Commissioner Bud Selig today praised the Washington area as "a major league market that deserves a major league franchise," but offered little hope that baseball will be coming to Washington any time soon. Selig said the proximity of the Baltimore Orioles would not preclude a franchise in the District or Northern Virginia even though Orioles owner Peter Angelos strongly opposes a Washington team, saying it would significantly hurt his ticket sales and broadcast revenues.
Selig shares some of those concerns, he said, but believes Washington might be big enough to support a team separately from the Orioles. However, he said baseball has no plans to expand in the foreseeable future and that no existing teams are "movable" at the moment.
In an interview with The Washington Post this afternoon in his Manhattan office, Selig touched on a number of topics, including slow play in the playoffs, the widening disparity between baseball's rich and poor teams and NBC reporter Jim Gray's aggressive interview of Pete Rose before Game 2 of the World Series.
Selig said he was generally supportive of Gray's interview, which took place minutes after the All-Century Team had been introduced in Atlanta. Gray's handling of the matter prompted such strong criticism that he issued a brief apology before Game 3 on Tuesday. The New York Yankees refused to speak with Gray after their Game 3 victory, forcing NBC to send another reporter to interview them.
The players allowed Gray to interview them tonight before Game 4 at Yankee Stadium.
Despite some public support for lifting Rose's lifetime ban, Selig said again this week that Rose will not be reinstated as long as he is commissioner. Selig and dozens of other baseball officials have studied the betting slips, fingerprints and telephone records that give credence to the assertion that Rose bet on baseball games, including Cincinnati Reds games in which he managed.
"My only sadness by that is that it took away from a moment in history that was really wonderful," Selig said of the Gray interview. "I don't know when we're going to have Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax and Hank Aaron and Willie Mays together again. I suppose one can quarrel a little bit with the timing, but journalists do have responsibilities and they ought to be allowed to exercise them and not be pilloried for it."
The Montreal Expos had appeared to be Washington's best chance of landing a team since the Senators departed for Texas after the 1971 season. Groups in Northern Virginia and the District had hoped to make a bid for the franchise, but Selig said New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria is close to purchasing a large share of the team and signing a deal to construct a downtown ballpark.
"In a lot of ways, it's helpful to have a team in the nation's capital," Selig said. "There's no question about that. It's helpful politically and a lot of other ways. As far as I'm concerned, Washington deserves a major league franchise. It's a major league market. I have no question about that. But we're certainly not going to expand, and at the moment, it doesn't appear there are any movable franchises."
Selig said because four expansion teams have been added since 1993, talent is spread so thin that more expansion couldn't be considered at the moment. Washington's impressive demographics aside, Selig expressed concern that having a team in Washington might have a negative impact on the Orioles.
"I would be less than candid if I didn't tell you of course I'm concerned with Baltimore," he said. "However, that doesn't mean I would keep a team from going to Washington just because I'm concerned. I am very protective of all the existing franchises. As you know, Peter Angelos has very strong feelings on that subject. Having said that, there's no team to move to Washington right now."
The Expos have drawn fewer fans than any other franchise in baseball the past two years, and despite having one of the game's most productive farm systems, have been unable to afford to keep their top players.
Selig said he believes Montreal can succeed as a baseball city.
"I think we have a responsibility to give them every opportunity," he said. "They're not done yet, but they've made a lot of progress. Montreal is not a small market. Montreal drew a lot of people when they had Gary Carter and all those guys. If the Montreal people are willing to spend a lot of money to buy the team and they're willing to build a stadium, I think it's quite arrogant of us to think we should take their team away."
On another matter, Selig said he will attend a meeting of the game's general managers next month, and among the topics he intends to discuss are ways to speed play. He remembered a time when virtually every game was played in less than 2 1/2 hours and now, with the American League average up to around three hours, he believes there's too much wasted time in games.
Selig said he would even consider putting a stopwatch on pitchers if it meant getting them to work more quickly.
"I'm amazed at the pitchers pawing the mound and looking up, hitters stepping out after every pitch and adjusting every piece of equipment they've got," Selig said. "We really need to address that. I remember the Braves had a pitcher named Bob Buhl and he would pitch a game in 1 hour 40 minutes. The Brewers had Lary Sorenson, and when he was on, man, the game was over quickly. Even now, when Greg Maddux is on or Pedro Martinez is on, you can get a 2 hours 8- or 9-minute game. That proves to me it can be done.
"Look, in this age we live in, we don't have endless hours. It's a great game, but it's a game that can be played in 2 hours 35 minutes as well as it can be played at 3 hours 10 minutes. That additional 30-35 minutes doesn't do anything for the participants or the fans."
Selig said he expects to receive a report by the end of the year from a commission he appointed to study the game's finances. The disparity in payrolls--from around $85 million to $13 million--meant that almost a dozen teams began the season with no hope of winning.
This year's World Series features the team's with the highest and fourth-highest payrolls--the Yankees and Braves, respectively. Overall, seven of the nine teams with the highest payrolls made the playoffs, while only two of the bottom 12 teams even had a winning record.
"I'm going to open the next meeting by telling this to the owners," Selig said. "Two things you have are hope and faith. On April 1 of any given year, it's my job to ensure as much hope and faith as possible. When that list shrinks, it's not in the best interest of the sport. Even the bigger markets would agree the list is shrinking. Therefore, I have zero trepidation saying that's the number one problem I face."