ESPN.com has a remarkably in-depth and enlightening report on steroids in baseball. I believe it will be appearing in the newest ESPN the Magazine, which I haven’t gotten in the mail yet. I have read all four parts of the actual report, and I am about halfway done with the “Special Features.” I can’t recommend this report strongly enough.
In reading it, I had a whole bunch of thoughts on a whole bunch of topics. My number one thought: Bud Selig needs to be replaced. By me.
Baseball needs to be led by someone who loves the game and puts the game ahead of everything else. I have no doubt that Bud loves baseball, but I do not believe that Bud loves baseball enough to do what is best for it, even if it hurts him personally or hurts the wallets of some people. I was amazed to read about how Selig and his people had been made aware of steroids a decade ago and did nothing about it. I know that the commissioner of baseball has to work things out with the players’ union, and I think it goes without saying that Donald Fehr needs to be replaced about a decade ago. But there is a huge gap between what Selig did and what he could have done as commissioner. Of course, baseball wouldn’t have rebounded as quickly from the strike if not for the magical 1998 season. I still look back fondly on that summer, and Mark McGwire still has a special place in my heart. But it is looking more and more like McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke records by using steroids and similar things. Did they cheat? No, because baseball had never really put any effort into making it against the rules. Steroids were illegal, but they weren’t against the rules of baseball, so a guy who used steroids wasn’t really cheating any more than a guy who exceeded the speed limit to get to the game on time. And for that, I say shame on Bud Selig and Donald Fehr.
(Note: One of the things I learned in reading this report is that Commissioner Fay Vincent issued a seven-page memo in 1991 that said it was against the rules to use illegal drugs, “including steroids.” Selig re-issued the same memo in 1997. So yes, I realize that steroids were technically against the rules starting in 1991, but not only did they never make a big deal about it, some players and executives didn’t even know the memo existed. And with no testing, the rule had no teeth anyway. Fay Vincent even admitted that the target of his memo was drugs like cocaine, and that he threw the “including steroids” clause in because he had heard rumors about Jose Canseco.)
Bud Selig has done a pretty good job of dealing with problems as they come up. What I have never seen him do, though, is anticipate a problem and deal with it before the fact. I think there is a lot to be said for dealing with problems that arise, but I find it impossible to believe that there isn’t someone out there who possesses that same ability, and possesses the ability to listen to people as they tell him about potential problems.
Simply put, it would have been bad for the business of baseball if McGwire and Sosa hadn’t broken Roger Maris’s record in 1998. As Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine said on that commercial, “Chicks dig the long ball.” Bud digs the long ball. More to the point, Bud knew that we all dig the long ball. Why would he want to jeopardize the financial boom that was the direct result of the offensive boom (which was the direct result of the bicep boom)? Just because it compromised the integrity of the game, put the health of the players at risk, and ruined the game for the next generation of fans? What do we expect from our commissioner, integrity?
Baseball has taken a good first step, although Fehr seems to think it was the only necessary step. As much as I always thought Sosa was overhyped (since he went from mediocre to great out of the blue, right around the same time he put on 40 pounds of muscle), at least it appears that when steroids were officially banned, he stopped using them — thereby making him mediocre again. I can respect that, although I wish I believed that his legacy in baseball would focus more on the mediocre player that he is than on the great player steroids made him for five years. But it is clear that people are still using steroids, and it is clear that the current testing program isn’t completely effective — how can you ban something that you can’t test for? How can you tell someone exactly how many times you are going to test him and expect it to be effective? So many things need to be fixed about this program, and as long as Donald Fehr drags his feet — despite that fact that the vast majority of his constituents want tougher testing — nothing will get done. I am not at all a fan of Congress getting involved, but Fehr may force their hand.
So, in summary: hire me as commissioner, since I believe in doing what is best for baseball now and in the long-term; fire Donald Fehr and hire someone who would actually speak for the individual members of his union. Baseball is too great to be dragged down by this any longer.