Commissioner Bud Selig’s farewell tour made a Wednesday swing through Safeco Field, and he offered up a litany of familiar talking points at a pre-game news conference:
• The sport’s labor peace has fueled its remarkable financial growth in recent years. Baseball has been at the forefront, Selig believes, in efforts to create a clean sport through steadily tougher drug-testing procedures.
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• Competitive-balance efforts are a major factor in enabling all but two franchises to reach postseason over the last 13 years. Instant replay has worked better than even proponents had a right to expect.
• The expanded playoffs are, as intended, creating heightened postseason fever without, he contends, diluting the achievement of reaching October when compared to other sports.
Every so often, though, Selig, 80, touched on personal moments from his 45 years in major-league baseball, which include 22-plus years as commissioner, as he prepares for retirement at the end of the season.
Selig cited a poem that Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck read to a crowd in St. Louis — and the crowd’s reaction — when baseball resumed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“When he read it,” Selig recalled, “he got a standing ovation, an emotional ovation. I cried. I was that nervous (about resuming the season). One of the (parts of the poem) was ‘Should be be here tonight?’ And the crowd roared.”
There was also a heartfelt note from the late Michael Weiner, the former executive director of the players’ union, when Selig announced plans to retire.
“I remember reading it to (incoming commissioner) Rob Manfred,” Selig said. “ ’Wow, can you ever imagine (former union director) Marvin (Miller) writing a note like that to (former commissioner) Bowie (Kuhn)?’ ”
Selig joked about getting booed once in Seattle because he was the man who bought the Seattle Pilots in bankruptcy in 1970, moved them to Milwaukee and renamed them as the Brewers.
And he offered up a Ken Griffey Jr. story:
“Commissioners are never supposed to have favorites,” Selig said, “but I’ll tell you a story about him. One Sunday in April ’04, my phone was ringing. I got home from Arizona on a Sunday night.
“My phone was ringing, and I always debate whether to answer it. … I always do. It was Ken Griffey Jr. He was very apologetic. ‘I’m sorry to bother you at home.’
“He said, ‘I know Jackie Robinson Day (is coming up), and I know how much it means to you. What would be wrong with all of us wearing 42?’
“I thought about it, and I said, ‘Let me think about it.’ I was very cautious, but I said, ‘I’ll call you tomorrow morning.’ I thought about it, and thought, ‘What’s there to think about? It’s a great idea.’ It was his idea.
“I called Rachel Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s widow) the next morning to tell her, ‘This is not my idea. This was Ken Griffey Jr.’s idea.’ As a result, everybody wore 42.
“It was a wonderful (tribute), and that tells you (about Ken Griffey Jr.).”
The Mariners are hoping left fielder Dustin Ackley will be ready to return to the lineup for Friday’s series opener against Oakland at Safeco Field.
Ackley left last Saturday’s game at Texas because of soreness in his left ankle that a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam later identified as stemming from long-troublesome bone spurs.
“He’s better today than he was (Tuesday),” manager Lloyd McClendon said prior to Wednesday’s game against the Astros. “Hopefully, by giving him today and the off-day, he should be ready to go Friday.
“That’s our hope.”
Ackley is batting .251 overall with 11 homers and 60 RBIs in 130 games, but he had been on a surge since the All-Star break: .291 with seven homers and 31 RBIs in 45 games.
Lefty Roenis Elias is authoring a strong close to his rookie season despite concerns that he might fade down the stretch because of a career-high workload.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’m just focused on helping the team to go as far as we can, whether it’s the playoffs or not. I’m going to be there and helping out as much as I can.”
Elias produced his ninth straight start Tuesday in which he permitted two runs or fewer before settling for a no-decision in a 2-1 loss to Houston.
His six-inning outing pushed his season’s total 1602/3 innings. He pitched 1402/3 innings last season, counting winter ball, and has never worked more than 1481/3 innings.
“I think we’ve, strategically, tried to watch his innings,” McClendon said. “We’ve taken him out of ballgames early. I’m sure he doesn’t like it, but we’ve still got to be careful because we’re on the edge with him.”
Elias could use a little more offensive support. He is just 3-4 in his last nine starts despite a 2.08 ERA in that span. Overall, he is 10-12 with a 3.81 ERA in 28 starts.
The Mariners will keep their Lo-A affiliate in Clinton, Iowa, after reaching an agreement with the LumberKings on a two-year extension in their player-development contract through 2016.
Clinton reached the Midwest League playoffs in four of its six previous seasons as a Mariners affiliate. The LumberKings finished this season at 61-77.
Current Mariners who have played at Clinton include: Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, James Jones, James Paxton, Elias, Taijuan Walker and Tom Wilhelmsen.
The Mariners’ contract with Triple-A Tacoma also extends through 2016, but their agreements with Double-A Jackson and Hi-A High Desert expired at the end of the current season.
It was 13 years ago Thursday — Sept. 11, 2001 — that attacks in New York and elsewhere halted the Major League schedule for seven days.
The Mariners were trapped by repercussions from the attack for three days in Anaheim before they could return to Seattle. They were 104-40 at the time after a victory the previous night over the Angels.
Once play resumed, the Mariners went 12-6 down the stretch and finished 116-46. They advanced to the American League Championship Series before losing in six games to the New York Yankees.
The Mariners have the worst record, percentage-wise, in one-run games among American League clubs at .390. They fell to 16-25 by losing 2-1 on Tuesday to the Astros. … Logan Morrison entered Wednesday with a 13-game hitting streak against the Astros. … Joe Beimel became the seventh Mariners pitcher to appear in 50 games when he worked one-third of an inning on Tuesday. That’s an AL record. The others are Fernando Rodney (63 games), Charlie Furbush (60), Danny Farquhar (58), Yoervis Medina (58), Dominic Leone (50) and Tom Wilhelmsen (50). … The Mariners played their 145th game on Wednesday and used their 128th different lineup.
The Mariners have an open date Thursday — their final open date of the season — before starting a three-game weekend series against Oakland at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field.
Left-hander James Paxton (5-2, 1.87 ERA) will oppose Oakland right-hander Jason Hammel (2-5, 4.70). Root Sports will televise the game.
After completing the series, the Mariners will depart Monday on their last road trip: 11 games (four at Los Angeles, three at Houston and four at Toronto) before closing the season with three home games against the Angels.