Good article. Pt1
July 25, 2007
A Failure of Leadership by Joe Sheehan
In a manner that can only be described as “grudging,” Bud Selig did what he should have done three months ago, ending discussion of whether he would attend Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the all-time home run mark with a press release and a flight to San Francisco. As is his wont, Selig put his personal feelings ahead of the game’s best interest, choosing to issue a release that neither honored Bonds nor the moment, and put the controversy that surrounds Bonds—his alleged use of performance-enhancing substances—front and center.
I consider this to be a shame. While it’s an unpopular viewpoint, I stand by my argument that Barry Bonds has not failed a test for PEDs in the four years that MLB has had a program. His testimony before a grand jury—subsequently leaked illegally, and to his detriment—was that he did take substances that were identified later as steroids, but he was told at the time that they were not. His testimony has been interpreted as parsing by some, perjury by others, although statements before the same grand jury by others have been granted full faith and credit. That grand jury inspired two reporters to write a book about Bonds, sourced largely by the illegally-obtained testimony, as well as the accounts of people around Bonds, at least one of whom, ex-mistress Kimberly Bell, can comfortably be described as “scorned.”
Baseball now has a small underclass of players—real players, not anonymous minor leaguers or fringe guys—who have tested positive for performance-enhancing substances, been suspended for that use, and returned to play. In virtually every case, those players go about their business without anyone caring. They’re cheered at home for their good deeds, and ignored on the road. The Indians benefit from the bullpen work of Rafael Betancourt, by far their best reliever this season, and a big reason for their contending status. He’s not reviled in Detroit or Minnesota as a steroid user, not booed and forced to endure the taunts of “Cheater!” or worse. No one cares. The same can be said for Juan Rincon, who is essentially the Twins’ version of Betancourt.
Need more evidence that the game is more than willing to forgive and forget? Ryan Franklin tested positive in 2005, serving a 10-game suspension for his guilt. Last month, the Cardinals signed him to a two-year contract worth $5 million. Last winter, the Mets' Guillermo Mota was suspended for the first 50 games of 2007 off a positive test; a month later, the Mets signed him to a two-year contract for, again, $5 million.
Add it up, and baseball has lavished more than $30 million on players who have been found guilty of steroid use after their use has come to light. These players don’t occupy some gray area, don’t inspire “did he or didn’t he?” discussions on sports radio or the talking-head TV shows. They cheated, they got caught, served their penalties, and went on to earn millions playing baseball without being held up as examples of all that is wrong with America.
The central truth about the “steroid issue” is this: average people don’t care about PED use. They care about tearing down those who they do not like, protecting those they do, and making themselves feel superior in the process.
I’m writing about all of this today because Bud Selig elected to give in to that urge, rather than do his utmost to create a positive moment for baseball. Were he the commissioner of baseball rather than the owners’ representative in their ongoing leverage games with the MLBPA, Selig might have taken this opportunity to shift the focus from allegations to facts, from speculation to celebration, from off the field to on it. Barry Bonds may not be a sympathetic character, but he has done what Betancourt, Franklin, Rincon, and Mota haven’t—urinated in a cup for four years and not been suspended.
Rather than issue a press release that effectively threw Bonds under the bus, and backed entirely by the available facts, Selig could have stood up and said, “We have the toughest testing program in professional sports, one that has not only caught a number of steroid users, but has also served to all but eradicate the use of PEDs in our game. Barry Bonds is one of baseball’s greatest players. I can do nothing about the opinions of others, but I can stand by our testing program. I wish Bonds all the best as he pursues what may be our game’s most cherished individual record, and I look forward to being in attendance when he makes history.”
This would have changed the narrative. This would have put the nominal commissioner of baseball in a position as the game’s cheerleader, its greatest fan, its biggest supporter. It’s the kind of thing David Stern or Paul Tagliabue would have done. A true commissioner should be a source of positive public relations, but time and time again, Selig has shown that he will denigrate the game and its players in the interests of the 30 men for whom he works. His actions here are no different from his actions in the labor wars of 1994 and 2002, when the man who inspired the term “anti-marketing” tore down baseball and baseball players as part of a labor relations strategy.
In this case, however, I think there’s something deeper at work, something that’s more personal for Selig, and which creates a significant historical parallel that has nothing at all to do with Bonds or his backstory. Selig’s deep ties to Milwaukee and baseball intersect in the person of Hank Aaron, who starred for the Milwaukee Braves during a time when Selig was under the thrall of the game. Selig reveres Aaron as a player and respects him as a man, and were Aaron’s record under attack by anyone, under any circumstances, Selig would be conflicted over it. Selig isn’t haunted by what Barry Bonds may have done so much as he’s disappointed that a friend, and a one-time hero, is being supplanted atop a list of numbers.
Last edited by Foghorn; 08-08-2007 at 10:37 AM..