario.

SELIG: But obviously a Boston Red Sox fan.

Q. A question about maybe letting the fans vote on who gets to get in the Home Run Derby. You allow us to decide who starts in the All-Star Game.

SELIG: Well, that's a little bit tougher. I love the fan voting for the All-Star Game. It's a great thing and we should never disturb that.

The Home Run Derby, you know, this year we did one per country because we wanted to take it international. But, well, that's something that I'll talk to our people about. That's certainly an interesting request.

Q. Good afternoon, Commissioner. My name is Scott. I have a question. It's been bothering me for some time, and I would hope it's a concern for you. The overall appearance with the players, with the sloppiness of the uniform, I think really needs to be addressed. I see that we have it in other sports, the dress code. The players just overwhelmingly look sloppy, a majority of them from where it used to be a great prestigious thing to have a nice, clean uniform; it's sloppy. I was wondering if you are addressing that with the union, or maybe somewhere down the road can address it?

SELIG: That's a tough issue. No. 1, I want to say, most players do OK. And you are right about a fair number.

But what I note, in fact, interesting to me, you look at, I was thinking of the Red Sox here, I'm looking at a Red Sox fan here, Jason Varitek, I notice wears his uniform just exactly the way they did it when I was a kid growing up, and there's a lot of people like that.

But, it's part of our society today. Players do wear things a little different than they did 20 and 30 years ago. We do the best we can, but that is a matter of individual preference.

Q. John from Miami. Just curious about the draft. Out of the big four sports, it seems like we are the only one that are not on TV. And I was wondering would there be any talk of maybe having it during the All-Star break, maybe on the Saturday during FanFest, bringing the fans out, showing video footage? I thought when you go online, you get to see a lot of these players, but maybe try to make it a bigger event like the other four sports and get the fans excited?

SELIG: We've talked a lot about it. The difference is, that for the most part, the football and basketball drafts draft players who are very well known. And ours has been a little more difficult because these kids are not well known; they become well known. Obviously they become great stars on a lot of occasions.

But, yes, we are talking about getting more TV exposure, and I think that's very important for us.

Q. I'm from New York. Earlier you said the All-Star Game may go to New York in conjunction with a new stadium. Now cities like Kansas City, Minnesota, Toronto -- what if they do not build a new stadium? Don't fans in those cities deserve a chance in the last few years they have all been going to new stadiums?

SELIG: Right. Well, what we have tried to do, we're pretty much done with it now because other than St. Louis, which is building a new stadium, we don't have any more.

But it's a great time for us to show off our new venue. Here in Detroit, the Illitch family and the city spent a lot of money. It's a thrill to be here.

Yes, on the other hand, there are cities that deserve a team, but, quite frankly, a lot of clubs have said to me, "We need a new stadium." If we can get an All-Star Game and build a new stadium, that's what we want to do. So you try to balance all of the things off. There's intense competition for All-Star Games.

Q. How're you doing today?

SELIG: Good. How are you?

Q. What about the bottom teams that are not pulling in the fans? For example, Tampa Bay, we just saw them on TV, saw a lot of empty seats. At what point does baseball contract to make the league a little better?

SELIG: Well, contraction was a tough process about three or four years ago.

Think of it this way. The sport is enjoying its biggest year. Last Sunday, we passed the 40-million mark, which is absolutely stunning. So I'm very proud of that, and we've really made a lot of progress.

There are always going to be some teams that don't do as well as others, but Tampa is a good market, it's got the right demographics. I know how much Lou Piniella wants to win because I have known Lou a long time.

But we just have to have patience. We're going to draw well into the 70-million range this year, and even having one or two teams not doing as well as I'd like, they have just got to build themselves up like all of the other clubs did.

MODERATOR: Great way to end things, Mr. Commissioner. We had over 30 questions. We appreciate this and we'll do it again in Pittsburgh.

SELIG: I look forward to it. We'll be in Pittsburgh.

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