Posted August 20, 2014
By Jorge L. Ortiz - USA Today Sports -
OAKLAND -- In the eyes of outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig, the reformation of baseball's economic system – which has allowed franchises like the Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals to flourish – stands as the biggest accomplishment of his 22-year stint.
The construction of 22 new major league ballparks during that time – a tidy average of one per season – ranks high on his list as well.
The Athletics, who hosted Selig on Tuesday during the latest stop in his tenure-ending tour of every stadium, are at opposite sides of those achievements.
As a small-market team dwarfed in reach and popularity by the neighboring San Francisco Giants, the A's have been able to succeed thanks in no small measure to the revenue-sharing program Selig initiated against staunch resistance from several owners.
"I remember all the fights over competitive balance. Oh, man, it was brutal, back in the '80s and '90s,'' Selig said in a 34-minute question-and-answer session with news reporters.
"The other day all three National League divisions were tied, and now you have Kansas City moving ahead of Detroit, Oakland battling, Milwaukee battling, teams that in the '90s and early 2000s had no chance.''
The A's, who perennially rank near the bottom in attendance, have made the playoffs seven times since 2000 and entered Tuesday's action with the second-best record in the majors.
But they remain stuck at the outdated and much-maligned O.co Coliseum, where they recently signed a 10-year lease extension even though they'd much rather move to San Jose and build a new ballpark there.
The A's relocation efforts have been blocked by the Giants, who claim territorial rights to the south bay and steadfastly refuse to give up the prosperous region, from where they generate a significant part of their revenue. In June 2013, San Jose filed suit against Major League Baseball for standing in the way of the A's relocation, which Selig said has only further slowed down their search for a new home.
In March 2009, Selig appointed a three-person committee to study the A's stadium situation, but it has never made a public recommendation. Selig most recently threw his weight behind the A's in their lease negotiations and supported the idea of them building a new stadium at the Coliseum site.
So, while Selig's work has paved the way for clubs like the A's to have a realistic chance against big-market opponents like the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers – both of which Oakland edged out for the AL West crown the last two seasons – he hasn't been able to grant them what they really want: the opportunity to turn from revenue-sharing receivers to payers with a move to a modern facility in a wealthier market.
That, like the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and players' widespread use of performance-enhancing substances under his watch, will be part of Selig's legacy.
"This is always something I wanted to get resolved before I leave office, which is another 5½ or six months,'' Selig said. "If it were easy, just like if it were easy in Tampa, then I would have been 24 out of 24 (in new ballparks). I have hopes in both places. But do I wish it had been solved? Of course I do, and I understand people's frustrations.''
Selig was peppered with queries about the A's stadium situation during his gathering with the media, and with team co-owner and longtime friend Lew Wolff sitting beside him, the outgoing commissioner reiterated his belief that the A's need a new ballpark. He has referred to the Coliseum – notorious for its sewage overflows – as "a pit.''
However, he was short on solutions.
Told that some of the A's fans blame him for the current situation, Selig said, "I didn't create the stadium, nor did I create the controversy. I'm the one sitting in the middle of it. … I'd like to resolve the issue like we did everywhere else, but this is unique in that you have two teams that have very dissimilar opinions.''
Not everybody blames Selig, who has ruled over an extended stretch of labor peace since the 1994-95 labor stoppage and has seen the game's revenues mushroom to nearly $9 billion a season.
Player salaries have escalated to an average of more than $3 million a year, and the enhanced opportunities brought on by revenue sharing – along with the extra number of playoff entries from two to five per league – have increased interest in the sport.
"Baseball was getting to a point where some teams were starting to make October their own,'' said A's outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss. "Parity is always a good thing in baseball because you legitimately want to see every team have an opportunity to have a World Series.
"You don't want to see great players on certain teams go their whole career and have no opportunity to get to the World Series just because their team didn't have the payroll. There's a lot of good things going on in the game today, and a lot of them have to do with him.''