Selig says his job requires resiliency nowadays
MADISON, Wis. — The 73rd major league baseball all-star game was supposed to be a celebration of Milwaukee baseball. It was supposed to be a homecoming for commissioner Bud Selig, a Milwaukee native who helped bring his home city a professional baseball team.
Instead, the 2002 all-star game at Miller Park turned into a debacle when both managers infamously burned through their pitching staffs, and Selig had no choice but to call the game in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings when there was nobody left to pitch.
"The criticism in the aftermath was brutal," Selig said on Tuesday. "Really, you would have thought I robbed a bank or committed some unpardonable sin."
While many members of the media chastised Selig's decision, he said, several others understood it was a freak situation, and the commissioner acted in the most responsible way he knew how — to support player safety.
"There were voices out there that may have been loud, but it didn't mean they were right," Selig said. "It's OK to be critical, but you ought to have a solution."
That topic was among many Selig discussed at a lecture on the University of Wisconsin campus Tuesday entitled, "Talking Baseball: The Challenges of Communicating in Turbulent Times."
Selig, a University of Wisconsin graduate, spoke for 30 minutes before opening up the room for a question and answer session that ranged from his thoughts on Miami's new ballpark to Ryan Braun's overturned performance-enhancing drug suspension.
Selig discussed the importance of the media in major league baseball, which serve as a conduit for fans of their respective teams. He said baseball writers had more access to teams than writers in any other sport, and Selig didn't want that to change. He also said that as commissioner, he has been forced to deal with criticism regarding some of the game's biggest changes in the past two decades, from the wild-card playoff system to labor disputes to steroids.
"If you're available to the press when there is a challenge, you'll earn the benefit of the doubt," Selig said. "There have been many days when it's tough to be in my position. If you sit in a chair like mine, you have to be resilient and take everything that comes with it."
Selig — who has served as commissioner since 1992 — described the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2011, as his most difficult challenge as commissioner. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Selig ordered baseball be postponed until Monday, Sept. 17 to allow the country to mourn, but he admitted he wasn't sure if that was enough time.
"I was nervous," he said. "Very nervous. I paced back and forth the whole weekend. I got home early on that Monday night that we resumed, second-guessing myself a little bit, ‘I hope this is the right thing to do.' I immediately went upstairs and watched games."
He tuned into the pregame show before Milwaukee played St. Louis that night, when legendary Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck read a poem to the crowd that he had written himself.
"One of the things he said was, ‘Should we be here tonight? Yes, we should,'" Selig said. "And the crowd rose. A standing ovation. I'm not ashamed to tell you I cried. I knew then it was the right decision."
On the topic of performance-enhancing drugs, Selig said there were more than 4,890 drug tests taken last season and only one had any controversy surrounding it. That one, of course, dealt with Braun, the reigning National League MVP and Milwaukee Brewers left fielder.
Selig declined to comment specifically on Braun's overturned 50-game drug suspension. Braun was found to have high levels of synthetic testosterone late last season, but he won an appeal by claiming his urine test had been mishandled by the drug sampler.
"I like Ryan Braun personally a lot," Selig said. "He is a very nice person. I'm going to let that one stand. I think our people commented. It is true, it's the only controversy we had. The collector of course spoke out. We've said all we were going to. We'll tighten the program a little bit, more on the administrative side, not on that. In any drug-testing program, you can always have a little glitch here and there.
"I really want to make the point: the steroid issue really bothered me. It bothered me more than you'll ever know. Disappointment. Anger. I had to go to congress four to five times. That was a lot of fun. People will talk to me about integrity. What I say is when a fan comes to a game, the Brewers come home next week, you have to know that game is not being influenced, whether it's gambling or performance-enhancing drugs, by anything that takes away from the game itself.
"I'm proud of where we are today. Baseball never had a drug-testing program before. I thought the player comments after Brauny's situation were really good. It was amazing. They were very protective of the program, as well they should be."
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