Through the miracle of connections---someone who knows somebody who knows somebody who knows . . . me---I was able to conduct a short interview with the commissioner. For obvious reasons, I have been trying to keep this one quiet ever since. What follows is the transcript of an interview conducted on Thursday night.
FEDERAL BASEBALL ("FB"): Thank you for agreeing to this interview; I can only imagine that you have a full plate these days, or any day, so I appreciate your graciousness.
BUD SELIG ("BS"): You're welcome. And you're right: my job is tough, all-consuming. But I've said for years, for a long time, that my job is to restore hope and faith to baseball fans, and the fans of every team are an important and special concern for me. Very important. Very special.
FB: I definitely appreciate that. Speaking of the team for which I root, the Washington Nationals, what is your opinion of the Nats?
BS: That is a great success story, and I am proud for the part I played in it. What you have to understand is that the franchise was dying, pretty much dead. We could have contracted it, I certainly gave that a lot of thought, a lot of time thinking about it. And we thought about it. And I'm glad we didn't do that. We rescued a team that had failed, nothing against the folks in Montreal, and we have given hope to people in a town that didn't have a team of their own for decades.
FB: What is the status of the Nats' ownership?
BS: We are reviewing the candidates, thinking about who would be the best fit, the best ownership team for the franchise.
FB: When do you anticipate that ownership of the team will be transferred from MLB to the winning ownership group?
BS: Soon, soon. I can't say specifically, give you a specific date. I've told people all along, I've told reporters, I've told the people in DC, the fans, I've told them that we were going to do this the right way. We aren't going to rush into anything. We want to make the best choice for the team, the city, the best choice for the game of baseball. And that takes time.
FB: But if you are on the Nationals, even if you root for the Nationals, it's time you don't have. Isn't it?
BS: I'm not sure about that. The fans responded well to our ownership of the team, our operation of the team last year. Bob Dupuy has done an excellent job communicating to the leaders in DC, and to the fans. There were some hiccups at times, but that is expected. And Tony Tavares and his staff have done a great job. You didn't hear too much complaining about the stadium, the current stadium I mean, the tickets, the parking, the food, all of that. As for the team, you must compare its operations to every other team's operations. It has a budget, it has a farm system. It has trade possibilities. Just like any other team. And Jim Bowden has done a wonderful job, he really has. And so has Frank Robinson. This has been a first-class operation from day one.
FB: It's been commonly reported that, out of the possible ownership groups, you have narrowed it down to three---
BS: No. People report things all the time, but we are still in communication with all groups that submitted a deposit. Still communicating with all of them.
FB: Are there any frontrunners?
BS: That is a different question, a different question. And yes, there are frontrunners. Definitely. I've been working hard on this question, and believe me, I've viewed each ownership group with a critical eye.
FB: What do you think of Jeffrey Smulyan's bid?
BS: Very strong. Very, very strong. He's been in the game before, and he's very knowledgeable about the game.
FB: There were some issues when he owned the Mariners, correct?
BS: Not really. No. Jeff did an excellent job. He's a good man.
FB: So Smulyan is a viable ownership candidate for the Nats?
BS: Yes. Definitely. I'd say so, yes.
FB: Some people have been critical of him, because he's not from the DC area. They say that the DC Council, as well as the Nats' fanbase, would greatly prefer local ownership. What do you say to that?
BS: I don't think much of that, to be honest. The city got its team, and I'm very happy about that. Very happy. But we have to sell the team to the best candidate, the best candidate out there. And if it's Jeff Smulyan, and it might very well be Jeff, then we'll do that. In something as important as this, you can't have too many cooks in the kitchen. The DC people got their team, they got their ballpark. And it will be a beautiful ballpark. Now they should sit back and let us to the job on our end. It's best this way.
FB: What about the other commonly-reported candidates, Malek and the Lerners?
BS: They're in it, they're in it. Everybody is. But we're looking at some things, researching some things, thinking about who would be best. But yes, they're in it. Everybody's in it at this point.
FB: Some people have called this entire sequence of events---from the delay it took to get the lease done, to the delay in selling the team, and including the television rights deal with Peter Angelos---a national disgrace. I would imagine you disagree?
BS: A national disgrace? Definitely not. No, definitely not. I understand that sometimes people get frustrated, and everybody's entitled to their opinion. But this whole situation, the Expos thing, the Montreal thing, moving to DC, which was the best candidate out of several very good candidates, the stadium deal, the ownership situation, all of it has been handled entirely above-board. Now, now---you can't expect perfection. No one's perfect. I'm certainly not. I've made some mistakes, and I'd be the first to admit that. But am I proud of what we've done? Yes, yes.
FB: What was it like to negotiate the TV issue with Angelos and his people? Are you happy with the result?
BS: Oh, it was difficult. Of course it was. Peter was looking out for his interests, his team's interests, the interests of his fans, the fans of his team. His interests overlap and butt against the Nationals team's interests, no doubt. But you know what? That happens sometimes. You have to work around it. You have to do what's fair. And I think what we did was fair. Very fair. And that's
really all you can hope for. Just be fair. Not all commissioners would say that, but I do. I strive to be fair, fair in everything. And that's what I've done, be fair.
FB: Where do you see the Nats' franchise in five, ten years?
BS: Successful. Successful. I think we'll be more detached from the team by then, I think so. But we'll be enjoying this team's success, that's for sure. It's a very good market, and we always wanted to be there. Always. I was sad when Bob Short left. It was difficult, I didn't want to see the Senators go. I knew how that felt. We always said we'd get baseball back to Washington at the first good opportunity. And here it is.
FB: Baseball just commissioned a steroids probe, to be headed by former Senator George Mitchell. What are your thoughts on this investigation?
BS: First of all, it's important. Very important. We want people to trust their ballplayers, their accomplishments. We want a clean game. And we always have. And that's why I've approached this problem diligently, very diligently. We're doing what must be done. Am I happy about this? No, of course not. But the fans are the most important, they are what keeps this great game so great. And they want this, and I want it. We will do what must be done.
FB: Some people are confused over the scope of this probe, this investigation. Can you clarify this?
BS: I don't think it needs any clarification. Are we looking at players in particular? No and yes. Yes, we're looking at players from different teams, from the Giants, from the Yankees, from the Nationals, from the Orioles, from the Braves, from everyone. But we're following the evidence wherever it leads. That's what Senator Mitchell is doing, and I'm in full support. Wherever it leads.
FB: Do you enjoy being commissioner?
BS: Oh yes. It's a difficult job. I wouldn't wish it on anyone! Anyone who didn't want it, I should say. I enjoy the job, maybe not every second of every day. But baseball is my game, it's been my game since I was a kid, throughout my professional career in Milwaukee. I fought hard to get baseball in Milwaukee, to get it back to Milwaukee. Fought very hard. I've been a hard-worker in the game ever since. And I enjoy working with the other owners, the owners. I have to be separate from them some, since I'm not an owner. I'm the commissioner, and I have a different job. But the owners of the clubs are a joy to work with. Also a job to work with, it's a job, and sometimes that's difficult. But as a group they are smart and level-headed, not all of the time, but most of the time. And I look for consensus from them. I'm proud of what we've done.
FB: Commissioner Tagliabue of the NFL just announced his retirement. Do you anticipate retiring?
BS: At some point, yes. Everybody retires! But I've got a lot of energy, a lot of energy. And there's still much to be done, and I'll be here for it.
FB: Thank you for your time. And happy April Fool's Day to you, sir.
BS: Happy April Fool's Day to you.