The day Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig retires will be a day of rejoicing.
Selig has failed baseball too many times over his tenure as commissioner. It all started back in the 90s, most notably in the summer of 1998. Baseball was in a terrible state in the late 90s. The league was under supreme pressure to raise attendance and maintain its television contracts. The League needed a saving grace.
Then it happened, the summer of 1998.
In the summer of 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were having an unprecedented homerun-hitting season, and both were approaching Roger Maris’s single season homerun record of 61. Throughout the 90s there had been some discussion among league insiders about the possibility of steroids infiltrating the game. Bud Selig was so overjoyed that Major League Baseball was becoming relevant again that he somehow “forgot” those conversations that had been taking place. By the summer of ’98 steroid usage was being seriously questioned. McGwire and Sosa had always hit for power, but this sudden barrage of homeruns seemed questionable. Selig didn’t care though, baseball was relevant, butts were in seats, and one of the most untouchable records in all of sports was about to be broken.
What’s the worst that could happen?
I take you to the early 2000s where there are still no major testing programs and no worries about relevance or lack luster attendance. Bud Selig failed baseball once again. This time is was Balco. Balco was an American company led by Victor Conte. Their major supplement was known throughout the sports world as “The Clear”. I’ll go ahead and put this out there, I was a huge fan of Balco’s most prominent athlete Barry Bonds. I was a kid and didn’t know better, but he was my guy and I‘ll stay with him until the end. It was in 2001 when Bonds broke McGwire’s record, and from everything I can remember, Bonds was celebrated unlike any other. Once again, similar to ’98, Selig was at every stop supporting the guy carrying the league. It wasn’t until 2003 when the Balco Scandal really hit the fan. You would think that with something looming this big the Commissioner would step in and mandate the most stringent drug testing policy any league had ever seen. He didn’t. He all but let it go and tried to smear Bonds as he approached Hank Aaron’s all-time homerun record. The reason Bonds could never be disciplined or even caught was because of the lack of precedent that should have been set in 1998 when questions arose about McGwire and Sosa using steroids. Selig made a critical error by not implementing a drug testing policy.
Finally, I take you to the two most recent times Bud Selig failed baseball. By 2007 Congress had stepped in and put in a drug testing policy. It was nothing short of a slap on the wrist if you were to fail a drug test for PEDs under this policy. The longest suspension to date was Jason Grimsley. The DEA raided his home and found steroids. He never served his suspension because he retired shortly after he asked for his release from the D’Backs. In mid 2007, a report was leaked that there was an investigation by MLB in 2006 targeting high profile players for suspected use of PED’s. Former Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, headed the Mitchell Report. If there was ever a time where Selig looked to be taking control, it was now. After the Mitchell Report, drug testing became more strict, but not strict enough. By then the players had moved on to an almost undetectable substance called HGH or Human Growth Hormone. There are claims there was not a test for this at the time, but I find that hard to believe. The most notable name in this report was Roger Clemens. Bud Selig did nothing to the players named in the report because, once again, he failed to set a precedent in previous years. He allowed the drug culture to build and build until it became a monster that could not be tamed. So, to save face he implemented the policy we have today. Today’s policy is a three-strike approach. The first offense is a 50 game suspension, the second is 100 games, and the final strike is a lifetime ban. Several players since then have been suspended under this policy.
In early 2013 a report came out on a company in Miami called Biogenesis. The two faces of this latest scandal are Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez (Rodriguez already admitted use of PEDs in 2009 and was not penalized). Selig had a chance to take Braun down in 2012, but let the opportunity slip away due to a problem with the handling of Braun’s urine sample. Just months after all of that cleared, Biogenesis emerged and cast a shadow on Braun all over again. Now A-Rod is suspended from baseball (pending appeal, of course) for the rest of this season and all of 2014 due to his connection to Biogenesis.
To say that Bud Selig is making a stand now is laughable. He is saving his own tail from further embarrassment due to his naïve behavior when all this came to be in the 90s. You can’t really blame the players of the past. Why would you not cheat if you were not going to get you in trouble, make you millions of dollars, and maybe get your family out of poverty or into the United States? Yeah, you can say it’s morally wrong to use PEDs because it is, but money talks and it talks loud.
I hope the next commissioner comes in and really does something like one and done, or maybe even void contracts. It is time to take a proactive, not reactive, stance. Reaction is what has gotten baseball, and Commissioner Selig for that matter, into the mess it is in today.