This must be the first time since he took over baseball that Bud Selig is not lusting after some other commissioner's job.
His counterpart at the NFL, Paul Tagliabue, spends more time than Batman talking about crime. David Stern and the NBA are experiencing technical difficulties -- still too many microphones and not enough Mike. Hockey's Gary Bettman? Don't even ask.
But baseball and Bud are on a roll.
The season opened today in a new and exotic place: Tokyo. There will be two marquee names -- Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez -- in new towns, three whimsical new ballparks in San Francisco, Detroit and Houston, seven new managers, 25 new umpires, and every new baseball will bear Selig's signature, and his alone.
The only high-profile criminal in his game at the moment is a possible bigamist named Al Martin. Selig's two biggest public-relations nightmares, John Rocker and Darryl Strawberry, are suspended for 12 games and who-knows-how-long, respectively.
Three of his most appealing players, shortstops Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez, grace this month's GQ cover. His only microphone-on-a-manager problem came and went during the 1996 World Series, when some network genius cut live to skipper Bobby Cox in the Atlanta dugout barking instructions using language salty enough to shrivel the seams on a baseball.
Judging by Selig's remarks, meanwhile, exporting baseball couldn't be going much better. The principal reason is Sammy Sosa, who has turned out to be a more-than-capable stand-in for Mark McGwire. The big redhead wanted no part of playing actual baseball there, but the ban apparently didn't extend to hawking products on Japanese TV.
Sosa, too, smiles back at viewers from TV ads, but by showing up, he got his mug on subway posters and billboards, too. Elderly men bow in his direction wherever Sosa goes; female fans in kimonos follow him in processions down the streets. All the while, Selig beams.
''We hope this is only the first of many such ventures,'' he said the other day. ''It is our hope and dream that the World Series will be what the word connotes -- a true World Series. Mark McGwire and I have talked about this, and I know his feelings on the subject. I look at this much differently.
''If this were sheer greed, if this was done just for the money, this wouldn't be worth it,'' he added. ''People who see these games will never forget they were here. This is the right thing to do, just from a human interest standpoint. When you see the passion and excitement for baseball over here, you realize your responsibility goes beyond the U.S. and Canada. I believe in social responsibility.''
OK, so Selig got a little carried away. But who can blame him?
All of this doesn't mean Selig is home free -- yet. He effectively closed both the American and National League offices, which explains why his name will appear on baseballs instead of the league presidents. And by shuffling responsibilities at the top and chasing off NL president Len Coleman, the highest-ranking black in baseball, Selig left an already dubious record on minority employment open to more criticism.
Last spring, he sent a letter to all the clubs threatening severe penalties to teams that failed to even interview minority candidates for managing jobs. Yet the Tigers did just that when they hired Phil Garner, and Selig has yet to carry out his threat.
But then, he isn't the only one. Fans have complained nonstop about ticket prices, all the while reaching deeper and deeper into their pockets. The Yankees' top ticket price when they began this latest run of World Series dominance was $25; this season it's $55. Not to be outdone, the crosstown Mets, who almost turned 1999 into a subway series, rewarded themselves by hiking tickets from $45 to $57.
Still, there's labor peace and the prospect that the national TV rights fees, up for renewal, could double. And with so much going right, can Selig's demand for a raise be far behind?
Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org
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