DETROIT — Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig yesterday reiterated his intention to complete the sale of the Washington Nationals this summer although finalists among the eight bidders have yet to be chosen.
“We’re moving along,” Selig said during a meeting with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. “Last year I made some predictions, and the year before. But the fact is, I’m very confident now that we will be done this summer, there’s no question, and have a new owner.”
Selig’s target of a late-August, early-September sale of the Nationals has been consistent for months now, even if skeptics continue to doubt its plausibility. The commissioner has pushed for a quick sale since announcing the relocation of the former Montreal Expos in September, a process that took more than two years to complete.
MLB came under plenty of heat for that protracted process after its 29 other clubs purchased the Expos from former owner Jeffrey Loria in February 2002. But Selig yesterday insisted the delay was inevitable.
“Do I wish we could have done this a year or two ago? Of course,” he said. “But the cities weren’t ready. They couldn’t produce on stadiums. … A year ago, they just weren’t ready. It wasn’t a question whether I was. But the answer is [the Nationals will be sold] as soon as humanly possible, for all the reasons I just mentioned.”
MLB received initial bids from the eight suitors last month, believed to be in the $400 million range for the Nationals and a minority stake in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Included were groups led by District businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, local philanthropist Jonathan Ledecky, Sallie Mae chairman Albert Lord, Maryland real estate developer Mark Lerner, Atlanta sports executive Stan Kasten, Indianapolis communications executive Jeffrey Smulyan, District and Tennessee developer Franklin Haney Sr. and California billionaire Ron Burkle.
The Ledecky bid has been the subject of controversy, with the recent addition of Democratic activist George Soros to the group. Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican, responded by saying Soros’ inclusion in an ownership group would be a black mark for baseball.
Selig yesterday insisted politics will not be considered while choosing a new owner.
“It has no effect on how we select ownership in Washington,” he said. “It’s a baseball decision. It’s not a political decision.”
Selig addressed a wide range of other issues during an interview session that lasted nearly an hour. Among the topics:
Steroids. Though he insists the sport’s recently adopted testing program is working, Selig will push for stronger penalties as Congress suggested during a contentious March 17 hearing.
“I feel stronger about it today than I did then,” he said. “This is an integrity issue that should not be ignored.”
The World Baseball Classic. Selig believes the sport’s first-ever “World Cup-style” event, set to take place in March, will become a major international event that ultimately could change baseball’s landscape around the globe.
“I don’t think any of us can understand how big this will be,” he said. “Two decades from now, this will have changed the structure of the sport. I think the potential is unlimited.”
Selig said he expects all 30 MLB clubs to participate, even though some managers (like Washington’s Frank Robinson) have said they would be reluctant to let players leave spring training camps for two weeks to represent their home countries.
The All-Star Game. Selig said an American League club will be chosen as host of the 2008 game after he broke with tradition and awarded back-to-back games to National League teams (Pittsburgh in 2006, San Francisco in 2007).
The Home Run Derby. Selig said he believes there are ways to shorten the length of the annual event, which lasted more than three hours Monday night. Preliminary ratings on ESPN, however, appear to have been strong.