Selig steps up to plate

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Bud Selig has come a long way, baby.

He used to remind us of Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show.

So, imagine our surprise when we hear him trading wits with New York's late-night resident wit David Letterman on The Late Show.

"My mother took me to Yankee Stadium on July 30, 1949, for my 15th birthday," the Major League Baseball commissioner told Letterman. "During the game, they wheeled out a cake.

"I turned and said: 'Oh mother why did you do this?' Later, I found out it was manager Casey Stengel's birthday."

The CBS audience laughed as Selig delivered the punch line with the timing of Jeff Foxworthy.

Selig worked a tougher room yesterday for his sixth annual state of the game address at the Baseball Writers Association of American luncheon.

He boasted about interest and baseball news was of what was transpiring on the field, Selig explained the average attendance is 32,000 per game, 45.5 million have passed through turnstiles to date and he hopes to achieve 80 million in 2008.

The Blue Jays are averaging 27,503 over 47 home dates, compared to 26,617 a year ago.

Then, he fielded one-hoppers about the state of the Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants franchises -- all of which are struggling either to build a new park or are having attendance problems or both.

Former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Brayman has filed a lawsuit to stop construction of the Marlins' new park in Miami.

Selig also addressed the problem of maple bats, which are breaking nightly and causing danger to spectators. He did not think protective netting was the solution.

"I'm concerned about safety on the field," Selig said. "The umpires, the coaches, the players. I've talked to older players and hall of famers, they have never seen anything like it.

"We have to find the cause -- why are they breaking? --and solve it."

The commissioner refused to respond to allegations by the Beverly Hills Sports Council, which represents home-run king Barry Bonds, that there is a conspiracy to keep Bonds out of the game.

"Every club is free to do whatever it wants to do," Selig said.

Selig said MLB's investigation unit is looking into scout Alan Marr, national cross-checker for the Baltimore Orioles, recently fired for gambling. He said comparing it to the situation of NBA referee Tim Donaghy "is a bit of stretch."

"There is no evidence that it is wide spread," Selig said.

MLB also is investigating the Washington Nationals and the Chicago White Sox actions in the Dominican Republic, where players signed and then kicked back part of their bonus to the club.

After the White Sox fired a scout, authorities in Miami stopped White Sox personnel director Dave Wilder re-entering the country with roughly $40,000 US in cash after a trip to the Dominican, according to an official with another club. Wilder has been fired by the White Sox.

"I'm concerned about any matter that reflects badly on the sport," the commissioner said.

Selig also declined to comment on the Green Bay Packers quarterback situation.

He spoke of how difficult it is to award the all-star game (next year's game is at Busch Stadium in St. Louis) each year but said there was little opposition to giving the game to New York in the final season of Yankee Stadium.

"As a kid growing up in Milwaukee, I watched the great Notre Dame-Army football games and the fights from Yankee Stadium, the Baltimore Colts overtime win over the New York Giants for the NFL title and the Yankees," said Selig, the former Milwaukee Brewers owner. "This place has been a big part of my life.

"I walked the cramped hallways outside the clubhouse (too nervous to watch the 1981 post-season) knowing from the crowd if our closer Rollie Fingers got the Yankees out."

Selig said he has similar feelings walking into Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

"We wanted the all-star game to be here in the final year of the most famous cathedral not just in baseball, but in sports."

For a cathedral, they sure do play Metallica and Frank Sinatra awfully loud.


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