Washington is a “prime candidate” to host an all-star game, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said Friday. The Washington Nationals, owned by the Lerner family, have publicly stated their desire to host the game and, according to Selig, have been pushing for the honor.
“They’re making a very determined pitch,” Selig said Friday night at the Hay-Adams Hotel where he and Billye Aaron hosted a party for her husband, Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, to celebrate his 80th birthday. “We never announce these things until it’s appropriate.”
The soonest the Nationals could host an all-star game is 2017. Selig has awarded the game to teams with new stadiums and generally has alternated between American and National League sites. The Minnesota Twins will host this year’s all-star game at their four-year-old Target Field.
The Cincinnati Reds, who opened Great American Ball Park in 2003, will host the 2015 all-star game, a bid the Nationals were hoping to win. Last spring, Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner said he believed the lack of development around Nationals Park at the time MLB made the decision was a factor.
Asked about the ballpark’s surroundings, Selig deflected: “I don’t want to comment on that. But they’re a prime candidate. Let me say that, as much as I can.”
The Nationals could face stiff competition for the 2017 all-star game, which Selig single-handedly awards. San Diego, Miami and Philadelphia have yet to host the game in their new ballparks, and the Dodgers haven’t held it in 34 years. (The Phillies are waiting to bid for the 2026 all-star game to commemorate when America turns 250.)
Selig was instrumental in bringing baseball back to Washington in 2005 and had kind words for the Nationals and the Lerners, who have overseen a change from perennial losers to a division championship in 2012 and a projected playoff contender in 2014.
“I’m proud of them,” Selig said. “I’m proud of the Lerners. I’m proud of what they’ve done here. They’ve built a marvelous franchise. In fact, I don’t want to put a jinx on them because a lot of people are picking them to win this year. I am. I picked them and like my decision better today than I did six years ago.”
Selig, however, again refused to publicly address an issue central to the Nationals’ future: a long-running standoff between the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles over the Nationals’ rights fees paid by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which is controlled primarily by the Orioles and owner Peter Angelos. The commissioner has called the issue a “really difficult situation” in the past.
The stalemate has been ongoing since the end of the 2011 season and, according to a person familiar with the issue but not authorized to speak publicly, there are no new developments.
“That’s a matter that we’re working on right now and I don’t really have any more comment than that,” Selig said. “It’s been an ongoing and long thing but we’ll continue to work on it.”
The lack of a resolution and continuing deadlock has frustrated some, but Selig could offer no words of encouragement about a potential fix in the near future. “There’s a lot of people that say a lot of things and somehow we’ve been able to make them all happen,” he said. “We’ll continue to work until we have a resolution.”
According to a Grantland.com report earlier this week, MLB has sent the Nationals “an undisclosed sum every year to help bridge the gap, and to prevent the Lerners from taking matters to court, until the deal is more balanced.” Asked about the alleged payments, the person familiar with the matter said that they were “not sure that is accurate.” The Nationals declined to comment.
Selig also refused to elaborate. “A lot of my people are working on this,” he said.
Selig, and the hundreds in attendance, spent the evening celebrating Aaron’s birthday and a portrait of the slugger, painted by Ross Rossin, that will be dedicated at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Saturday. Several Hall of Famers, such as Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Jim Rice, Ozzie Smith, Frank Robinson and Robin Yount, and other dignitaries, such as former politician and activist Andy Young and Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, were in attendance. Even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech in Aaron’s honor.
“I feel good really,” Aaron said. “I feel wonderful. All of my friends are here from Atlanta and all over the world. I got them as far back as Alaska. It makes me feel wonderful and good.”