08 September 2005

Recap of Selig speech

Bud Selig's speech and subsequent Q&A session was about an hour long total. The speech was a brief history of Selig's time as an owner, then as the commissioner. Not naturally the most charismatic of speakers, Selig's sporadic eye contact with the audience made the delivery fairly dull, and the speech an exercise in self-aggrandizement. As expected, Selig didn't say anything to encourage San Jose supporters. In fact, his statements should provide some hope for Oakland supporters, though no one should be proclaiming Selig as the savior of baseball in Oakland just yet.

Notes: The audio stream of the event will be played on KQED-FM on Friday night at 8 p.m. An AP article focused largely on steroids is now available on the Chronicle's SF Gate site. Daniel Brown from the Merc also wrote an article more geared towards territorial rights. Channels 5, 7, and 11 were present getting video.

Selig was initially flanked by former Commonwealth Club president Joe Epstein and somewhat surprisingly, County Assessor Larry Stone, better known as an irritant for East Bay supporters. Stone emceed the event, and before he finished his introduction of Selig, he plugged the MLB-to-San Jose effort, almost on cue.

Notes from the speech portion:
  • MLB will surpass last season's league attendance record by the end of the current season.
  • He talked up the significant rise in the value of the Dodgers franchise when it changed hands from the O'Malleys to Fox and finally to Frank McCourt. He did not let slip an estimate of the Expos' eventual selling price.
  • Moneyball was mentioned as a subject that is "theological in nature."
  • Revenue sharing, payroll taxing (luxury taxes), and the debt service rule are the base of the current financial structure. He sees little need to change the structure in the near future.
  • The speech was littered with quotes from Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
  • Steroids is cheating. The only other substance mentioned was andro, and only as a historical reference. No mention of HGH.
  • He noted that in the midst of all of the media's criticism of how MLB handled steroids during the 90's, he looked up articles written during the era and saw only "11 articles that mentioned steroids."
The Q&A was done via responses to selected questions the audience submitted on comment cards. Only 10 questions were answered, one of which was a throwaway question about the commish's relationship with George Steinbrenner. Here's the skinny on the question segment:

1. What happened to the Reggie Jackson group's bid to buy the A's?
  • Selig claims it was Schott/Hofmann that decided to not entertain Jackson. He acknowledged that this contradicts Schott's initial statements on the matter, but insisted that it was the ownership group that made the decision, noting that the commissioner's office doesn't have to time interfere with these things. MLB will only step in when it's time to evaluate a group's financial worthiness.
2. Any thoughts on the idea of limits to the number intentional walks a batter can receive (Bonds rule)?
  • Not happening. No way baseball will change rules for a single individual.
3. Is a salary cap in the future?
  • "I'm comfortable where we are," Selig said.
4. What's being done about tight-fisted owners who pocket revenue sharing money instead of spending it on players?
  • "That phenomenon is a myth that somehow keeps getting perpetuated," said Selig. According to Selig, the league shares the books with the owners, and the payers (big market "have" teams) wouldn't stand for any prolonged effort by other owners to stash the money. Again, he reinforced the notion that the baseball's economic model is good.
5. What about the influence of international players?
  • This gave Selig the chance to tout the World Baseball Classic. He did this during the speech as well.
6. Is the DH rule going to change anytime soon?
  • The DH was one of the few things on which he agreed with former A's owner Charlie Finley (Yes for the AL). He's happy with the way it stands since the teams in the two leagues are happy with the existing rules. (A good follow-up would've been to ask for his take on using the DH in NL-hosted games and the hitting pitcher in AL-hosted games, but there was no opportunity for follow-ups.)
  • The only change he might see happening is a geographical redistribution of teams, but he didn't get specific.
7. What is the league doing about steroids and its impact on records?
  • Without outright saying it, Selig indicated that he's leaving the records alone and will keep them asterisk-free. We'll see if that holds up if any other high-profile sluggers are shown to have used.
8. What about the exclusivity of territorial rights?
  • Repeating a statement he made weeks ago, Selig said, "You couldn't run the sport without internal rules and you can't make exceptions."
  • The Giants' territorial rights were affirmed when they made the huge private investment in SBC Park.
  • His feelings on relocation are heavily shaped by the Braves' move to Atlanta. Besides the territorial rights issue, he appears to be stridently anti-move, though his previous statements about the situation in Miami raise questions about that.
  • Regarding San Jose, he said that "San Jose is a great location, but that's not the issue. We have to protect the status quo. We're clearly not going to expand."
9. Epstein posed a follow-up: "Is there a process by which a vote could be taken by the owners to overturn these rights?"
  • "No. It's not a question of overturning rights," replied Selig. I'm not certain if the response meant that he would not allow it to come to vote, or whether he was rendering his opinion on the outcome of a vote. Surely the owners would not vote for anything that could potentially threaten their own financial well-being.
  • He trumpeted the party line about "staying focused on Oakland." The question of what would happen if the Oakland deal didn't succeed was not asked.

The San Jose boosters I overheard upon leaving didn't appear discouraged, least of all Larry Stone. While Selig dismissed the idea of overturning the Giants' territorial rights, that's the weakest option because it's the least realistic. Maury Brown of Business of Baseball and the Oregon Stadium Campaign and I have had this discussion in the past, and I agree with him that for the A's to move anywhere, whether it's San Jose, Portland, Vegas, or Sacramento, the bidding group needs to make an extremely compelling case - not just to a single affected owner, but to all 30 owners and MLB. Oakland, with its location and access, is hard to argue against. Any bids to move the team will have to be comprehensive, probably including packaged TV and radio deals and lists of pre-committed corporate sponsors (because those are Oakland's weak points currently). Without those requirements, I doubt any bid would be entertained.

Remember that in Wolff's press conference last month, he talked about the ability of the East Bay business market to fill the 40 luxury suites and 40 minisuites (plus club seats) that he wants to build in the new ballpark. It stands to reason that he'll compare that to other market studies, determine the costs and risk factors, and then decide - if it even gets to that point.