MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Manfred, Selig want to build on MLB's prosperity

With baseball thriving like never before, duo embraces challenge of further growth

Manfred, Selig want to build on MLB's prosperity

PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Art Museum was the perfect place for Commissioner Rob Manfred and his predecessor, Bud Selig, the Commissioner Emeritus, to hold a public forum and discuss the state of the game on Tuesday.

It is, after all, a pretty picture. A game that experienced labor strife and work stoppages 25 years ago has become the symbol of stability in professional sports.

"The object, as the economics of the sport change, is to provide hope and faith to as many places as possible," said Selig.

Selig said he is "proud of the fact" that in the past 15 years, all 30 big league teams have participated in the postseason, including 28 of the 30 teams in the past 10 years.

"That is due to a lot of travail and heartache, but we did change [the system]," Selig said. "The last two World Series with the Kansas City Royals were great and made me happy."

It's no secret how Major League Baseball managed such a major turnaround. It was under the direction of Selig and Manfred, who was baseball's lead negotiator, that the owners were able to develop a working relationship with the Major League Baseball Players Association, which has allowed the game to avoid a work stoppage since the strike that forced the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and delayed the start to the '95 season.

Selig said MLB's revenues in 1992 were $1.2 billion, "but today, they are $10.5 billion. The last 10 to 12 years have featured the greatest attendance in baseball history."

How good are things? So good that Major League Baseball basically sells 75 million tickets annually, which Manfred pointed out is more than the NFL, NHL and NBA combined.

All of that is good. It, however, isn't reason for MLB to be satisfied.

The challenge is to not only maintain, but build on the success of the past quarter-century. Manfred knows it.

That's why when a fan asked what the greatest opportunity and the greatest challenge the game faces are, Manfred said, "They are the same -- the next generation.

"We have the opportunity to grow the game by capturing the young people, and we can grow it in a number of ways. The challenge is using modern methods [for growth] interfering with the traditions of the game."

Manfred also sees potential in growing the game internationally. There is an increasing number of players from outside the United States playing at the big league level, with the most recent influx coming from Japan and Korea.

International draft coming soon?

Given the efforts of teams in those countries, along with Latin America, and efforts to build interest in Europe, Manfred said he feels an international draft is inevitable. Current players who are not citizens of the United States, its possessions or Canada, or did not attend school in the U.S. are unrestricted free agents, which leads to bidding wars.

"You would like everyone to enter baseball through the process," Manfred said. "That would be good for competitive balance. You have to have a mechanism that makes sure all the clubs have a chance to compete."

Manfred also said he is excited about building a relationship with Cuba, which includes the Rays playing an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team in Havana on March 22.

"Economic opportunities are a ways away [in Cuba]," Manfred said, "but it is a great source of talent for us. I hope we reach a point where Cuban players can sign, come here and play during the season and return home to Cuba [in the offseason]."

But not all things need to be equal.

The designated hitter, for one, was adopted by the American League in 1973, but the National League has never embraced the DH, although it is used in AL parks during Interleague Play and the World Series, and at the All-Star Game.

"My view is it should be status quo," Manfred said. "Having league identity is important to us, and that is a key difference between the leagues. I also am a huge believer that having people talk about the game is good for us. If you want to get people agitated, just talk about the DH."

Manfred likes league differences

Selig said the idea was formally introduced to the owners in 1972, when the team he owned, the Brewers, was in the AL, and owners were looking for ways to get more offense into the game.

The fact then-A's owner Charlie Finley suggested it and the AL owners approved it, said Selig, underscores just how much the AL owners liked the idea.

"I wouldn't vote for anything Charlie did, but that was so obvious I voted for it," said Selig. "A little controversy is good for us."

And Selig has the past 25 years as evidence for that.

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