<
>

Extension needs players' OK

HOUSTON -- This one counted. And if the commissioner of baseball has anything to say about it, all future All-Star Games are going to count just like this one.

Speaking Tuesday at a meeting of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Bud Selig said he will push hard for an extension of the two-year "experiment" in which the winner of the All-Star Game gets homefield advantage for the World Series.

In fact, when asked if he was even interested in talking about the players' proposal to award home-field advantage in the Series to the team with the best regular-season record, Selig replied: "Not in my judgment."

The commissioner conceded that he's "always willing to talk." But he believes that adding postseason implications has restored the passion for "an All-Star Game that had lost its luster." And now he sees no reason to undo something that has helped ratings and generated attention.

"For years," Selig said, "we were accused of being a dinosaur that didn't care what our customers wanted. Well, we've done a lot of polling on this. And our fans like it. Our broadcast partners like it. Our sponsors like it. So what should we tell our customers -- that we don't care what they want? Those days are over in this sport."

An extension of that agreement would have to be negotiated with the players. But Selig used this forum to remind players that "the marketing of this sport is a joint responsibility." And he said that restoring this game's luster and listening to the customers is "in everyone's best interests -- not just the owners'."

Selig is so adamant that the game be played to win, in fact, that he said he planned to speak with AL manager Joe Torre about Torre's statements Monday that he would manage the game the way he had in the past -- and try to get every player into the game. Torre, by the way, said he disagreed with attaching World Series significance to this game.

"I understand what Joe's saying," Selig said. "But this is the format. And we've expanded the rosters quite a bit since [Torre last managed in it] two years ago. So all I expect is that they're managing like they're managing a game in the regular season, so we don't have what happened two years ago [i.e., the infamous tie]."

On other fronts, the commissioner said:

  • That "very constructive and intensive discussions" continue with the union over ways to toughen the current steroid-testing policy. And he continues to push for a system like the minor-league testing system -- which includes year-round random testing and suspensions for first-time offenders.

  • That while he sympathizes with players who "unfairly" had their "names bandied about" during the BALCO investigation, he thinks the best way for them and the sport to remove the cloud over their head is "a tougher drug policy."

  • That a permanent home for the Expos would definitely be found "this summer." He stopped short of setting any time frame for an announcement, but it's expected that some sort of decision will be made in the next month.

  • That despite Japan's rejection of the proposed new World Cup format, he is "still very hopeful" an agreement can be reached in time to hold the first World Cup next March.

  • That while he isn't ready to authorize teams like the Marlins or A's to actively consider relocation if they don't get new ballparks, the cities that don't wind up landing the Expos should remember that "there may be other situations in the future" that enable them to attract a team.

  • That contraction of two teams is no longer being considered because the new labor deal has produced more revenue sharing, more competitive balance and has "worked so well, it's ameliorated the need for contraction."

  • That unlike this year, there are no plans to hold Opening Day overseas next year. But despite criticism of this year's Japan trip, baseball won't back off overseas openers in the future, he said.

  • That he was alarmed by the decrease in black players in recent decades and hoped baseball's initiatives would help reverse that. "Something happened in the '60s and '70s. We didn't reach out enough. Football and basketball became more viable options," he said. He has pushed owners to increase minority employment.

    "We've had good success in front offices, not as good in some areas as we should, certainly in field managers and others we've made a lot of progress, but we [have] work to do," he said. "This may be another case where baseball was too passive in that era where you should not have been passive."

  • His time in office has "at least 2½ [years] and maybe more to go." Asked by the in April 2003 whether he would leave at the end of 2006, Selig said: "I think that will be enough. There's no question, because there are other things I really would like to do."

  • That he had changed his mind about increasing the number of teams in the postseason from the current eight. "A year ago, I would have told you I believe we're going to
    expand to the playoffs. I went in convinced we needed two more teams," he said. "Last October was so good that you started to worry about tampering with something that was that good. The more we looked at it, it became obvious that maybe two [more] teams wasn't quite what I thought it was. We finally decided in January or February: Let's stick with what we've got for a while. Unless something major comes up, I think we're just going to stay where we are."

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.