‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Baseball’s dirty secret was kept hidden from the public eye until Associated Press writer Steve Wilstein discovered a bottle of androstenedione (a substance banned by the NFL, NCAA and Olympics — but not banned by MLB until 2004) in plain view in Mark McGwire’s locker at old Busch Stadium.
It was the wild summer of 1998. McGwire and Sammy Sosa were locked in a fictitious home-run chase that captured the complete attention of our nation. Eventually, the long ball-crushing duo smashed Roger Maris’ 37-year-old single-season home run record of 61.
12 years later, McGwire admitted to using steroids throughout the 1990s. Sosa has maintained his innocence in the face of the New York Times reporting him to be one of the 104 players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
An unusually swollen-looking Barry Bonds surpassed McGwire’s home-run record by slamming 73 round-trippers in 2001. Bonds then went on to leapfrog Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record of 755, eventually finishing with 762 career home runs.
The San Francisco Giants’ slugger became the central figure in the BALCO scandal, Game of Shadows and was convicted of obstruction of justice during the BALCO trial. Bonds is currently appealing the conviction.
Throughout the process, baseball record books became all the more tarnished. You would create an unreadable mess if you were to cross off the names of players who admitted to using performance-enhancing drug use, served bans enforced by the MLB or are strongly suspected of using PEDs.
Despite the mess created by “The Steroid Era,” one thing is still clear in the minds of fans of the national pastime. The public knows that Aaron and Maris are still the rightful owners of the all-time and single-season home runs records. Unfortunately, the leaderboards and record books do not match that belief.
One man could have stood in the way and used his powers as commissioner of Major League Baseball to save the sport from being tarnished by a growing PED problem in the mid-1990s. Instead, he willingly looked the other way. His name, of course, is Allan H. “Bud” Selig.
SELIG AND THE OWNERS TURNED A BLIND EYE TO RAMPANT ‘ROIDS
Back in 1993, Selig was serving his second year as commissioner. It was the same year that the FBI completed “Operation Equine.” The federal investigation resulted in the finding that McGwire and then-Oakland Athletics teammate Jose Canseco were among players engaging in steroid use.
Baseball knew it had an ethical problem in the mid-1990s. Had Selig truly cared, he would have blown the whistle and informed Congress when the problem arose. He could have teamed with politicians to paint the players union as the bad guys and instituted tough penalties during collective bargaining when baseball went on strike in 1994 to ensure the sanctity of baseball.
At the time, Selig was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and the commissioner of MLB. He wasn’t looking out for baseball’s best interests. Selig sat back with all the other owners and counted the dough once fans returned to their seats when play resumed in 1995.
Balls started flying over fences at an alarming rate, players’ biceps were ripping through the jerseys and light-hitting middle infielders started to become 20-plus home run threats. While this was going on, fellow owners toasted Selig for filling their stadiums and making baseball more profitable than ever in the late 1990s.
As commissioner, Selig always had a powerful card in his pocket. He could have acted in “the best interests of baseball” and stopped the steroid problem before it spiraled out of control.
WHAT IS BUD’S LEGACY?
2014 will be the final season of Selig’s reign as commissioner. Some will be celebrating Selig as the sheriff who cleaned up baseball following the recent Biogenesis suspensions.
Let’s remember that Selig was dragged kicking and screaming into Washington in 2005 and was ripped to shreds by Congress for MLB having a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” policy on performance-enhancing drug use.
Time after time, Selig ignored the most rotten in baseball and only acted once his feet were held to the fire.
Sure, Selig deserves praise for introducing the Wild Card format, three division-per-league realignment and expansion into new markets in Arizona and Tampa Bay, as well as a number of other meaningful successes.
While Selig did plenty to push baseball forward, he also deserves equal damning scorn for allowing a PED culture to flourish under his watch. The Biogenesis suspensions are certainly an enormous step forward for the legitimacy of baseball — but it’s too little, too late, Selig. You’re no savior of our great national pastime.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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