Selig talks with fans at Town Hall Chat
Commissioner answers questions at All-Star FanFest
Vince Micucci: Welcome to the America's Center in St. Louis, Mo., the site of FanFest and All-Star Week. St. Louis has done a fabulous job so far both on Sunday and Monday with the Celebrity Softball Game, and, of course, last night, the Home Run Derby.
It is my pleasure to introduce the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Allan H. Bud Selig.
Commissioner Selig: Thank you very much.
Vince Micucci: First let's start things off by saying, how did you enjoy the Home Run Derby? There were a lot of great things, including Albert Pujols playing well in his hometown.
Commissioner Selig: You know, it's interesting to watch the Home Run Derby grow over the years, and the excitement. And as I sat there last night watching it, you couldn't help but be impressed at the fan reaction, how exciting it was. Albert did very well. But you know what, Albert does very well no matter what he does.
So, it was just great. It was tremendous. You saw a lot of long home runs. Prince Fielder hit some balls that might still be going somewhere. It was terrific.
Vince Micucci: Certainly throughout your travels, you have seen all of the Major League Baseball cities, but St. Louis is a great town that supports its club; what is it that you've seen about St. Louis over the years that makes it so great?
Commissioner Selig: It is a remarkable baseball town. The Commissioner is always supposed to be neutral, but there are some great baseball cities; there is no city with a greater history, tradition and presence than St. Louis. It is just a wonderful franchise.
You know, the other night, we were at a function and there was Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Don Gibson and Stan "The Man" Musial. That tells you all you have to know about the history of this absolutely magnificent franchise.
So it's a privilege to be here. And I must say, from the last 48 hours, does anybody here not wear anything red? That's all you see all over the place. Including right here, I'm happy to say. Great franchise, wonderful, wonderful franchise, beautifully run to this day.
Vince Micucci: Fans here in St. Louis had been anticipating this very day, and it comes tonight with the All-Star Game, AL versus NL at Busch Stadium. Tell us some of your fondest memories. What do you look forward to when you get to the All-Star Game? Is it as simple as the matchups?
Commissioner Selig: Well, No. 1, you're lucky because you're seeing the greatest players in our sport. So tonight when Roy Halladay is pitching against the great Albert Pujols, or Ichiro leading off for the American League, there's so much talent out there, and the matchups are so good.
You know, the All-Star Game has produced some of the most enduring moments in baseball history. And I can remember a lot of them personally, my first All-Star Game was 1950 in Chicago's Comiskey Park. Ted Williams caught a ball, banged his elbow on the wall and broke it and played the whole 14 innings -- that's how much he wanted to play. And Red Schoendienst hit a home run in the 14th inning to win the game for the National League. Stan Musial hit a home run in the 12th inning in Milwaukee in 1955 off of Frank Sullivan, and there have been those kind of moments all through; Ted Williams' very dramatic three-run home run in 1931 in Tiger Stadium, a big stadium in those days.
This is the best All-Star Game of any sport, and it really is a treat, just a treat to be able to sit and watch the great players from both leagues competing against one another.
Vince Micucci: Commissioner Selig has been kind enough to join us up on stage each and every FanFest prior to the All Star Game, and of course this year being no different, I'm going to get to some questions that have been submitted to you by the fans.
A question from Graham who asks: With the NFL bringing regular season games to London and MLB's overseas experiences, what are the prospects of preseason games or regular season games taking place in the U.K. or anywhere else in Europe?
Commissioner Selig: We don't have any plans as of yet. But as a result of our World Baseball Classic experience and our other experiences, one of my dreams is to play some games in Europe, and hopefully in the reasonably near future. That's a great question and that's one that we will pursue.
Vince Micucci: The next question comes in from Jason: Hello, Mr. Commissioner, what effect do you think the current economic crisis in the United States will have on the next collective bargaining agreement talks?
Commissioner Selig: Well, with Rob Manfred sitting here, that's a great question. That is in 2011, but we'll start talking earlier. We have had 15 years of labor peace. When you think of the work stoppages in my career and in baseball history, it's been a great period, and really a primary reason for the sport doing as well as it's doing and everything else.
So, the economy, this is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is a very tough time, as all of you know. Unemployment figures are over nine percent. The stock market, I noted today, from its high, off 41 and a half percent.
But yet, baseball attendance, as I just told the media, has been remarkable this year. Certainly remarkable in St. Louis, which is a great testament to the popularity of our game. But let's hope by 2011 that this country has really begun a very significant and solid recovery.
Vince Micucci: Next question: Are there any other plans for another expansion which could potentially allow for an equal number of teams in each division?
Commissioner Selig: Well, I'd like an equal number of teams. The teams in the National League Central grumble to me all of the time that there are only six of them, and only four and five in the NL West and East, and I agree with that.
But no, there are no plans for expansion. We really don't need any more expansion right now. That would actually, I think, be quite destructive for baseball. And we are going to have to figure other ways to solve the disparity in teams. But expansion is a very tough process, and if you start adding more teams, you dilute pitching and create other problems.
So we have had two expansions in the 90s, and we are now at 30 teams, and I really think that's our maximum.
Vince Micucci: From Sandy in Canada: The unbalanced schedule puts the Rays and Jays at a disadvantage every year trying to make the playoffs against Boston and New York. Are there any plans to move to a more balanced schedule?
Commissioner Selig: Well, he's right, they are in a very tough division. Although, the Rays seemed to have found ways to compete and I think Baltimore is getting better, and so is Toronto, matter of fact.
That was my idea. I guess I have to take that one on full square. When we went to divisional play, I thought it quite unfair that in my division, we are playing teams outside the division as much as teams in.
Then why did you go to divisional play. I think it's tremendous for, let's take the National League Central since we are in that land right here. For the Cardinals to play the Cubs in Milwaukee and Cincinnati, those are their major rivals. To be out of their division, not to be playing the very teams, would be wrong.
So no, I love the unbalanced schedule, and I understand there are some clubs in the National League East, but as their farm systems produce and they get better, I think that will go away.
Vince Micucci: The next question from Chuck in Carmichael, Calif.: After a player has served a suspension for violating the rules against performance enhancing substances, will he have to submit to increased scrutiny, such as more frequent testing upon his return?
Commissioner Selig: The answer is yes. I want to say this again. I just told the media, and let me come back on all of this, because this is a subject near and dear to my heart. This is the first time in baseball history we've had a drug testing program. We've had other things, like the cocaine era in the 80s and things where there was no testing.
We have a very well run program, very, very well run program. We use the three Olympic labs. Players are tested unannounced. We have had only one positive test this year, and over 2,500 tests. So we banned amphetamines. We are funding to find a test for human growth hormone. So baseball has really moved to the forefront of all of that, and I think that we ought to be very proud of that.
Unfortunately the only positive test was one of our star players. But what does that prove? That proves that, No. 1, nobody is above the law. Whoever fails a test is going to go down, and he went down for 50 games.
Vince Micucci: Another issue to deal with from Patrick in Baltimore who says: What is the league's opinion of the low attendance in cities such as Miami and DC? Is there a future for Major League Baseball in markets with other pro sports like Charlotte, San Antonio or New Orleans, or an untapped market like Alberta, Canada?
Commissioner Selig: Thank you, I appreciate that. Actually, the Florida attendance is up this year. I'm happy to say that it's very competitive. I'm impressed by all the different uniforms (looking into audience). We have a Marlins fan and a Pirates fan here, and we have 700 Cardinals fans. We are doing OK.
Their attendance is up. Their new ballpark, I'm going down to Florida on Saturday for the ground breaking. So we are making terrific progress, and once we get a new stadium with a roof and that; it's a wonderful area.
I know the Washington club is struggling right now, and I understand that and I understand the people in Washington are concerned. But I have faith that that club will be on the right track and is on the right track. I told the press this morning that I carefully monitor farm systems all over and I evaluate them, and I think that they are; the Washington franchise holds great potential and I have every reason to believe in the coming years that they will reach that potential.
Television ratings are up very high in many of these markets, including what is offered by fans around the country to watch games from various different markets.
Vince Micucci: The next question from Jessie in Oakland: The A's are my lifelong passion, but I am afraid they are going to move. When will the stadium committee that MLB sent to Oakland be ready to deliver a review?
Commissioner Selig: They are close. Mr. Dupuy will meet with them shortly. It's a difficult situation and I understand his concerns. But the Oakland A's need a new ballpark -- there's no question about that -- to be competitive.
The Giants have built themselves a wonderful, wonderful ballpark, and the A's need to do the same thing. So this committee has been very thorough, has examined all of the different possibilities, which they should do, all of the different places that they may be able to go and everything else.
So I'm confident in the end that we will make a very meaningful and rational decision.
Vince Micucci: Josh in Doylestown, Penn.: My dad and I are season ticketholders for the Phillies and Citizens Bank Park; when will Philadelphia get a chance to host another All-Star Game?
Commissioner Selig: It's a very good question, because years ago you used to have to beg a city to take an All-Star. It was really amazing. Now they are lined up. I could award All-Star Games for the next 12 years very easily. Everybody wants an All-Star Game. You can understand why after being here. It is a great experience for a city.
We are having a lot of new ballparks built, and every one of these people, of course, wants an All-Star Game. Next year we'll be in Anaheim. The year after, we are going to be in Phoenix. Took them a long time after they built their stadium. So we are moving along.
I think Philadelphia just had one in the fairly near past, so they are going to have to wait a while.
Vince Micucci: Paul in Kenneth Square, Penn. asks: Would baseball consider one challenge call per team where it would be mandatory for an umpire to review a play at the team's request?
Commissioner Selig: No.
We use it, as you know, in a very limited fashion on fair-foul home run calls. As far as I'm concerned, once you get farther than that, you are going to get into a lot of different situations.
I have faith in the umpires. They do an absolutely remarkable job and their scores are good. The umpires are graded. It's helped us on home runs, and that's good, and I am glad we did that. I had some reluctance because I really don't like bringing in, you know, people talk not so much about the time of the game, but the pace of the game. So I don't want to slow that down.
But I'm very happy we have done it. The umpires have used it effectively, but that's where it's going to stay.
Vince Micucci: From Chris in Bangkok: Higher ticket prices and later start times are creating a sense that baseball is being taken away from working class fans and families. Do you feel these issues are relevant to the future of baseball, and what can be done to enable all fans access to the game?
Commissioner Selig: Well, I said that to the media this morning, I respectfully disagree.
Clubs are doing more discounting than they have ever done. Baseball is really affordable. There is no question about it. As a matter of fact, we wouldn't be drawing the huge attendances we have the last seven or eight years if it isn't family entertainment. We are up at attendance levels now more than ever before. Clubs are doing discounting everywhere, and that's enabling families to come to games.
Our attendance has been remarkable. We are down, as I told the media today, around five percent. But if you take the New York ballparks' less capacity, it's probably 3.9 or 4.0, and that's amazing in this economy. You have clubs like Boston sold out 520 or 530 straight times, here in St. Louis they are drawing very well, the Cubs are sold out every game, Milwaukee is going to draw over 3 million people this year, because it is affordable family entertainment. It is a myth for people to say they are not.
As far as later starting times, he's talking about the World Series, I guess. By the way, another myth that exists: When you are losing that younger generation. I will take you through any ballpark starting Thursday night when the clubs resume, you will see kids all over the place. We have not lost any generation, and we would not be drawing the numbers of people that we are drawing if we had lost any generation.
So I feel very confident. We are starting earlier, the World Series this year, as you know, and we are going to start actually about 35, 40 minutes earlier than we have in the past, and I think that's good. At 8:00, or even a little before 8:00 on the East Coast, 7:00 in the Midwest and Central time zone, 6:00 rocky mountain, 5:00 West Coast.
But we play games all year, we have a ton of day games and a ton of day games in the playoffs, and I'm very confident that we are cultivating a younger generation. And I'll tell you, just look around at FanFest today and look over there. Now you tell me if we have lost the younger generation; I don't think so.
Vince Micucci: From Dennis in Minneapolis, Minn.: Is there any chance during your term as commissioner that you would lift the lifetime ban of Shoeless Joe Jackson?
Commissioner Selig: I'm the only commissioner who has agreed at least to review it, and we have reviewed it and are reviewing it. It's 80 some, 90 years ago now, so there's a lot of history lost. But that's all I can tell you right now. We will review it. Can't make any other comment.
Vince Micucci: Our next question is a two-part question from Joe in Silverspring, Md.: First, any thought to making the DH permanent in the All-Star Game? After all, who wants to see the pitcher hit, particularly in an exhibition game?
Commissioner Selig: Well, fortunately, they don't hit too much because they generally put the pinch-hitters in for them, and they have enough of a roster where they can do that.
No, I think we will leave it as it exists today.
Vince Micucci: And 2012 will mark the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Would the Players Association and Major League Baseball be willing to have two All-Star Games in the centennial ballparks?
Commissioner Selig: We have not made a decision on the 2012 All-Star Game, and Boston just had an All-Star Game in 1999. We have a lot of new stadiums where All-Star Games have been promised. But that is a great moment. I believe the Cubs are up in 2014 if memory serves me correctly.
Vince Micucci: From Bob in Milwaukee: Is it hard to watch the Brewers and not think about what would happen if you still owned the club? Thank you for all of your great years. You had a lot of good times.
Commissioner Selig: Thank you very much, I sure did and I appreciate that.
No, I got over that years ago. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Brewers, since I founded the franchise and nurtured it for 30 or 35 years. But once you are in this job a long time, you realize you have a responsibility to the other 30 clubs, and so I did.
But I'm thrilled. Miller Park was a struggle and that has turned out brilliantly, and the Brewers have a very, very good young club, and I'm happy for them, and very proud that in a city of Milwaukee's size, they are going to draw over 3 million people again this year, which is absolutely remarkable.
Vince Micucci: This comes from John who says: When did it become commonplace to check with the first- or third-base umpire every time a batter checks his swing? It seems lately on every checked swing that isn't called a strike, the catcher or pitcher is pointing over to ask the other to overrule the other umpire's call.
Commissioner Selig: It has gotten more pronounced in the last few years. I cannot tell you exactly when it started, but there were many years ago when it never happened in the 40s, 50s, 60s where it never happened, or in very rare circumstances. But it's OK. I understand that the umpire or the catcher or anybody else has the right to ask. And I guess like a lot of things in life, you would rather get it right than not ask. So if that contributes to the efficiency of the game, good.
Vince Micucci: This portion of the broadcast, we certainly want to get to the questions and answers that are asked from the crowd here in St. Louis at FanFest. The Commissioner has been kind enough to answer questions, not just from e-mails, but from the fans in St. Louis and the varying cities.
Question: How did you get the President of the United States to come out to throw out the first pitch?
Commissioner Selig: Well, that's a good question. We talked about it, and I want to say this at the outset: Baseball has been involved in some great social programs, which I know that he has been doing outreach in communities, encouraging community service.
So after some conversations, I wrote him a letter, a personal letter, and invited him to the game. As I said today very happily within 12 or 18 hours, he responded in a very positive way and said he's coming. And he'll be here tonight, and that's a great thing for St. Louis and a great thing for baseball.
Question: I'm a Brewers season ticketholder and I live in Northern Illinois, and I'm unable to watch the Brewers play any home games. I know that Major League Baseball is well aware of the blackout restrictions, and I read that it's being addressed by the Commissioner's office. But my question is: When is this issue going to be resolved?
Commissioner Selig: Well, we have been talking about it, and I understand your frustration, and we will continue in a more aggressive manner to try to solve that problem. Thank you.
Question: Beth from Tampa Bay: How do you think instant replay is working for baseball?
Commissioner Selig: As I said earlier, I think it's working well. I really do, it's in its most limited form and that's the way I want to keep it. It's working well. It's important in the end for us to get it right. And for an umpire to turn around and have to run 200 feet out to see a home run is very, very difficult. So I think if they think it helps, then we are happy to do that.
Question: When are you going to correct the inequity in the baseball schedule? For the third year in a row, the Cubs are playing nine games in St. Louis and the Cardinals have only played seven in Chicago, so that gives a home-field advantage; when is that going to be flip flopped?
Commissioner Selig: The schedule is a very, very difficult thing. You have 30 clubs now. We have Interleague Play that's in the middle of that, which is wonderful.
The unbalanced schedule; so you have all of these things and you try to be as fair as you can, and I used to be very critical of the schedule, and I mean this, I do not say that facetiously, until I tried to do that myself, and then I realized how tough it is. But that's an inequity we certainly will look at.
Question: I wanted to know, when are you going to consider reinstating Pete Rose back into Major League Baseball?
Commissioner Selig: Well, you have a lot of support here for it; I'll say that.
I agreed to review this matter. I would remind you that Pete voluntarily accepted a lifetime suspension from Commissioner Bart Giamatti, and since I am the judge in this case, I think it's inappropriate for me to comment. He has a right to ask for it to be reviewed, if there's any new evidence, and we certainly have done that and will do that.
Vince Micucci: Thank you very much for the questions and a nice round of applause for the Commissioner, Allan H. Bud Selig who has given us his time to answer questions here at the 2009 All-Star Town Chat.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.