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Selig denies playing favorites

He won't own up to any Sox bias

By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / January 11, 2004

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Two years after the sale of the Red Sox, a process Bud Selig's critics claim the commissioner rigged so the John Henry-Tom Werner-Larry Lucchino ownership group would prevail, Selig is offering no apologies. On the contrary.

"I see this as a great validation of our judgment," said Selig, who will be honored tomorrow night at the Boston Baseball Writers dinner with the Judge Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to the game.

"This group has a tremendous intensity to win, they've become a great member of the community, they've reached out to the fans -- you can look at a whole spectrum of things," said Selig. "Why shouldn't I be proud of the way this has come down? What are the negatives?"

Selig acknowledges he played a prominent role in the process, in which John Harrington and the Yawkey Foundation selected the bid of The Trio over cable magnate Charles Dolan and a bid made by local moguls Joe O'Donnell and Steve Karp, who had the support of an influential part of the local community.

"I am a very active commissioner," Selig said, "but the commissioners in all sports are very aggressive, and play significant roles in choosing new ownership. Whether it's the Dodgers or the Red Sox, there is no more critical or viable role for a commissioner than helping to determine who owns the clubs.

"There's no question about it. At some point you've got to make a judgment. Do I have any trepidation about that? No."

Selig acknowledges that his familiarity with The Trio did not hurt their bid. He also was very close to outgoing owner Harrington, for whom he said he has "undying admiration. The whole world knows that. He knew the game as well as anybody in it, he was an expert in many phases of the business, and a lot of the criticism he receives is positively unfair. He took over that franchise and raised its value to numbers that no one thought possible."

But while Selig admits that some of his judgments were "subjective," to call the sale a Bud bag job, as some have, makes him bristle.

"It's patently absurd and untrue," he said. "Was there any undue influence? Absolutely none. And any suggestion that I like this group because they're more responsive to revenue-sharing is fiction, absolute fiction. It overlooks the fact that any ownership group would benefit from the kind of financial vision we're trying to promote."

Selig's role in the recent Alex Rodriguez negotiations has also raised some questions about favoritism, because he took the unusual step of granting the Red Sox permission to talk with the player long before they and the Rangers had the parameters of a deal, a highly unusual step. Selig has justified his action because of the magnitude of the deal, involving the two highest-paid players in the sport, Rodriguez and Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez.

The players' union, through lawyer Gene Orza, also signaled an early willingness to do what it could to facilitate a trade, which all parties seemed to agree was in the best interest of the game, not to mention the game's best player.

"If the Yankees had wanted to try to acquire Alex Rodriguez, I would have granted them the same rights as the Boston Red Sox," Selig said. "Without hesitancy."

The Yankees have not complained, Selig said, about any alleged favoritism toward the Sox.

"To believe that I exert any undue sway over the Red Sox is just so wrong," said Selig.

Selig has not yet revealed what he intends to do in the matter of Pete Rose, who believes that his admission in a newly published book that he bet on baseball should win him reinstatement to the game. Selig said he is still studying the issue, but one highly placed source in the Major League Baseball hierarchy said "absolutely nothing has changed" because of the Rose admission, which demonstrated little sense of contrition or remorse.

They got around

Dennis Eckersley, who professed a preference that his Hall of Fame plaque depict him wearing an Oakland A's cap, is one of 23 Hall of Famers who played for five teams. Eck played for the Indians, Red Sox (two tours), Cubs, A's, and Cardinals. But 20 Hall of Famers played for even more teams. First baseman Dan Brouthers, a 19th century star, is the all-time leader with 10 teams. Hoyt Wilhelm played for nine, Gaylord Perry eight, seven players played for seven, and 10 players played for six, including former Sox DH Orlando Cepeda and recent inductee Dave Winfield . . . Despite a season less stellar than his first two, shortstop Hanley Ramirez was ranked first on Baseball America's list of the top 10 Sox prospects entering the 2004 season. "Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton is the only minor league shortstop whose raw tools compare to Ramirez's," writes Jim Callis of Baseball America. "He's the best athlete and fastest base-runner, and he has the strongest infield arm in the Red Sox system -- and he's most dangerous at the plate. Once Ramirez becomes a true professional, he should take off. The Red Sox hope that will happen in 2004 at high Class A Sarasota." The other top prospects in order, according to the magazine: catcher Kelly Shoppach, outfielder David Murphy, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, outfielder Matt Murton, third baseman Chad Spann, lefthanded pitcher Abe Alvarez, lefthanded pitcher Jon Lester, lefthanded pitcher Juan Cedeno, and righthanded pitcher Manny Delcarmen. Murphy and Murton were first-round picks made by scouting director David Chadd in last June's draft . . . The Sox will be meeting this week to discuss how to compensate for the loss of Luis Eljaua, the team's valued Latin American scouting director who accepted Dave Littlefield's offer to head the Pirates' major league scouting operations . . . Tim Wakefield will be 39 when his current contract with the Sox expires, but like some of the game's great knuckleballers (Niekro, Wilhelm, Charlie Hough), Wakefield now envisions himself pitching into his 40s. He said he would like his (as yet unborn) children to see their daddy at work . . . The proposal to give Rodriguez marketing rights similar to Cal Ripken's did not originate with the Red Sox; it was the idea of Orza, who was trying to find ways to justify the contract reduction the Sox were seeking. Henry's role in the A-Rod negotiations was not as front and center as portrayed in some places. Lucchino was point man in most of the discussions with Tom Hicks, while there were also talks on the general manager level between Theo Epstein and John Hart. During negotiations, Werner paid a visit to Nomar Garciaparra in the shortstop's Southern California home.

Error charged to MLB

The clause in Curt Schilling's contract calling for a $2 million raise in salary if the Sox won the World Series was illegal under baseball rules, as Kenny Rosenthal of The Sporting News first reported. Major league rules do not allow a player to be awarded monetarily based on how his team finishes in the standings. But according to a baseball lawyer, Schilling's clause was allowed to stand because Major League Baseball had wrongly told the Red Sox initially that it passed muster. MLB later admitted its mistake but told the Red Sox that because it was in error, the clause would be honored . . . Robbie Alomar, who took a pay cut from $8 million to $1 million to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, admitted in an introductory news conference that he could have worked harder the last two years. Alomar, who says former Indians teammate Carlos Baerga persuaded him to pass up bigger offers from other teams to sign with Arizona, plans to work out with Mark Verstegen, the fitness guru who oversees Garciaparra's regimen . . . Pudge Rodriguez and Javy Lopez both with the Orioles? Lopez's agent was telling people in New Orleans during the winter meetings that the Orioles had interest in Lopez playing first base and splitting time with I-Rod behind the plate, though that plan could be moot with Baltimore's signing yesterday of Rafael Palmeiro. The Orioles' efforts to sign Sidney Ponson aren't hurt by the fact that Ponson maintains a home in Baltimore . . . Bill Haselman, who played last season for Pawtucket before his September callup to Boston, has an invitation to Orioles camp . . . Dalton's Turk Wendell, who now lives in Colorado, is closing in on a deal with the Rockies . . . Frozen out of tonight's rockin' baseball extravaganza at the Paradise, the brainchild of Herald sportswriter Jeff Horrigan and ESPN's Peter Gammons? Another big baseball night will be Saturday's Motivated Sports Charity Banquet at Jimmy's Allenhurst (101 Andover St., Danvers). Indians manager Eric Wedge and Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell are guest speakers. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and dinner will be served at 7. Tickets are $100 per adult and $50 per child. Tables of 10 adults may be purchased for $900. Net proceeds will be donated to the Children's Hospital Boston. For information, contact Ed O'Brien at (978) 739-4700 ext. 206.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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