Selig's presence pleases owners

Baseball: A three-year contract extension for commissioner Bud Selig is expected to be announced tomorrow at the owners' meetings.

August 18, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Major League Baseball's owners will convene in Philadelphia today for two days of meetings that will culminate with a coronation of sorts.

And Orioles fans can relax.

This won't involve an announcement about the Montreal Expos moving to Washington, Northern Virginia or anywhere else, for that matter.

The Expos will be discussed, but their new home won't be decided. The coronation is for none other than Allan H. "Bud" Selig.

Last year, in a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors, Selig said he planned to step aside when his current term expires on Dec. 31, 2006.

But the other owners wouldn't have it. With the game prospering again and two other critical contracts set to expire after 2006 - the players' collective bargaining agreement and the national television agreement - they talked him into taking a three-year extension.

The announcement is expected tomorrow.

Selig, who turned 70 on July 30, will be under contract through 2009.

"The changes he's made have been no less than extraordinary and have reinvigorated the game to a substantial degree," Orioles owner Peter Angelos said. "I think he's done an exemplary job, and thanks to his leadership, the road ahead for Major League Baseball appears bright indeed."

To the casual fan, these positive sentiments about Selig may seem hard to grasp.

He has been the face of some of baseball's darkest moments in recent years, announcing the cancellation of the 1994 World Series because the players' strike could not be resolved, announcing the potential contraction of the Expos and Minnesota Twins in 2001 and declaring the 2002 All-Star Game a tie.

But he must be doing something right.

Infighting among the baseball owners has long made the commissioner's job one of the most volatile in sports. Selig replaced former commissioner Fay Vincent as acting commissioner in September 1992 and was elected to a five-year term in July 1998.

Among Selig's accomplishments:

According to MLB, the game's gross revenues have increased from $1.6 billion in 1992 to $4.1 billion this year.

In 2002, with the help of Angelos, Selig negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with the players' union without a work stoppage for the first time in 30 years. That agreement led to increased revenue sharing. Though $20 million was shared among the clubs in 1992, they will share more than $300 million by 2006.

The agreement also established a luxury tax, which made some teams - with the obvious exception of the New York Yankees - treat the $120 million payroll mark as a self-imposed salary cap.

Interleague play was adopted in 1997.

Baseball was realigned into three divisions in 1994, introducing the wild-card playoff format.

"Our television ratings have gone through the roof locally," Selig said in a phone interview. "Nationally, they're outstanding. Attendance is spectacular at the major league level, and by the way, it's spectacular at the minor league level.

"You know, this is the golden era of the game. The game has never been more popular."

So what does all this mean for the Orioles?

Selig has built a reputation as a consensus builder. He rarely asks the owners to vote on anything until he has a sure sense of their solidarity.

And with the Expos, he doesn't have that yet. The relocation committee has yet to make its recommendation, but it goes deeper than that.

Though signs point to the Washington and Northern Virginia locations as the favorites, it would take three-fourths approval from the owners to move the Expos into what Angelos considers the Orioles' jurisdiction.

That means Angelos needs eight votes to stop it - his and seven others. According to Orioles sources, they are confident they would have support from the Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, the Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox and Anaheim Angels.

Others such as the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers could be on the bubble.

Selig has assured Angelos he won't do anything to make him "unhappy." They spoke in Houston at the All-Star Game and again in Milwaukee at Selig's 70th birthday party.

"I've often said we're going to do what's in the best interest of the sport," Selig said. "I watched baseball move from Kansas City to Oakland [in 1968] and hurt the Giants, so I'm sympathetic about that, and I like Peter Angelos a lot.

"I have to be concerned always with existing franchises. On the other hand, we need to find an owner and a location for the Montreal Expos."

Angelos was one of Selig's adversaries during the 1994 strike process, but they became allies eight years later, when Angelos helped the owners reconcile their differences with the players' union, averting another work stoppage.

So now, as Angelos tries to fend for his franchise, he's viewed as Public Enemy No. 1 for those hoping to bring baseball to the D.C. area.

But Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy, Selig's right-hand man and the head of the relocation committee, seemed to defend Angelos in yesterday's editions of USA Today.

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