Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Play Ball!

THERE ARE FEW days each year better than Opening Day so I can't let it pass without a short comment on the prevailing story surrounding baseball: steroids. As each team begins a new season with hopes of playing deep into October, the issue of steroids continues to hang like a dark cloud over the game. And now we are to believe that Commissioner Bud Selig Is stepping in to 'get to the bottom of the issue' because he appointed a commission to study the use of steroids by major league player. So it's Bud Selig to the rescue? I'm not one who counts Selig as baseball's knight in shining armor.

Let's look at why Selig and MLB are now investigating the steroids issue. Is it because Barry Bonds is on the verge of breaking one of the most sacred records in all of baseball? Is it because former players like Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti admitted to using steroids? Is it because a new book released by two reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle has pretty compelling evidence against some of the game's best players? Perhaps it's because Selig sees the hyper-inflated offensive numbers that have been put up in the past 10 years.

Or, perhaps it's none of those reasons. Perhaps there are only two reasons why Selig and MLB are finally taking action -- action that should have been taken years ago: politics and money. Just look at what has happened in the past twelve months.

First, congressional leaders flexed their muscles and demanded hearings on the issue of steroid use. The result was a pathetic display by such stars as Rafael "I have never taken steroids. Period" Palmeiro; Sammy "Me no speaka English" Sosa; Mark "I'm not here to talk about the past" McGuire; and Jose "Who knew that in the end I'd be the most credible witness here" Canseco. And how did those hearings go? Not well. By the end, Congress was threatening to lift baseball's anti-trust status. By the way, if you're keep track at home, the anti-trust status is critical to the way MLB operates. Baseball threatened to take it away, Selig is listening.

Second, and perhaps more important, several high-stakes advertisers recently told Baseball that they did not want to participate in any celebration surrounding Bonds' record-breaking home run, should he pass Hank Aaron. Then, Fox began dragging their feet on a new TV deal with the league, saying the steroid issue is a concern. (Fox's contract to air MLB games ends this year...hmmm). The money bags threatened to close up shop, Selig is listening.

When baseball was investigating Pete Rose, they kept telling Rose to come clean. Come clean, they told him, and we can forgive and (perhaps) forget. Now baseball is the one that needs to come clean. What did they know about steroids back in '98 when McGuire and Sosa were putting baseball on the front pages of newspapers around the country? What did they know about steroids when Bonds hit 73 home runs a couple years later? Why were steroids not even banned by MLB rules until the late 90s?

There is no doubt that history will show there was a steroid era in major league baseball. What Bud Selig needs to understand is that the era came on his watch. And simply hiring a former US Senator to investigate the issue doesn't change that. Fans around the country are waiting to see what happens next.


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