Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who has had nothing but nice things to say about Derek Jeter, said more of them Friday during a conference call with reporters to discuss MLB's new eight-year contract with ESPN.
Both Selig and ESPN president John Skipper said the final season of the Yankees shortstop would be an important story line for the sport in 2014.
"Derek, for me and for everybody, has been the ultimate ambassador for baseball and a role model for fans and the rest of the players in our league," said Selig, who also plans to retire after this season.
"No player in my time has represented this sport any better than Derek Jeter. He really has in many ways been the face of baseball. I'm proud of him. I've told him often that."
Selig said there will be "appropriate celebrations as time goes on" surrounding Jeter's final season, but he added "a lot of that also is going to be up to Derek."
The commissioner said, "I'm sorry to see him go, but every great career has to come to an end at some point. But you couldn't have done any better as a human being the last 20 years relative to this sport than Derek Jeter has done."
Selig and Skipper hope Jeter's farewell tour is but one of many compelling aspects of the season, more of which ESPN will televise than under its previous deal.
Skipper said the number of televised games could total 101, including ESPN's first postseason coverage in eight years. The network will carry a wild-card game, in addition to any necessary tiebreaker games. ESPN also has more flexibility for adding relevant games involving contenders in September.
The deal requires ESPN to show every team at least once nationally.
Another new wrinkle is that ESPN's Sunday night pregame show will originate from the site of the game in select weeks and be renamed "Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown."
For now the Sunday games will feature only play-by-play man Dan Shulman and analyst John Kruk. They were to be joined by Curt Schilling, who has been undergoing treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer.
Skipper said ESPN will wait for Schilling to decide when he is ready to return to work. "We will put him on the air about 15 minutes after he lets us know that," Skipper said.
One of the biggest changes in the game this season will be the expanded use of replay reviews. Selig, who used to be an opponent of replay, said, "I've watched in spring training. I think it will have an effect not only on our fans but on television . . . I'm really quite excited about that and I'm going to be anxious to see how well it plays."
Skipper said he is not concerned about ESPN becoming part of the story because of questions about when and what replays it makes available.
"It's a legitimate concern, but we of course have managed it in other sports," he said. "I'm happy you give us the challenge but we haven't had many problems."
Skipper said more often people are "shocked" by what angles ESPN does have than what it doesn't. "We look forward to it,'' he said. "We're not worried about the challenge at all.''
The length of games is an ongoing concern for many fans as well as within baseball itself, but both Skipper and Selig made a distinction between the "speed'' of games, meaning how long they take, and the "pace'' of play.
"Pace is much more important than speed,'' Skipper said.
Said Selig: "It's pace of the game. Speed sometimes is not always the right answer . . . I'm confident we're moving in the right direction and it's important we continue to do that.''
Selig said he hopes baseball will reach $9 billion in revenue before he leaves office next winter. "I don't know that we'll make that this year, but we may,'' he said. "It can go a lot higher.''
The Associated Press reported this week that MLB and the players' union are nearing an agreement to increase the penalty for a first positive test for performance enhancing drugs to 80 games and a second to a season-long ban.
The deal also would close a loophole that allowed Alex Rodriguez to collect $3 million for 2014 even though he is suspended for the entire season.
"I'm pleased," Selig said. "When you think back to where this sport was 20 years ago, 15 years ago and where we are today, with the toughest drug testing program in American sports . . . We will have an announcement coming up very shortly which is even better. I commend our people and I commend the players.''
Selig said the early years of the effort to ban PEDs were "kind of a lonely battle.''
"I'm really pleased,'' he said. "The players' response has been terrific. We've come to a point nobody could have dreamed about.''