|Times change. To his credit, so did commissioner Bud Selig|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 03 October 2007 09:13|
The commissioner is smarter than I gave him credit for, not to mention more forward-looking. Especially for someone who begins every other sentence, ``As you probably know, I'm a student of history ...''
To be sure, there are still enough things Bud does badly to make up a long list. And I have. Many times.
He's too timid, too much of a consensus-builder, to lead on an issue as important as performance-enhancing drugs in the game. Like the car salesman he used to be, Selig is apt to do favors for friends who own or are looking to own teams, sometimes to the detriment of the rest of baseball.
Still, with the playoffs beginning Wednesday, padded by a wild-card scheme he helped push through and promoted by a TV package that puts some games only on cable and starts others too late, the man deserves some props. Times change, and Bud has, too.
It isn't easy to keep a business as old as baseball fresh. Think of it this way: the Cubs will be looking to win their first World Series in nearly a century when they open against the Diamondbacks in Arizona, which wasn't even a state the last time Chicago's sad-sack North Siders won it all. And after all that time, the game's never been more popular or profitable.
``Bud's been criticized, but you have to look at the results,'' said media consultant Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports. ``Arguably, in this time of the so-called steroid scandal, the public doesn't seem to be making much about that. ...
``Fans are turning out in record numbers, TV ratings are up, his relationship with the players, from a management-labor standpoint, has been reconciled and baseball's marketing and subsidiary businesses are booming. Every rational, measurable, identifiable criteria, they're all positive.''
That doesn't mean everything is fine.
Some people who can't afford cable will miss the entire division series, being shown only on Turner Sports, but with few notable exceptions, most teams regular-season games have already been shifted to cable.
Some Phillies fans are furious that if their series against the Rockies goes to Game 4, the start time will be after 10 p.m., Eastern. Almost everybody is incensed that every one of the Yankees games against the Indians will start before 7 p.m. in the same time zone.
On the other hand, no two games will start at the same time, as in past years, and managers who want to rely on a three-man starting rotation are going to love the four extra days built into the schedule to deal with weather-related postponements. That should mean fewer pitchers working on short rest, which was an important part of postseason lore - think Sandy Koufax on several occasions and Jack Morris going the distance in Game 7 of the 1991 Series.
It should also produce more head-to-head matchups between the aces on each staff, including the first game of the World Series, which will begin midweek this year instead of on the weekend.
``We have, and I have that responsibility to make it as easy for people to watch as possible, not to make it as difficult,'' Selig said. ``And so other sports do that and they have been smart about it. We haven't always been as smart.''
Smart means shedding one series game on a Saturday night, traditionally the thinnest TV audience of the week, and staying away from time slots where baseball would be up against college football and the NFL for viewers.
``Finally,'' said Lou D'Ermilio, spokesman for FOX network, which will share the league championship series and televise the World Series, ``baseball will be sitting out there by itself.''
Kids under 17 won't notice, but their share of the audience is already down to 7 percent. Argue that Selig is mortgaging part of baseball's future to keep his current broadcast partners happy - it wouldn't be the first time - but the simple fact is he's putting the games on when the potential number of viewers, coast to coast, is largest.
``It's this simple,'' D'Ermilio said. ``The audience available to watch a game that begins Wednesday night at 8 (p.m.) is almost 50 percent bigger than at 4 in the afternoon. Just because a game is played during the day doesn't mean people are home in front of a TV to watch it.''
There are still a few matters in which Selig stubbornly clings to the past, and on this latest one, anyway, I'm taking Bud's side again. Backers of instant replay in baseball have been howling for some kind of system ever since Colorado's Matt Holliday slid headfirst into home with the winning run in the wild-card tiebreaking game against the Padres.
Selig said he watched countless replays of the slide Monday night and looked at them again Tuesday. He believes Holliday touched home.
``But if somebody said it was inconclusive,'' Selig said during an ESPN interview, his consensus-building side peeking through again, ``that would not be a bad answer. ... In the quiet of winter, (instant replay) is something we're going to think about.''
The commissioner went on, however, to knock instant replay for delaying games and better still, for threatening to steal some of the serendipity from the games.
``Umpiring has been part of our sport for a long, long time,'' Selig said.
Good for him.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org