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MLB commissioner speaks at JACC

Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Despite the ongoing use of performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig told attendees at Tuesday’s annual baseball Opening Night Dinner he believes this is the “golden age” of baseball.

“We’re in the midst of an amazing renaissance of baseball. The sport’s never been this popular, the sport’s never done this well,” he told his audience in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse.

The commissioner cited increased attendance and competitive balance to try to support his claim.

Last season, the 30 MLB teams drew a combined 79.5 million fans, and an average attendance of nearly 33,000 per game. Selig projects the MLB will break that record with 80 million fans.

Selig also stressed the importance of competitive balance, or parity, in the League. During the 2007 season, no team had a winning percentage above .600 or below .400 – and that balance came only four years after Detroit lost 119 games (the second most all-time) and six years since Seattle tied an MLB-record with 116 wins in 2001.

After the New York Yankees won three consecutive World Series from 1998-2000, there were six different champions over the next six seasons. Boston’s win last season marked the first time a team won a second title in the 21st century, but Selig noted the other teams playing in the 2007 postseason to try to show competitive balance in the sport.

Excluding the Red Sox, the three other teams playing in the two league championship series were in the bottom third of the league in terms of revenue. Cleveland ranked 23rd at $61 million, Colorado was 25th at $54 million and Arizona was 26th at $52 million.

Selig said competitive balance like this has given more fans than ever “hope and faith” that their team has a legitimate shot at making a postseason run.

“I’ve been studying the division races, and I really like what I see,” Selig said. “I think every race is going to have multiple teams that are going to look at themselves and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a chance to win.'”

Selig also addressed the ways in which Major League Baseball has addressed the growing problem of performance-enhancing substances over the last few years.

After an initial Congressional hearing in March 2005, Selig asked former Sen. George Mitchell to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation into the use of performance-enhancing substances in the sport. The result, the 409-page Mitchell Report, gave baseball what Selig called “a road map for the future” in how the steroids era began and how steroids were distributed throughout Major League Baseball.

Selig said he is proud of the results of the Mitchell Report and would “do it again tomorrow” in order to prove that baseball has nothing to hide.

The commissioner also said he thinks the report and the implementation of many of Mitchell’s recommendations are a way to show fans that baseball is doing everything in its power to clean up the sport.

“Our fans realize we’ve done something about this. We have the toughest steroid program in sports, we’ve banned amphetamines,” he said. “We’re funding a study for a human growth hormone test with at UCLA with Dr. [Don] Catlin with the National Football League. And people forget that our minor league program is in its eighth year.”

One of the most important facets of Major League Baseball’s steroids policy, Selig said, is the increasing independence and transparency of the testing.

Currently, Major League Baseball uses Bryan Smith, a doctor employed by the MLB, as its primary doctor for steroids test, instead of turning to an outside, third party as Mitchell recommended in his report. Selig said he is committed to Smith, but wants to increase his independence.

“The things we’re doing, we’re trying to increase the independence and I want to increase transparency. … I think we can have a third party and I think he can be independent, but [Smith] understands our sport and he understands our nuances,” Selig said. “People compare our sport to the Olympics in terms of penalties and it’s just not fair because we play every year.”

Selig said baseball is using the best available science to combat steroids use, including the Olympic labs in UCLA and Montreal.

The commissioner also responded to former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker’s allegations that he knew Rocker was on steroids in 2000. Selig called Rocker’s claims “inaccurate” and said there was no way he could have known Rocker was on steroids since there was no drug policy in 2000 and Rocker’s tests would have been protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.

After a winter of steroids investigations and Congressional hearings (former New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens is slated to testify today), Selig said the focus this week should be on the return of baseball itself. Pitchers and catchers report this week in Arizona and Florida for the beginning of Spring Training.

“My best days are the ones where I can concentrate on baseball,” Selig said.

The former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, Selig was elected acting commissioner in 1994 before being named to the position permanently in 2000.

Notre Dame baseball coach Dave Schrage and former Notre Dame shortstop Greg Lopez also spoke at the event.

Notre Dame baseball’s home opener will be March 17 against Central Michigan. Schrage said Tuesday that he wants to make this date a new tradition for the team, and the Irish will continue to open on St. Patrick’s Day for at least the next three seasons.