July 13, 2010
Lunch with the Czar and Mr. Weiner
ANAHEIM__Taking my place among the nobocracy of baseball's chattering classes, I made my way to the Anaheim Hilton to listen to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig take questions at the All-Star Game from members of the BBWAA over lunch. This marked the eighth consecutive season Selig has done this, and after sharing his thoughts on the life and loss of George Steinbrenner, the members of the commentariat dove into the topics nearest and dearest to their hearts.
While John Perrotto is going to be covering a chunk of what was discussed relating more specifically to the All-Star Game itself and competitive balance, two pressing issues that I took away from the expansively conversational discussions both men participated in across a broad range of subjects were the state of next year's All-Star Game in Arizona in light of Arizona Senate Bill 1070--and what it will mean for baseball in the state beyond just the Midsummer Classic--and the ongoing questions surrounding the stadium situations of the Athletics and Rays.
Arizona and next year's All-Star Game: We're now just a few weeks away from SB 1070 becoming the law of the land in the home of the Snakes, the Grand Canyon, and Krazy Kat., which seems appropriate because the game is certainly at risk for taking a tumble or getting its collective bean creased by this unavoidable issue, not least because of the large number of Latin players populating major-league rosters, but also because of the presence of the Arizona Summer and Fall Leagues, not to mention the Cactus League in spring training, when hundreds of Latin American players already navigating visa issues may now also find themselves worrying about profiling and identity checks under the provisions of a law that requires identification be provided to law enforcement officials who feel they have probable cause.
In response to the law, a number of players, including All-Stars Albert Pujols and Heath Bell, plus the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo and always voluble White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen, have already come out and commented about their intent to boycott next year's All-Star Game when SB1070 becomes law. With next year's All-Star Game headed for Phoenix next summer, this issue found a ready platform within the industry at the All-Star Game's proceedings.
Labor peace may be the rule of the present, but the two men responded with very different answers on the subject. Selig was pressed by several in attendance on the comments of players already planning to boycott next year's game, who asked whether he would have MLB pull next year's game out of the state in light of the burgeoning problem of player non-participation. Selig responded tersely by noting the sport is more socially active over the last 18 years than at any previous point in its history. That is true and laudable, but was unfortunately not the preamble to an articulated socially active position on the controversy . "The situation will be solved on the political side, and that's all I'm going to have to say." Selig would not answer about baseball's willingness to influence public policy.
In fairness, this wasn't a mess baseball created, but it is an issue baseball's going to be sucked into, no differently than any employer in the state of Arizona. Weiner's subsequent comments marked the first time a union honcho has addressed the BBWAA at the All-Star Game, and he was even more frank on the subject, stating the union's support of the announced boycotts. While noting that the law has not yet gone into effect, "We're monitoring the situation; if the law goes into effect, we'll re-evaluate that. We always support individual players in their beliefs."
I asked Weiner what the union was doing in anticipation of the first time a Latin player potentially runs afoul of the law--because he doesn't have ID on him, for example, but perhaps inevitably because the sticky issue of profiling seems likely to arise just as a matter of being realistic. Weiner responded that the union has been pro-active, stating that, "What we did immediately, we did the research as to the potential impact on all of the players," evaluating how this will impact not just the Diamondbacks, but players on the other teams who will have to come into Phoenix to play.
But what of the hundreds of players who are not yet (or may never be) union members, who will be toiling in the minor-league circuits housed in Arizona, or who will be arriving for spring training next February? What if one of them runs afoul of the law? Weiner observed, "We can try to get the information to all players, I would imagine that the MLBPA will do what it can to support them."
Alan Schwarz of The New York Times followed up with a question of this apparent activism, asking if the law had been passed in a state like Oregon, where there would be significantly less impact on the major leagues and upon union members. Here, Weiner was very matter of fact in terms of why the MLBPA is involved: "We did not take this position because the greater issue of immigration required our voice."
Ballparks by the Bays? The Commissioner was asked about this repeatedly by media from both the East and West Coasts, in light of the murky state of affairs for both the Rays and the A's in their quests for new venues within their own markets. The man who may best deserve the honorific of "The Great Builder," having presided over the arrival of 22 new ballparks in the majors, lived up to the title where Tampa Bay's concerned, noting "Stu Sternberg is right: they need a new stadium. There's no question, and once they get what Stu believes and we believe is a new site, [we'll look at it.]"
Matters remained more ambiguous as far as the A's, as Selig skirted suggestions that the future of the franchise is being held hostage over the nagging issue of territorial rights in San Jose, granted to a Giants team that moved further from that city but received them due to the comradely courtesy of the Haas family while the Giants were trying to find themselves a home that wasn't Candlestick. That generous mistake is one the Giants have subsequently gone out of their way to assert, and Selig's latest long-deliberating panel of experts has yet to deliver the magic bullet that might clear the path for an eventual A's relocation within their own market.
Selig stressed the need to defer to local wisdom on workable venues, while also noting, "I send'em [the panel] back for more things." Asserting the importance of the results of the forthcoming "comprehensive study," Selig said, "My objective is not to get it done as fast as possible, but to get it right." When one reporter noted that the city of San Jose would need to know by some point in August whether or not it should add a ballpark initiative to the ballot in November, Selig remained unfazed, refusing to suggest there was a timetable operating with that factor taken into consideration.
A Rose by Any Other Name: ... is still a dude serving a lifetime suspension. The last question asked of the Commissioner was about the status of Pete Rose. Perhaps gratified that this ancient thorn had only pricked up this late in the proceedings, Selig commented quickly: "The only thing I'll say to you, because I'm the judge in this case: he has the right to appeal." At which point the Czar immediately ended the proceedings, rather than risk a follow-up question from any Rosicrucian looking to get their man down from his cross to bear.