Selig gives state of MLB address, says instant replay near

Updated: July 15, 2008, 7:37 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball continues to work feverishly on its plan to blend technology with the human element on the field. Barring a glitch, the kinks could be ironed out in time to prevent a dreaded umpiring fiasco on a national stage in October.

Commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday that instant replay, a long-debated topic in baseball circles, is being looked at "intensely," and that a system could be in place in time for postseason play.

Selig Talking Points

MLB commissioner Bud Selig gave a state of the game address on Tuesday. Among his key points:

• Instant replay could be in place for this season's postseason.

• Baseball is looking into the threat of maple bats shattering and injuring players.

• The winning league in the All-Star Game getting home-field advantage in the World Series is a success.

• Certain teams need new ballparks to remain viable.

• Despite economic struggles in the country, baseball is doing well.

As previous reports have indicated, MLB wants to have instant replay up and running by August so that it can be fine-tuned in anticipation of the playoffs. Replays are likely to be confined to home run balls and fair or foul calls, with safe versus out calls left exclusively in the hands of the umpires.

That could still help avert a situation similar to the Jeffrey Maier fiasco in 1996, when a case of fan interference helped the Yankees beat Baltimore in the playoffs.

"Once we are convinced that the bugs are out, it will come quickly," Selig said. "Is there a chance, if we agree to do it, that it could be before the postseason? The answer is yes, there's a chance. But we've got work to be done. No decision has been made."

Selig held his annual All-Star Game question-and-answer session with the media Tuesday, and it was as noteworthy for the topics that weren't discussed as the 20 or so queries that came his way. He spoke for 45 minutes and didn't receive a single question about labor issues, Major League Baseball's drug policy, Jose Canseco's literary efforts or the prospect of congressional hearings on the horizon -- because there are none.

It was his first steroid-free news conference in years.

That reflects the general sense of peace and cooperation between the commissioner's office and the MLB Players Association and the game's continued popularity in the midst of a struggling economy. Selig said 45.5 million fans have attended games this season, and that MLB is hoping for a total attendance of 80 million -- slightly more than the record 79.5 million who passed through the gates in 2007.

"When the story is on the field, we'll do just fine," he said.

Still, there are a number of hot-button issues confronting baseball leadership, and Selig addressed them Tuesday:

• Selig said MLB continues to look into the threat of maple bats breaking and posing an injury risk. He expressed opposition to the idea of increased netting to protect fans -- similar to what's used in hockey and Japanese League baseball -- and said the principal risk is to uniformed personnel on the field.

"I don't think putting up nets is a practical solution," Selig said. "I think it creates a lot of other problems.

"I'm concerned with the safety of people on the field. You've got coaches, trainers and people in the dugout. I watched a bat shatter the other day and the third baseman didn't know whether to jump away from the bat or go for the ball, so he did neither. I'm amazed at the amount of bats that are breaking."

Selig said MLB has consulted with wood experts and other authorities on the topic and expects to receive a set of recommendations within the next month.

• He refuted a suggestion by the Beverly Hills Sports Council, the representatives for Barry Bonds, that major league teams have conspired to keep the home run king out of the game. Agent Jeff Borris said that he recently offered Bonds to clubs for the minimum salary of $390,000, and the universal lack of interest was enough to "raise the level of suspicion."

The players' association recently expressed its concerns about Bonds, but Selig said there's nothing to the conspiracy talk.

"Every club is free to do what they want to do," he said. "No club has talked to me about it. I'm not going to respond to the charges because they're without basis. That's just an individual club matter. I guess you'll have to ask the 30 clubs or those who think people should be talking to Barry. But nobody has spoken to me about it."

• Selig said interest in a worldwide draft has increased among management, but Rob Manfred, his executive vice president for labor relations, indicated owners probably wouldn't push for the players' association to reopen the collective bargaining agreement over the issue. The current deal runs through the 2011 season.

"We're not near making any decision on that," Manfred said Tuesday. "I think the most likely course of events is that it would be handled in the next round of bargaining. The most likely course of events is we would handle it in 2011."

• Selig is convinced that baseball made the right call when it awarded home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. He said the system, now in its sixth year, has added intrigue to the All-Star Game and helped spur participation among players.

"What has it done?" Selig said. "It's restored the intensity to the sport. You don't hear any players bitching and whining anymore about coming to the game. In the late '90s, they didn't want to come. They didn't want to play. They were gone in the third or fourth inning. Now the game has intensity."

• Selig offered no details on the FBI and baseball probe into Dominican signing bonuses other than to say, "We understand exactly what's going on and we'll do what we have to do to clean it up." As for the probe into betting by scouts, he said, "There certainly is no evidence that it's widespread."

Baltimore fired its national cross-checker after he was linked to a gambling investigation that involved bets primarily on football.

• The commissioner reiterated that MLB franchises in Florida, Oakland and Tampa Bay need new ballparks to remain competitive and said he's optimistic that it will happen in all three cases.

• Selig hasn't come up with a solution to the Olympic issue. The International Olympic Committee dropped the sport starting with the 2012 London Games, but baseball hopes to be reinstated for 2016.

"We're in our season, as opposed to everybody else," he said. "Everybody understands we have a timing problem that is very difficult to solve."

• Selig said he has yet to see evidence that the nation's struggling economy has spilled over to baseball and its business efforts. But he's taking nothing for granted.

"So far we haven't seen it at any level of our business, and I'm grateful for that," Selig said. "But if the economists are right and it's going to deepen, that's a question we'll have to talk about in three months, six months or a year."

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer