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Rewriting history (cont.)

Posted: Friday January 5, 2007 11:47AM; Updated: Friday January 5, 2007 11:47AM
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The rise in revenue is one reason Alfonso Soriano can get $136 million from the Cubs.
The rise in revenue is one reason Alfonso Soriano can get $136 million from the Cubs.
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Selig has been telling us for a few years now that baseball is in its golden age, and it's impossible to argue now. "Revenues have exploded,'' Selig said. Indeed, revenues are up, from $1.2 billion to a whopping $5.2 billion since he took office a decade and a half ago as a supposed interim, temporary commissioner.

That explains why teams can spend $136 million on Alfonso Soriano, $126 million on Barry Zito, $100 million on Carlos Lee and $55 million on Gil Meche. Selig's people spoke out publicly about the big contracts six years ago, but baseball is doing too well to complain aloud now. Some owners, especially from smaller markets, are concerned about the latest signings and wondering whether this is the Winter of A-Rod (2000-01) all over again. But Selig wouldn't say whether he thinks the whopping contracts are a mistake. "I have no comment. I'll let you figure that one out.''

The reality is there is so much money now that the owners don't know what to do with it. As one club executive told me the other day, "We better never hear another owner complain about the financial condition of the sport.''

When Selig entered as a universally-liked but only moderately successful owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (he saved the sport for his hometown, but in terms of on-field performance that characterization is kind), his fellow owners, all much richer than him at the time, were carping that the sky was falling. Now you don't hear one peep out of them, which suggests there isn't a thing to complain about.

Belying his own old habits, Selig's successes even extend to the internet. His sport possesses by far the most successful internet concern, MLB.com, never mind that its commissioner is such a man of routine he's barely computer literate.

Baseball is thriving, and folks are finally noticing. Meanwhile, a few sports insiders are starting to see some holes in the games of commissioners Stern and Tagliabue. Teflon Tags heard applause all the way to the door, but the NFL is a failure in the area of minority hiring, its steroid issue has become exposed and a league problem with arrests and guns is nothing short of an utter embarrassment.

Selig is a history junkie who loves to talk about Harry Truman and how no one thought much of Truman while he was president. About how it wasn't until he was long out of office that people realized how right he was and how good he was.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how apt Selig's comparison was. And actually, Selig is running just a little ahead of Truman in that folks started to realize what a splendid job he was doing with three or four years to go until his planned retirement in 2009, assuming he means it about retirement this time.

Selig has not wavered on his retirement schedule, although some of his friends doubt whether he'll ever go through with it, and I do too. One predicted a four-year extension the other day, not a month after Selig reiterated his retirement claim. By 2009 he will be more beloved than Tagliabue. He should be now.

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