"You really judge how well we've done by the number of teams Labor Day and then post-Labor Day that are still in the hunt. Even I didn't think we could do this well."
The addition of a second Wild Card in each league has been just one of many changes to baseball since Selig took over. On Wednesday morning, he came to Metropolis Studios on New York's Upper East Side to sit for a revealing hour-and-a-half interview with Michael Kay of the YES Network for a "CenterStage" show that is scheduled to air Sept. 27 after a Yankees postgame show.
In the Q&A -- and with reporters afterward -- Selig covered a wide range of topics such as the current pennant races, building consensus among 30 owners, labor peace, the Dodgers' sale price and franchise "asset value," his close relationship with the late George Steinbrenner, Bart Giamatti, Pete Rose, drug testing, refusal to alter historical stats and rankings, what qualities his eventual replacement should possess, a possible batting title for suspended Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera and much more.
"I couldn't be happier," Selig said of baseball's popularity right now. "I can't even tell you that I thought it would work out this way, because it's been remarkable. The interest has been tremendous, attendance-wise, television-wise, and I'm talking to a couple of clubs that are in it who say their TV ratings are through the roof. It couldn't have worked out any better than it has.
"We've changed the face of the sport."
Baseball "needed to change" for many years, Selig said, citing examples such as a letter from Ford C. Frick at the end of his Commissioner term, expressing his frustration in the 1960s with the sport's direction, constant work stoppages, and bickering among owners in 1993 over the Wild Card concept. Selig said the inability for leaders to "build consensus" was the major problem, and he said his cancellation of the 1994 World Series was "heartbreaking" but had to happen.
"A lot of people don't understand how the Commissioner's Office has changed," Selig said. "I'm a history buff and studied this office from Kenesaw Mountain Landis to my own [term]. I remember labor troubles in the '80s and '90s, people would say, 'If Kenesaw was still alive ...' Well, he wasn't alive, so we have to get past that. My job is to build consensus. The sport needed to change. I knew that in '92, didn't realize the depth of it, but you have to do it -- bring people along even if they don't understand why.
"We've had more changes in the last 20 years than ever before, and it can't be done unilaterally. A Commissioner can't impose change, you have to build consensus. People say, 'Bud moves very cautiously.' I do. But you also do so because you want to make it stronger."
Selig said baseball was "a sport stuck in neutral" in 1994.
"There's no other way to say it, and I don't like to say it," he said. "From the '60s to , our [annual] gross revenue was a billion. We were stuck in that. Attendance wasn't what it should be. So in '92, in '93, you have to understand life is changed, everything is changed, but we still have the same economic system as in the Ebbets Field-Polo Grounds days. We made no attempt to change as well. We get to '94, and it's a really difficult negotiation. I remember Stan Kasten, who was then president of the Braves, said to me, 'We're not asking for half as much as other sports already have.' But it led to an impasse.
"We survived it, and it's a distant memory now, but boy that was trauma that we are lucky, we worked so hard for so many years. I knew in my heart then we couldn't have another labor stoppage, because fans wouldn't tolerate it. I walk a lot of ballparks, I listen to fans, and I understand. ... We needed to change the sport. Remember, I had been in the business for 25 years. But you're watching everything around you in life change, and you know this sport is so good, but it needs to change."
The last eight years, Selig said, have been "the greatest eight years in baseball history. Gross revenue is growing, [baseball] is more popular than ever. We had to provide hope and faith in as many places as possible. It can't be perfect, but ... it worked. There was a lot of pain in the '90s, a lot of pain, and sometimes you wonder how we made it through, but it worked.
"We've made the economic adjustments we needed to make. Our system is not perfect, but it's been remarkable. That's why Baltimore, Texas, Washington, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Oakland are all in races this year. We've even been able to solve a lot of our economic problems by dealing with the problem. In the '70s and '80s, we were making labor agreements that didn't deal with our problems.
"I go from franchise to franchise, and I really believe in the hope and faith, and wherever I am, I want to be able to say to people, 'This is great.' So when I pick up the paper today and there are 18 teams still in contention, I know we've done a lot."
The Los Angeles Times quoted an anonymous baseball source over the weekend as saying that there were "indications that Selig might rule" on the A's situation, mired in a territorial dispute with the Giants, by the end of 2012. The Commissioner was noncommittal on the report.
"I read that, but I haven't commented on it and I'm not going to," Selig said. "The committee has worked very hard and we've had a lot of meetings, and there's been a lot of discussion, but that's as much as I can tell you."
Nor did Selig want to spend a lot of time on the topic when asked yet again about whether Rose's lifetime ban from baseball would be removed under his watch. But he did address the situation.
"I am the judge of this case and I think it's just inappropriate for me to comment," Selig said. "The only thing I will say, look, I know what Bart said, one thing we were all taught right from the beginning. I've been in a lot of clubhouses, the first clubhouse I was in was in 1958, the Milwaukee Braves, a big sign from Ford C. Frick, Commissioner, about any betting [on baseball], you're suspended for life. It's part of our society. We are a social institution. But I think anything more than that is not [appropriate]."
Cabrera is serving a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy. Entering Wednesday, he had a National League-leading .346 average, seven points ahead of Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen. Cabrera has 501 plate appearances, one fewer than the required amount if the Giants play 162 games.
Under section 10.22(a) of the Official Baseball Rules, Cabrera still would win the batting title if an extra hitless at-bat is added to his average and it remains higher than that of any other qualifying player.
"Well, we'll see how it all plays out," Selig said. "We generally don't interfere in that process as you know, but we'll take a look at it."
As for the suspensions of Cabrera and Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, Selig said: "It's proof [drug testing] is working. It doesn't matter who they are."
Selig said he was satisfied with the outcome of the three-game suspension given to Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar for wearing eye-black displaying a homosexual slur written in Spanish during a game last weekend against Boston.
"I am," Selig said. "I talked to everybody yesterday, and the Toronto club was satisfied. I really believe this, and the owners and union know I believe this, we are a social institution, so when something like this happens, it's disappointing."
So what kind of person will replace him as Commissioner?
"Time will tell," he said. "Build consensus, he or she should keep moving the sport forward. Not only that, but with peace. There's so much that had happened. ... We've learned a lot of lessons, some painful. The person we'll look for is someone who can continue" to help realize "the amazing potential of the greatest sport ever."