JUPITER, Fla. — Commissioner Bud Selig and the Cardinals didn't exactly take the Puma to the woodshed this week, but they wasted little time calling him on the carpet.
Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman concluded two days of explanations Thursday by apologizing to Selig for an earlier allegation that Major League Baseball "extorted" an agreement from new Houston Astros owner Jim Crane to move the franchise from the National League Central to the American League West next season.
"It was a good conversation," Berkman said Thursday night. "I basically apologized for using the word 'extortion.' I had a chance to tell him where I was coming from and he had a chance to explain where he was coming from."
Berkman phoned Selig shortly after being advised to do so by one of his agents, Scott Sanderson.
The loquacious Berkman and Selig exchanged views for about 10 minutes. Berkman said the conversation ended amicably after he sensed the commissioner was "a little disappointed and maybe a little hurt" over his usage of a word suggesting a felony.
"A lot of things sound better in your head than they read in print," Berkman said. "It's certainly a situation in which I was trying to express a pretty strong emotion. For me, it's water under the bridge now. I'm more than happy to make amends. I don't carry any ill will or animosity. That's not me."
A longtime Houston resident who spent 12 seasons of his major league career with the Astros, Berkman didn't dispute quotes in which he claimed Selig strong-armed Crane to accept a transfer to the AL West as part of a purchase agreement. Speaking to reporters from ESPN and CBS Sports in Kissimmee, Fla., before an exhibition game Tuesday against the Astros, Berman said of the move: "I hate it. I feel like, basically, the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros."
Neither the Cardinals nor Selig meted out discipline in response to Berkman's comments; but Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny made clear to Berkman their disappointment over the player's comments.
"It's probably something you wish hadn't been said, at least in the way it was presented," DeWitt said Thursday.
DeWitt said he learned of Berkman's comments from Selig on Tuesday in a phone call about an unrelated matter. DeWitt and Mozeliak, who had remained in Jupiter with the club on a two-day tour of Orlando and Kissimmee, met with Berkman on Wednesday regarding his statements.
"I don't believe I said anything I hadn't said before," Berkman said Thursday, shortly before the Cardinals played the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium. "It's not exactly new.
"It's a team and a city that I've been part of for a long time and it's how I felt. But I don't think anything illegal necessarily happened. I guess I could have conveyed it in a different way."
Berkman admitted Thursday afternoon that his description of the sale as a felony was "probably a poor choice of words on my part" but added he merely re-stated a position he repeatedly had shared since the Astros' sale was approved by a vote of MLB ownership in November.
Crane, a Missouri native, initially purchased the Astros from Drayton MacLane for $680 million. Major League Baseball reduced the price tag to $615 million as part of a compromise in which Crane agreed to transfer the Astros from the six-team NL Central to the four-team AL West.
DeWitt and Mozeliak informed Berkman of the commissioner's sentiment and further explained the environment that led to Crane accepting the transfer as a condition of the sale.
"I tried to explain the process and how it played out," DeWitt said. "The concept was endorsed by the (players') union to have two leagues with 15 teams in each. It was approved by a 30-0 vote of the owners. It's an unfair situation if you have a division like the National League Central, where you have to beat five teams to win it, compared to (the American League West) where you only have to beat three teams. It's more symmetrical — and much fairer — to have three five-team divisions in each league."
A source in the commissioner's office described Selig as "bothered" by Berkman's insinuation of a criminal transfer. Selig thought Berkman's comments were "misinformed," noting that the Players Association had been a strong advocate of realigning both leagues into three five-team divisions.
"I spoke as a major league player, a former member of the organization and as someone who appreciates the history of the franchise," said Berkman, well aware that the Astros joined the National League as the expansion Colt 45's in 1962. "I don't know of anyone who wanted the club to move to a different league. But it was going to happen" for the sale to be approved.
Berkman believes a franchise such as the Milwaukee Brewers — formerly owned by Selig — was more appropriate for a league swap because the Brewers came into being as an American League expansion franchise, the Seattle Pilots, before moving to the National League in 1998.
Matheny learned of Berkman's comments after the team returned from its two-day trip. He suggested that the veteran might have shown greater discretion in comments involving the commissioner's office and other organizations.
While recognizing Berkman "feels a tie to the city and the organization," Matheny believed his first baseman's comments a "wrong choice of words."
Berkman didn't appear Thursday in the Cardinals' exhibition win over the Nationals and phoned Selig shortly after leaving the ballpark.
"Several sources told me he was not pleased with my remarks," Berkman said. "I didn't expect him to be. I knew he was going to be a little upset. Having read them and having some time to reflect, I realized there wasn't any need to be quite that over the top."