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  Wed, July 14, 2004


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'Golden Era' is upon us
At least that's what Bud thinks as Selig lists baseball's success stories
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

Baseball is on a pace to draw a record 73 million fans and faces a rosy season, according to MLB commissioner Bud Selig, left. (AP File Photo/Dennis Cook)

This is not a tough question, like would you take Manny Ramirez over Sammy Sosa, or Ivan Rodriguez over Mike Piazza?

Which do you prefer: Labour peace or a work stoppage?

The historic basic agreement between the players' association and Major League Baseball on Aug. 31, 2002, the first new agreement without a strike, is paying off this season.

Now, baseball is on a pace to draw a record 73 million fans and faces a rosy season, according to commissioner Bud Selig.

"With labour peace, we can concentrate on the game," Selig said in his second annual state of the union address at a Baseball Writers of America luncheon yesterday in Houston.

"Twelve years ago, we made painful decisions," he said, referring to the ousting of former commissioner Fay Vincent. "Now, we have revenue-sharing, our ratings are better than ever, we'll go over the 39-million mark in attendance on Thursday, headed toward (the highest total in major-league history).

"There is more parity than ever, I count 21 teams out of 30 in the wild-card race."

Selig said MLB games are averaging 30,053 fans. MLB isn't getting much help from the Blue Jays, who rank 28th in attendance with an average of 19,852, ahead of only the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Montreal Expos.

And there are nasty warts, such as the steroid situation and the relocation of the Expos.

Selig wants the same drug-testing policy as in the minors. Don't expect that happening. While the players' association protects big-leaguers, minor-leaguers are on their own and are tested for steroids, other drugs and alcohol.

Would you want your employer to test you for alcohol?

"A lot of players are playing under a cloud -- we need random, year-round drug testing," Selig said.

"On Aug. 30, 2002 at 6 a.m., when we were trying to get a new deal, I made a decision.

"We didn't have a drug policy, but we went ahead with the deal. Our testing policy was better than one that didn't exist."

Selig was reluctant to comment on the BALCO investigation in which the San Francisco Chronicle has alledged seven players are involved, including slugger Barry Bonds.

Do fans care about steroids and the investigation? Bonds was the second-leading all-star vote-getter for the National League.

Selig said Mark McGwire, who used the supplement androstenedione when he set the single-season home run record in 1998, should not have his record tainted.

"McGwire's legacy should not be muddled," Selig said. "He did what he did and andro was legal at the time."

A move by the Expos to Washington, D.C., is expected to be approved this summer. A lawsuit by former Expos minority owners against Jeffrey Loria, now the owner of the Florida Marlins, is one issue holding up the decision.

"Ten years from now, no one will complain whether we were six months late making a decision," Selig said.

In 2003, Selig was in favour of adding two teams to the playoffs. After looking at schedules and bringing in mathematicians he has shelved the idea, saying "last October was so exciting."

He wants to maintain the all-star game format, where last night's winner earns home-field advantage for its league in the World Series, as long as the union approves.

"There was a time when we were called dinosaurs," Selig said. "Now we listen to our sponsors, our broadcast partners and most of all, our fans. They liked the all-star format of 2003. We're keeping it.

"It worked in 2003. For the first time in more than a decade our TV ratings increased the deeper into the game we went."

Selig told of a conversation he had with respected San Francisco author Leonard Koppett, who wrote the Thinking Man's Guide to Baseball, a year ago.

"Leonard said, 'They don't get it, this is the Golden Era of baseball.'"