PHOENIX -- Bud Selig is a creature of habit, which is a polite way of describing the mannerisms that his friends and family label "obsessive-compulsive."
The baseball commissioner's routines, several of which were chronicled in a USA Today feature story earlier this week, are practically the stuff of legend in his hometown of Milwaukee: A stationary bike workout every morning at his Bayside home of 30 years; pouring over five newspapers a day; a daily hot dog lunch at Gilles Custard stand; a Friday morning haircut at Tony Lococo's salon off Brown Deer Road; a Saturday morning trip to the family car leasing company in West Allis.
"If anybody ever put out a contract on Bud, he'd be the easiest guy in the world for an assassin to find," one longtime baseball writer quipped last week. "You can set your watch by the guy."
Selig's most common daily ritual -- and probably his favorite -- is talking about the sport he has governed for the past 15 years. He chats with baseball owners, executives and network contacts on an almost hourly basis. He converses with baseball writers virtually every day and has even been known to speak to fans on the street about the game that has consumed him, personally and professionally, for most of his 72 years.
During a recent visit to Maryvale Baseball Park, Selig chatted on the Brewers Radio Network, conducted an interview with a Japanese journalist and spoke with a small group of writers from newspapers, Web sites and online magazines including OnMilwaukee.com.
While Major League Baseball vice president of public relations Pat Courtney and longtime security guard Earnell Lucas waited, Selig spoke about a variety of topics ranging from his vision for growth in Asia to rumors that he might not retire when his current contract expires and a standard "no comment" on how he'll mark Barry Bonds' 756th home run. Here is a sampling of the conversation with the Commissioner:
On expanding Major League Baseball in China: "I talk to a lot of people about China. It's our next great horizon. China is our next great horizon. We opened an office in Beijing. I'm very anxious to play games over there. It's my next great hope. The sport has never been more popular here. While you'll always have problems, I think we're really on the right track here. If my visions and dreams are correct, and I believe they are, I'm very comfortable in telling you that you won't recognize this sport in five years or 10 years.
"The World Baseball Classic (last spring) was very instructive. There were little stories that sort of told you how much interest there was in some places. Now, it's up to us to cultivate that and work at it."
On his impending retirement from a job that pays him close to $12 million per year: "My position hasn't changed. My contract is up in 2009. I'll be 75 years old. I want to write a book. I want to teach. Even when you play Monopoly, eventually you get a ‘Get Out of Jail Free' card.
"At that point, I'll have done this almost 17 years. I haven't changed my mind. There are a lot of people in baseball who don't believe that. I understand that. There is nothing more I can say. My position hasn't changed."
On the upcoming season: "Sales are very good. There isn't a club that I talk to that doesn't tell me business is up. We set a (total attendance) record for three straight years; I believe we're going to do it again this year. ... We're at numbers now that no one could ever have dreamed of. The average baseball team drew 2,535,000 last year. I keep a big chart on my desk right to my right. When I'm having a bad day, I always look at that and it makes me feel better. In the so-called golden era of baseball, 1951, '52, '53, '49 -- it was terrific -- the best they averaged was a million-3 (1,300,000) per team. That was only once, or twice. By 1953, when the Braves came to Milwaukee, they were down to 899,000 people, average. Here, now, all our games are on television and we're averaging 2.535,000 and we'll be better this year."
On competitive balance: Everybody I talk to says they have never seen so much parity before. One of them predicted 22 teams will still be in contention on Labor Day and I think (Sports Illustrated's) Tom Verducci picked 25. I go division by division, it's remarkable. It's very hard to pick. That's what we set out to do in changing the economics. It's affecting our attendance... There is a lot of parity. I'm very pleased. As long as we keep the focus out on the field, we'll do very well. ... Now, we can talk about the things we're supposed to talk about: who's going to win?"
On the success of spring training: "Stunning. Years ago, man alive, if you drew two or three thousand people, you were doing well. Now, every game I go to is sold out or almost sold out. It's absolutely amazing."
On the steroid issue: "We've gone to the toughest testing program in sports. We only had two positive tests last year. We've banned amphetamines. I had a team doctor and trainer tell me two years ago in a meeting in Milwaukee they were far more concerned about amphetamines than they were steroids, because they felt we had gotten to the bottom of the steroid thing. In fact, the doctor said to me ‘Someone is going to die, Commissioner, if you don't do something.' We did something. I think the reason our fans have responded as well as they have -- I think they understand we've done everything we can. We're a microcosm of society. This is not a baseball problem. It's a societal problem. Whitey Herzog said again that he believes the cocaine problem in the 1980s was far more significant, he believes, than steroids. I'm not saying Whitey is right or not.
We have the Mitchell investigation underway, so we'll try to learn as much as we can. I think the fans understand that we care. Minor league program is seven years old. Partnership for drug-free America honored us for the last eight years. So, the idea that baseball came to the party late is ridiculous."
On how he will mark Barry Bonds' eventual passing of Hank Aaron as the home run king: "I've said as much as I'm going to say about that. We will note the occasion the way we have all others. I don't have anything else to say at this time about that. I'll make that judgment later on."
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.