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August 4 will officially mark the three-year anniversary of Selig's tenure as MLB's ninth full-time commissioner, though the Milwaukee native had served in a somewhat similar capacity as "interim commissioner" following the bitter ouster of Fay Vincent.

With new, corporate-named ballparks debuting in Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh in the past two seasons, Selig's goal is clear: attempt to return MLB to its roots while trying to accept and live with modern day sports economics. And Selig believes that "renaissance" can happen – in large part - by continuing to build urban, baseball-only ballparks that are purported to create new revenue streams and reconnect fans with not just their teams, but also their cities.

The “need for a new ballpark” has long been Selig’s battle-cry, claiming these new ballparks will enable so-called "small market" teams from Florida to San Diego and back, to compete for high-priced free agents with so-called "large market" clubs like the Yankees and Dodgers.

“It’s really something I’ve devoted many years to,” said Selig, who often uses the term "huge" to describe the importance of creating new, urban ballparks. “People can grumble about economics, but that’s a fact of life...They’re fan-friendly sensitive. They have all the history of the old ones."

The father of three and grandfather of four, who turns 67 on July 30, has been championing new urban ballparks, like old Ebbetts Field in New York, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and Crosby Field in Cincinnati, even before September 1992, when he became Chairman of baseball’s Executive Council, overseeing the committee which has authority of the commissioner's office.

After the sudden death of A. Bartlett Giamatti, who had banished Pete Rose for life for betting on MLB, Vincent was sworn in as commissioner, only to be forced out quickly by a majority of owners and exiled to the tip of Massachusetts and the shores of Cape Cod.

Suddenly, Selig - the one-time humble American History and Political Science major from the University of Wisconsin - was at the helm. Although Selig would eventually achieve labor piece by securing a new collective bargaining agreement with the players association, he oversaw one of the worst periods in the history of MLB – and arguably – American culture.

After opening shining new baseball-only ballparks in Cleveland and Arlington, Texas, and with Ken Griffey Jr. and Matt Williams in hot pursuit of Roger Maris’ elusive home run mark of 61, the players went on strike.

Then on August 12, 1994, in a grim New York City press conference, Selig announced to the nation that there had been no reconciliation between the players and the owners, and that there would be no home run chase, no stretch run, no Fall Classic.

In short, there would be no World Series in 1994. The season was over.

In August.

Ballparks from San Francisco to Boston were padlocked. Kids dreams - shattered. MLB's heart - broken.

The ultimate nightmare has occurred. And Selig himself was heartbroken. Reviewing tape of the August 12, 1994 press conference closely, it was not hard to witness the sheer internal pain the news took on Selig. He had failed to stop a disaster.

And it wasn’t until April 3, 1995 that players finally agreed to return to the diamond. Yet that refreshing news lasted less than 24 hours for Selig.

That's because on April 4, 1995 Wisconsin voters rejected the creation of a sports lottery by a two-to-one margin which would have helped to pay for a new ballpark for the Brewers, the team in which Selig owned (Selig served as president of the Brewers for 33 years but relinquished control of the team to his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, on August 4, 1998 in order to take on the role of full-time commissioner).

The Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate would accept a new financing plan for a new Brewers ballpark in the fall of 1995, but the Stadium Board rejected the new proposal in June of 1996 by an 8-5 vote.

Immediately following the board's decision, a fiery Selig addressed ardent ballpark supporters in an emotional speech outside County Stadium, the Brewers home field up until this season. During that evening’s game, fans spontaneously gave Selig a standing ovation.

Finally, on Oct. 17, 1996 - some nine years after first proposing a new ballpark for Milwaukee - Selig's dream was realized when a Federal court denied an appeal from a group attempting to block construction.

The construction of Miller Park, which opened this season – ironically, not in an urban area - was funded, in part, by a $20 million charitable low-interest loan from the Bradley Foundation, a $1 million charitable low-interest loan from the Helfaer Foundation, a $15 million loan from the City of Milwaukee and a $14 million loan from the local business community.

To this day, Selig remains incredibly modest and takes little credit for leading the charge for a new ballpark for the Brewers, which was built behind what was the outfield at County Stadium (the stadium was demolished and the site now serves as a parking lot for Miller Park).

Milwaukee's new ballpark is located outside of downtown, odd considering Selig insists that downtown ballparks are the way to go. It turns out downtown Milwaukee was always Selig's first preference, but that an appropriate site could not be found.

“A group of business leaders got together and built a new ballpark,” Selig commented. “You finally have to say to yourself was their vision and courage right? To me, the answer is unequivocally yes.”

According to Nielsen Media Research, Milwaukee is the 32nd largest television market in the country, a factor that is said to play heavily in the accumulation of a team's revenue in MLB. The Brewers are located in the smallest TV market in all of MLB. San Diego, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Montreal are the four other smallest TV markets.

"I know (I've heard) stories; it isn’t what people want to hear, but if you look at the huge disparity that’s their, a new ballpark becomes essential,” Selig said. “It is not only the economy, it is what it does for the psyche of the its community.”

The new ballpark craze has gotten so big that even the Yankees have joined the party. The Bronx Bombers, who net the most of any major league team despite surrendering millions because of revenue sharing, have considered rebuilding - and thus subsequently tearing down – the storied "House that Ruth Built." In fact, outside of the team's who have built new ballparks in the last 10 years, only three franchises – the Cubs, Royals and Angels – haven’t fired an oratory that they need a new ballpark.

But despite MLB's renewed popularity thanks to the 1998 Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase and fans current affection toward new urban ballparks, all is not quiet on the western front.

For starters, home attendance in Tampa Bay, Florida, Montreal and Anaheim is on pace to set records – records for low attendance.

Truth be told, the owners revenue-sharing plan concocted in January 1994 by a unanimous vote has done little to improve the financial state of the game for the 30 MLB teams. Call it the 7-year band-aid.

Forbes magazine has long reported every offseason that at least half of MLB's 30 clubs lose money, including teams who set record attendance. In 1998, the Padres went to the World Series and set franchise attendance records in the regular and post-season yet the club was some $8 million in the red. Not surprisingly, San Diego claims it needs a new ballpark and hopes to debut one as early as 2003.

Adding insult to injury, half of the 14 teams who lose money are typically "large market" teams - franchises located in the top 10 television markets in the U.S., further illustrating that the revenue-sharing plan is not the solution.

And while the Reds plan to open a new baseball-only ballpark next season, and several other clubs have plans as well, franchises like the Devil Rays, Marlins, Expos, and Angels – even A’s - remain in utter limbo for next season. It’s no longer become a question of a need for “new ownership” or a “new ballpark,” but rather the possibility of outright contraction. Turning out the lights and going home.

It’s not easy to understand why. You only need to cite an example like the ridiculous cross-country trade of All-Star catcher Mike Piazza in 1998 as Exhibit A that MLB has yet to solve its economic disparity problems between franchises. Piazza was dealt by the Dodgers to the cash-poor Marlins to enjoy some sun on South Beach basically, only to be traded days later to the Mets, whose payroll is one of the highest in the game.

In Minnesota, with Jesse - formerly "the Body" and now "The Mind" - Ventura steering the state's mother ship, the Twins still aren’t out of trouble either despite their strong play on the field that has increased support for what they claim is a much needed new ballpark.

Ventura, the wrestler turned governor, has said publicly that no funds for a new ballpark will come from his regime unless state residents vote otherwise. The Twins, who have slashed payroll left and right in recent years, and play in a market where one player on its professional basketball team has a $121 million contract, learned in a poll a few years ago that four out of five voters oppose using taxpayer money to fund a new ballpark. Has the tide changed? Only time will tell.

As for the Expos, there days in Montreal could be numbered as money needed to stabilize the franchise and build a new ballpark has failed to surface admist hospital and school closures in the province of Quebec, which has experienced the lowest income growth in the past decade than in any other major city in the industrialized world.

In fact, an announcement on the Expos future could come at the end of the season. A franchise relocation for MLB would be the first since the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers in the early 1970s. The commissioner is no stranger to relocation, since it was Selig himself who bought the Seattle Pilots in 1970 and moved the team to Milwaukee.

But forgot about the Expos relocating. Where would they go? Washington D.C.? Orioles owner Peter Angelos will have none of it. Portland, Oregon? Doubtful. Any other takers? Unlikely.

So the biggest challenge facing Selig isn’t simply avoiding another strike or work stoppage, which could come as early this winter, but keeping franchises afloat.

As for the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners - which expires at season’s end – all may seem fine now but hold on tight kids.

Jerry Colangelo, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks that has lost millions, has been quoted as saying "it will be quick to point out that there is a lot of distrust between players and management." Meanwhile, McGwire, the game's

biggest draw, has long said that another MLB strike would be "devastating" and would cause many fans to "never come back."

Power broker Colangelo wants a salary cap much like the National Football League, which has overtaken MLB as America's most popular sport due to a number of incidents, including Rose's gambling; George Steinbrenner's $40,000 controversial payment to gambler Howard Spira; labor strife; the now infamous Roberto Alomar "spitting" fiasco; subsequent umpire tensions; and the dismantling of the Marlins following their winning the 1997 World Series. For his part, Selig has remained relatively mum on the subject of a salary cap.

But Donald Fehr, representative and chief negotiator for the players association, has said publicly that there will be no salary cap under his watch. And even Colangelo, one of sports biggest power brokers, says baseball's players' union is one of the toughest in existence today. In fact, it was Fehr who wouldn't budge during the fateful negotiations that eventually led to the cancellation of the Fall Classic.

Building bridges between players and owners - not just ballparks – may be Selig's biggest challenge if he wishes to create a "renaissance" and leave a lasting legacy having done so.

Selig's famous tirades when the Brew Crew stumbled on the field at County Stadium are said to be etched in the memory of Milwaukee fans. And it is Selig's very passion and drive as commissioner that may continue to determine his success or failure.

We know this much: Rose will not be enshrined in Cooperstown anytime soon. Rose hasn't truly apologized for gambling while managing and playing, a fact which doesn't sit well with Selig, who is from the "old school" and grew up idolizing the then Milwaukee Braves before they bolted for Atlanta.

Many of Selig's contributions already have been beneficial such as the wild card playoff system. But Selig's greatest challenge over the next few years won't be a new resolve with the umpires, Gary Sheffield, or even a possible massive divisional and league realignment project, but rather finding a way to return MLB to the prominent national television spotlight where all 30 teams enjoy the economic fruits of their labor. That task, like boasting about a baseball "renaissance," may be easier said than done.

Copyright 2001