Bud Selig talks labor, state of MLB

Updated: March 31, 2011, 11:41 AM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- His game steeped in history, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is hoping for a repeat performance when it comes to labor discussions in 2011.

Selig delivered the keynote address at the World Congress of Sports on Wednesday, telling attendees from the sports business world that he is "very hopeful" baseball's progress toward a labor agreement goes as smoothly as the last one came together in 2006. Baseball's current labor deal will expire in December.

"For decades, baseball provided a roadmap of how not -- not -- to handle labor relations," Selig said, one day before baseball's new season opens. "Today, I'm very proud to stand before you with baseball in its 16th straight year of uninterrupted labor peace."

Labor talk is expected to dominate the two-day summit, with the NFL already deep into strife caused by its first work stoppage since 1987 -- talks on a new CBA broke off March 11 -- and the NBA possibly approaching a similar situation with its deal between owners and players set to expire June 30. Hockey's labor agreement is in place through the 2011-12 season.

Baseball's last deal was announced during the 2006 World Series.

"We are not alone," Selig said. "It is probably safe to predict that labor negotiations will be the defining sports story in 2011."

Baseball has been marked by eight work stoppages in the past three decades, though none since the one that wiped out the 1994 World Series. Union officials and baseball management have been talking in recent weeks, both sides saying publicly that they remain optimistic an agreement can be reached in the coming months.

They are not there yet, however.

"There are things that we're going to want and the system is going to need some change," Selig said.

Selig For decades, baseball provided a roadmap of how not -- not -- to handle labor relations. Today, I'm very proud to stand before you with baseball in its 16th straight year of uninterrupted labor peace.

-- Bud Selig

Selig spent much of his 35-minute prepared remarks recapping the sport's history in recent years, including the advent of a three-division and wild-card system, parity across the game with nine different World Series champions in the past 10 years, and the growth he never expected of Major League Baseball's digital media.

"For Major League Baseball, the last 10 years have been a golden era with unprecedented growth in revenue and popularity," Selig said. "The last seven years have been the seven highest-attended seasons in the history of baseball. ... Major League Baseball clearly is more popular today than it's ever been in its history."

On other topics:

• Selig discussed the issues currently facing the New York Mets (the ongoing fallout from the Bernard Madoff scandal and dropping ticket sales) and Los Angeles Dodgers (the contentious fight still raging between now-divorced owners Frank McCourt and Jamie McCourt).

He likened the situations to the one faced a year ago by the Texas Rangers, who dealt with bankruptcy and ownership uncertainty.

"We've spent a lot of time on it," Selig said. "I don't want to say anything differently than that, but look, a year ago, people were deeply troubled by Texas. 'Oh, what are you going to do? How are you going to do it?' And Texas worked out great, wound up selling for $600 million. We will work our way through these situations. Baseball has a great capacity to do that."

• Selig did not express any concern about the payroll situations in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, where the teams are expected to open the season with total player salaries under $40 million.

"Everywhere I went this spring in Arizona, everybody told me what a great looking group of young players Kansas City has," Selig said. "I have a feeling the Kansas City club is really a club on the rise. And Pittsburgh has signed a lot of good young players. Look, all 30 clubs can't always be perfect. But we have, as I said here today, more competitive balance than we've ever had before."

• Selig predicted another strong year at the turnstiles. "When I look at the ticket sales all over, I'm really bullish. I think we're going to have a wonderful, wonderful year."

• Selig said talks are continuing on expansion of instant replay.

• Selig took advantage of his trip to Miami to tour the Florida Marlins' new ballpark, which is scheduled to open in 2012. Selig had not been to the site since its groundbreaking.

• He reiterated his plan to retire Dec. 31, 2012, though he noted that even his wife is skeptical of that actually happening.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press