- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

So you think Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had a tough year in 2001? After all, Selig's plan to eliminate two teams before the start of the 2002 season resulted in a grilling on Capitol Hill and a mountain of criticism, lawsuits and grievances rarely seen for an already embattled sport.
But Selig's to-do list for 2002, largely carried over from 2001, is even more daunting. Among his more immediate tasks: convince Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly the sale of the Boston Red Sox was on the level; help find a new owner for the Florida Marlins; complete his plan to contract the two teams likely Montreal and Minnesota and organize a dispersal draft; resolve the union grievance against the plan and a Minneapolis injunction holding the Twins to the Metrodome for 2002; make some significant progress on a new labor deal with the players that will stem the game's massive fiscal and competitive imbalance; and address the fate of the Expos if contraction doesn't happen this year.
And, oh yeah, it all preferably should be done before spring training starts in six weeks.
January is usually the quietest month in the baseball calendar. The World Series is over. The winter meetings are done. Many free agents have found new homes. All that's really left until spring training are arbitration hearings and the last push of rest and relaxation before work begins again.
This time, like everything else now, baseball will be vastly different. How Selig, freshly minted with a three-year contract extension, handles himself in the next 4-to-6 weeks will speak volumes on the game's future.
And there are plenty of upcoming opportunities for long-overdue action. The players and owners will begin discussing a new labor accord Tuesday and Wednesday. The owners will meet Jan. 16-17 in Phoenix, perhaps to approve the sale of the Red Sox to current Marlins owner John Henry and his partners and certainly to refine their bargaining platform for further labor talks.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, is still eyeing a hearing for late this month or early February on a bill to roll back the game's antitrust exemption. If Selig can muster a better performance than his shaky appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 6, the federal scrutiny on baseball likely will ebb.
Despite the decidedly downbeat offseason, some optimism within baseball circles has surfaced of late. On Friday the Twins named Ron Gardenhire, previously a coach under Tom Kelly, as their manager, leaving them prepared if Selig pulls the plug on contraction. Teams are steadily filling out their expanded rosters, albeit still under the same haves and have-nots fiscal system.
And neither the owners nor the players are sending any clear smoke signals yet about a work stoppage, even as the history of eight such stoppages since 1972 says another one is all but certain. Between small-market owners needing to keep the doors open and mollify their creditors and players enjoying their current standards of living, the motives to stop playing are weaker this time around.
But as usual, the problems lie in the details. After months of avoiding the topic, once the players and owners actually begin talking hard numbers, their viewpoints quickly will diverge. The owners want much more revenue sharing and some kind of significant cost containment, most likely through boosting payroll luxury taxes since a payroll cap of any kind is unattainable. The players have no problem with the revenue sharing but do with one that has any strings attached that could shackle the game's reliance on free market economics.
Selig already is off to a better start this year than in 2001. This time a year ago, Selig was on crutches after a fall on icy pavement. This year, Selig is in fighting trim. With the heady agenda now before him, he'll need to be.


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