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10/18/06 12:44 AM ET
Selig: Owner-union relations at a zenith
Commissioner says labor peace has helped the sport thrive
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- With Major League Baseball and the Players Association nearing a settlement on a new Basic Agreement, Commissioner Bud Selig said on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium that the relationship between the owners and union has never been better and is the most significant reason for the health of the sport.
With negotiations ongoing through the postseason, Selig said gross revenues would be in the neighborhood of $5.2 billion this season, as compared to $1.2 billion in 1992, the year he replaced Fay Vincent and was named interim Commissioner.
"I have to give both sides an enormous amount of credit," said Selig, who visited with a small group of reporters in the rear of the press box during Tuesday night's Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Mets and Cardinals. "You can come up with a lot of different reasons about why the sport is doing so remarkably well, but you have to put labor peace at the top of the list."
Though Selig wouldn't be specific about when the negotiations would reach fruition, he said it should be obvious by the lack of public acrimony that the talks are going smoothly. The current Basic Agreement, which was signed in 2002, expires on Dec. 19.
These are the quietest negotiations in the nearly 40-year history of collective bargaining, coming during a season in which MLB set another attendance record by drawing in excess of 76 million fans.
"That should tell you all you really need to know," Selig said. "I really think that by the mid-90s, people were tired of reading about it. There was a lot of acrimony. There was a lot of hatred. There was a lot of bitterness. It was bad.
"Years ago, they saw [union executive director] Don [Fehr], they saw me. Put yourself in the fans' position. They wanted to read about their team. They wanted to read about baseball. They didn't want to read about us. Even before that, we had Marvin [Miller] and Bowie [Kuhn]. Who wanted to read about Marvin and Bowie? It didn't do much for the health of the sport."
Each collective bargaining period from 1972 to 1994 included a work stoppage of some kind. It was on Selig's watch that baseball endured its last such stoppage -- the strike that wiped out the 1994 postseason and the opening weeks of the 1995 season. Even the 2002 negotiations came down to the wire before the two sides reached an agreement, thus ending a streak of eight consecutive bargaining years that included a strike or lockout. That doesn't seem in the offing this year.
Asked if this was the absolute zenith in baseball's management-labor relations, Selig said: "Oh, I don't think there's any question. But having said that, it wasn't much of a relationship for 30, 35 years. The relationship between the parties is now what it should be. It's mature. We understand them. They understand us. That's the way it's supposed to be."
It was a heady day for Selig, who at 4 p.m. ET, was in his Milwaukee office taking part in a conference call to announce that the Turner Broadcasting System had purchased the rights to broadcast an LCS every year from 2007-13. The agreement was the crowning piece of television deals negotiated this season, deals that will extend for the next seven years.
Selig sounded giddy during the call, and afterwards, flew to St. Louis for the ballgame. He was still excited about that day's developments at the ballpark on Tuesday night.
"We're done," Selig said about the TV deals with FOX, ESPN and TBS. "We had some significant trepidation about it six, nine months ago. I was concerned. You're always concerned. You don't know about the future. The television landscape is changing, just like everything else. So, you bet this was a big day for us. We did very well. It's just another sign that the sport is healthy."