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Ideas for Bud to focus on

PHILADELPHIA -- In the year 2009, Julio Franco will turn 51 years old. Barry Bonds will hit his 900th homer. And Bud Selig will still be commissioner.

Now that's job security.

But at least the once-and-future commish recognizes that he can't spend the next five years with his feet propped up on a beach chair by Lake Michigan, listening to Brewers games on the radio.

Nope, the worst might be behind him. But there is still plenty more to do.

"This sport has never been more popular," Selig said Thursday, on the day his favorite owners extended his contract into years 15, 16 and 17 of his tenure. "It has a great future ahead of it. But we should never be afraid to change when change is necessary."

And change will be necessary, too. The world keeps spinning. The competition keeps evolving. And Bud Selig's sport sure isn't perfect. So here are five suggestions to keep the commish busy between now and 2009:

1. Send the Expos to Washington
It isn't quite true that the where-to-move-the-Expos soap opera has now dragged on longer than Cal Ripken's ironman streak. But it seems like it sometimes.

Well, as long as this team remains baseball's equivalent of a Cuban flotilla, and as long as its owners are the same people who own the teams the Expos have to play, this sport will never look to the world like an outfit that has its act together.

So the time has come for Selig to make this call. There are cases to be made for Northern Virginia, Las Vegas and the Norfolk, Va., area. But if baseball actually wants this franchise to evolve into one of the jewels of the sport, there is only one real choice.

And that choice is Washington -- the largest media market in America with no major league baseball team, not to mention a city that employs a bunch of senators and congressmen who could make Selig's life real miserable if he gets them riled up.

OK, so Peter Angelos' team plays 40 miles up the beltway. That doesn't mean this decision has to be accompanied by the playing of Taps for the Orioles. There are four two-team markets in baseball at the moment if you count Los Angeles-Anaheim. Both teams in those markets are on pace this year to draw at least 2 million in every one of them.

There are continued indications that baseball is leaning in Washington's direction. But if it takes much more than another few weeks to decide, those RFK Stadium renovations will get way too frantic, and the ripple effect on schedules and other logistics will get way too messy.

So Bud, please. We beg you. Can you get this traveling baseball show on the road -- for good? And the sooner the better.

2. Fix the steroid policy
Selig has tried hard to position himself on the highest moral ground on the steroid issue. If nothing else, he has succeeded in convincing most fans that whatever drug problem exists in this game, it isn't his fault.

On the other hand, pointing fingers at the players and the union is a lousy way to promote peace and harmony. But amazingly, the folks who run the union haven't fired back. Even more amazingly, they've agreed to talk about changes to the current testing system.

So now it's time for both sides to follow through on those talks. This doesn't have to be the Olympic testing plan reincarnate. But baseball does need a system that tests players more than once a year, and one that imposes tougher penalties on the first offense.

We're all for innocent-until-proven-guilty. And we understand the union's passion for protecting players' rights. But we're also all for removing any doubt in the minds of fans that what they're watching on the field is a tribute to the greatness of the players, not the chemists.

3. World Cup, yes; openers in Japan, no
No commissioner in history has done more than Selig to connect baseball in America with all those other dots on the map. So the stage is set now for this commissioner to take the globalization of his sport to a whole new level.

First off, the World Cup is a fabulous idea. Tell us that, say, a Pedro-vs. -Jason Schmidt, Dominican-vs.-U.S. World Cup final wouldn't be must-see TV.

But it's clear now that MLB is not going to be able to run this show all by itself. The Japanese, for one, want more input. And obviously, they deserve it. So Selig needs to find a solution that makes the World Cup a regular item on the baseball calendar, starting in 2006.

But full speed ahead on the World Cup doesn't necessarily mean that baseball should be full speed ahead on globalization in all its forms. From the standpoint of sheer practicality, some things work better than others. And one idea Selig needs to re-think is opening day in Japan.

That's an event that sure makes for terrific global marketing. But it should tell us something that not one of the four teams that have made this journey since 2000 had a winning record two weeks after returning -- not even the Yankees.

It's too disruptive, in every way, to play games in Japan during the season. So if baseball wants to play meaningful games in Japan, it should think about a suggestion made by Astros catcher Brad Ausmus -- to stage a World Series between the American and Japanese champs after the season.

It wouldn't even need to be every year. But even if it were once every four years, would it make for riveting global theater, or what?

"I can't believe that hasn't been pursued," Ausmus said. "The TV money would be enormous. And the logistics would be a lot easier than the World Cup, because there are only two teams."

Interesting idea. And one our commish should think about some day when he's chewing on his daily bratwurst.

4. Let the sun shine on the World Series
Under Bud Selig's leadership, baseball has grown into a $4 billion industry. It says so on the official release MLB handed out Thursday, listing Selig's accomplishments as commissioner.

So if baseball has reached a point where it has never taken in more negotiable United States dollars, it can afford to take a dramatic stand that can help it reach out to the kids of the Eastern time zone -- many of whom have never seen a World Series game end. Ever. In their whole lives.

Baseball can now position itself as The Sport That Doesn't Care About Making Every Last Stinking Dime. Tell us people wouldn't love a sport, and a commissioner, that did that. And Bud Selig could be the recipient of every ounce of the applause.

The commish could stand at the podium of his choice and announce, "For as long as I'm commissioner, we will play at least one afternoon game in every World Series. Quite frankly, we could make a lot more money starting every game at 8:30 ET. But we're going to start our Saturday games at 6:30, our Sunday games at 7 and play one 5 o'clock game during the week."

Selig then would go on to admit to his public: "We're giving up short-term dollars by doing that. But we'll make all that money back in all the young fans we'll be winning over for life."

Back in the dark days of the strike a decade ago, one of Selig's favorite expressions was: "The short-term pain is worth the long-term gain." Here's an opportunity for him to show the world that's his philosophy about every corner of his kingdom.

5. Repeat this motto: It's all about the players
When Selig was asked Thursday what he felt he most wanted to achieve over these next five years, his response was as perfect as Albert Pujols' swing.

"As I've often said," he answered, "when we keep the focus of the sport on the field, good things happen. I think that's really my job -- to keep the focus on the field."

Let's say this right now: He has never been more right about anything in his life.

Bud Selig presides over the best game ever invented. When he and the other guys in the sportcoats get out of the way, it sells itself. And always will.

Selig keeps saying this is baseball's "golden age." He may be absolutely correct about that. And if he is, it's the players who keep spinning that gold.

Roger Clemens. Greg Maddux. Barry Bonds. Scott Rolen. Alex Rodriguez. Eric Gagne. Mariano Rivera. Ichiro Suzuki. They're better salesmen than anybody Selig ever hired on his car lot. We can guarantee that.

The commish bragged Thursday about how baseball has finally learned to market its product "in every way." He's right. Players tell us the same thing. They finally see signs that management gets it. And that can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Now it's up to Selig to make sure that's exactly what happens.

"We have to continue to build on improving our relationship with the players," Giants president Peter Magowan said Thursday. "We've become much less suspicious of each other. For us to build the kind of image we want and have players do the things in the community that are so important for our game, they have to feel like they can trust the owners, that the owners aren't trying to take advantage of them and we have our full heart in it.

"That's how we can do those things we need to do to build the image of our sport. But all that can't happen if we don't figure out each other's issues. And honestly, I see many signs that players are getting this and the union is getting this."

Baseball came through one labor negotiation without a work stoppage. Now it needs to make that a habit. MLB has finally begun to include the union in conversations about the future of the sport. It needs to do more of that.

How does a commissioner make his sport a success? It's not that complicated. A little competitive balance here, a little labor peace there. Make sure the TV cameras capture every magic moment. And never forget that nobody is tuning in to watch the commissioner govern.

So Bud Selig has finally figured out the formula: He sells his players. And he lets his players sell his sport. Now all he has to do is follow his own map for the next five years, and he'll never again have to be thought of as That Guy Who Canceled The World Series.

That's the kind of offer even Bud Selig can't refuse.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.