- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

MILWAUKEE Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wanted the All-Star Game in his hometown to be a dazzling showcase for his troubled sport.
Instead, Mr. Selig left Miller Park after Tuesday night's game to boos, catcalls and a playing field strewn with debris thrown by angry fans, and he was forced once more to defend a sport already reeling from the prospect of another strike by players, a steroid scandal and sagging fan interest.
Mr. Selig halted the game after the 11th inning because both teams had run out of players, leaving fans with an unsatisfying 7-7 tie. The decision greeted with loud and instant disapproval from the 41,781 fans in attendance and millions more around the country yesterday proved to be another defining moment in Selig's often turbulent tenure as commissioner.
The disgust evident in chants of "Let them play," "Selig must go" and "Refund" after the game was stopped was echoed in several national polls yesterday and in a 9.5 TV rating that was the lowest ever for an All-Star Game played in prime time.
Mr. Selig said he was seeking to protect the last remaining pitchers, Freddy Garcia of the Seattle Mariners and Vicente Padilla of the Philadelphia Phillies, from excessive wear in an exhibition game. He said he had no option but to stop the game.
"This is not the ending I hoped for at all," Mr. Selig said. "It's very regrettable, very sad."
The All-Star Game is designed to celebrate baseball at its finest. During Mr. Selig's 10-year reign as commissioner, the game has evolved into a multiday, corporate-driven marketing event of which the game itself is only a part.
By the end of Tuesday, fans complained that the contest and its lack of a victor signaled that the game had been lost altogether in the surrounding hype.
"They treated it like it was a meaningless game," said David Cuscuna of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "It sends a lot of bad messages."
Mr. Selig held another news conference yesterday in an attempt to stem the tidal wave of dissent.
"If everyone knew all the facts, they'd see I had no other option," Mr. Selig said. "We were simply past the point of debating how the managers had used their players."
Milwaukee began preparing for the game nearly three years ago. Mr. Selig, a former car salesman who became the majority partner of the Milwaukee Brewers ownership group, was involved in much of it. His stake in the Brewers was placed in a blind trust when he became commissioner. Selig keeps his office in downtown Milwaukee, rather than at Major League Baseball's central offices in New York. He admitted before the game that he had been unusually edgy in the days leading up to the event.
"I've said the last couple of weeks that I thought I was more uptight than usual, and many who know me well and talk to me on a regular basis would say it's true," Selig said. "I really wanted everything to go well here."
Everything didn't, just as things have not gone well for baseball all season.
Players and owners have been negotiating a new labor deal for more than six months and remain far apart on nearly every key issue. Union representatives for each club are canvassing teammates on their willingness to strike, and a strike date could be set within a month. On Tuesday, Mr. Selig called the next few weeks of negotiations "crucial."
The owners want to increase the sharing of local revenue among clubs from the current 20 percent to 50 percent and implement a 50 percent tax on payrolls above $98 million. The changes are designed to improve the competitive and economic balance among teams.
The players are open to increased revenue-sharing but are adamantly opposed to a payroll tax.
Also at issue is testing for steroids and other illegal drugs. The National Football League and National Basketball Association randomly test players for drugs, but baseball does not. Retired players Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti said recently that steroid use among players is rampant, sparking a nationwide debate on the level of abuse in the game and the proper means to address the issue. Owners want to include a testing program in the next labor deal, but the players union is fighting random drug testing.
Mr. Selig said he is well aware that these negotiations and their result will be central in defining his legacy as the ninth commissioner of baseball.
Selig was at the helm when the players went on strike in August 1994, a move that wiped out the rest of the season, including the World Series. Small-market clubs such as the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and his own Brewers have had trouble contending with richer teams for championships during Mr. Selig's tenure.
Mr. Selig now is leading an effort to eliminate at least two teams. Attendance, which never fully recovered from the 1994 strike, is off nearly 6 percent so far this year.
The commissioner, however, also has engineered some significant successes. Industry revenue soared from $1.78 billion in 1996 to $3.5 billion last year. Interleague play, created in 1997, remains popular with many fans, and baseball's fan base and exposure outside the United States are at an all-time high.
And in Milwaukee, thousands of fans packed the All-Star Game Fan Fest, and many souvenir shops reported strong business throughout the event.
When the 2002 All-Star Game goes down in the record books, it will do so as the one in Mr. Selig's hometown that ended in a disappointing tie.
"We entered uncharted waters here," Selig said. "It's very painful."
It could get more painful still.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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