The Pirates have the worst record in baseball and are headed for their record 14th consecutive losing season. Baseball is conducting its own investigation of steroid use. Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth in career home runs with a mammoth dose of antipathy. The home of Arizona pitcher Jason Grimsley yielded information on performance enhancing substances after a raid by federal agents.
Despite all that, commissioner Bud Selig has full confidence in the Pirates' ownership and believes baseball is in its "golden era."
Speaking yesterday to the Baseball Writers of America, Selig was asked why the ownership group of Kevin McClatchy and Ogden Nutting has failed to field a winning team, given that the team's record of 30-60 is the worst at the All-Star break in any of the previous 13 seasons.
"I have faith in this group," Selig said. "I know how determined they are, and I know how desperate they are to produce a winner."
Asked what message he would convey to Pirates fans, Selig gave a response familiar to those who have lamented the state of baseball in Pittsburgh since the core of the team left through free agency in the early 1990s.
"The world changed in the '90s, and it really was tough," Selig said.
But he noted that Detroit and Cincinnati have recently rebounded, and markets such as Oakland and Minnesota field competitive teams. He also pointed to the Pirates core of young talent, what with Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez on this year's All-Star team. He added that changing owners is not a panacea for a franchise that has had two owners, three general managers and four managers since it last had a winning record.
"We're all held accountable by the won/loss record," Selig said. "But I know how committed these people are."
He indicated that baseball's current revenue-sharing plan is "close" to being adequate enough to eliminate the complaint that teams like the Pirates and Kansas City Royals can't compete.
As far as the state of the game, Selig said baseball could set another attendance record this season. The steroids mess, which just a year ago was eroding the integrity of the game, has been largely cleaned up, the commissioner added. He also pointed out that football had steroid issues, including the Steelers, during the '60s, '70s and '80s when the NFL's popularity exploded.
"By any accepted yardstick, this sport has never been more popular," Selig said. "I feel good about where we are. There are and always will be problems, but the sport has never been more popular. Anything that besmirches our integrity ... is a problem. We care and we're doing something. We've done everything we can do. The system is working.
"I believe this is the golden era of baseball," he added.
On another matter, Selig sharply criticized Boston's Manny Ramirez, the American League's top vote-getter, for skipping the All-Star Game because of a sore right knee.
"It's beyond my comprehension," Selig said. "Look, maybe I'm old-fashioned, [but if] you're voted onto the All-Star team, it's a privilege. You ought to be here. Do you know how many people in life would run through a brick wall to be here? I need a vacation too, but ... why wouldn't you be proud to be here?"