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Selig hit a big homer on competitive balance

MLB.com @RichardJustice

KANSAS CITY -- Somehow, it seems appropriate that Bud Selig's next-to-last Owners Meeting as Commissioner was here.

The Royals -- the American League champions -- represent arguably his greatest achievement in more than 22 years as Commissioner.

KANSAS CITY -- Somehow, it seems appropriate that Bud Selig's next-to-last Owners Meeting as Commissioner was here.

The Royals -- the American League champions -- represent arguably his greatest achievement in more than 22 years as Commissioner.

The Royals are not a big-market team nor a big-money team. Back when Selig took charge, plenty of people questioned whether teams like the Royals would ever have a chance.

On Thursday, Selig remembered one of the first reports he received from the Blue Ribbon Economics Committee he assembled in 1998.

"You've got a problem," Paul Volcker told him. "You've got 25 teams that can't really win."

Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was one of the members of that committee, and his words hit Selig hard.

That conversation was one of the inspirations for Selig's reshaping of the game, which included revenue sharing and other measures to even the economic playing field.

While Selig leaves an amazing legacy of labor peace, record-setting attendance, Wild Card playoff berths, Interleague Play, etc., it's the ability for every team to compete that's at the top of his list.

"That's why I think the sport is as healthy and as strong as it is today," he said.

And so, this fall, the Kansas City Royals, the club with the 17th-largest payroll in the big leagues, played in a World Series that came down to the last pitch of the seventh game.

"I had great memories coming back to Kansas City," Selig said. "You looked at their young players and how they played. Yes, it was a source of great pride. And it was a great World Series. It came down to the last pitch.

"As I said to [Royals owner] David Glass, 'I remember losing a World Series in seven games. You never quite get over it. When you think back on it, you've had a hell of a year.'"

As the owners gave Rob Manfred a five-year contract to be MLB's 10th Commissioner, with a term that begins Jan. 25, Selig is still getting his mind around the last waltz.

"It's interesting," Selig said. "Somebody said this to me the other day. All my adult life I've gone to work in baseball. So it's sort of a unique situation in a lot of ways. I'm going to be very busy starting Feb. 1, so I'm looking forward to that. I'm sure I'll do a lot of thinking in the next 60 days."

Here's a huge part of Selig's legacy: On Sept. 1 this past season, 17 of baseball's 30 teams were within 5 1/2 games of a playoff berth.

Having that many teams in contention in the final month reflects the fact that every team does indeed have a chance to win and that the talent level among the top 20 or so teams is closer than it has ever been.

In the past two years, 13 teams have played in at least one best-of-five series. In the AL, seven franchises have won at least one pennant over the past 10 seasons.

Money? Three of the top five payroll teams didn't make the playoffs, and only one of the top 10 got as far as a League Championship Series this year.

As Selig said, that's a far cry from when he took over.

"I got very frustrated sometimes," he said. "I'm seeing things now that indicate to me -- and I know I'm right -- that there'll be more competitive balance in the next few years than we've had in the last couple. And it's been phenomenal."

Manfred has been one of Selig's closest confidants for years and the point man on the agreements that have led to almost two decades of labor peace. His admiration runs deep.

"I think Commissioner Selig may be the best one-on-one politician I've ever seen," Manfred said. "I don't use the word politician in any derogatory sense. I mean it in the most complimentary way. He has been able for a very long time to deal with the 30 owners in a one-on-one relationship that has formed a bond that's produced amazing unity for this industry. And it's a real talent."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.