by Allan Doherty

Wanted: Baseball Commissioner.
Primary Purpose: Regain and Maintain the Integrity of Baseball.

Recently, Baseball Commissioner Alan ‘Bud’ Selig announced that he would retire at the end of his current contract in three years. Unfortunately, what little is left of baseball’s integrity may not survive three more years of Selig. Baseball would be better served if Selig resigned from his position immediately.

No Commissioner would be better than Selig. Why? Because Selig has never exercised the primary purpose of the Commissioner’s office: to maintain the integrity of baseball. The integrity of baseball has suffered since his appointment in September 1992. Interestingly enough, his appointment to the Commissioner’s position lacked the ethical progression that one would expect for a high-profile position. That coupled with his pathetic performance as Acting Commissioner and Commissioner makes me wonder if there is anybody willing to put the pieces back together upon his departure.

Back in June 1992, Alan ‘Bud’ Selig teamed with Jerry Reinsdorf in an attempt to strip former Commissioner Faye Vincent of his role in labor negotiations. Vincent balked at the idea and refused to sacrifice his role. For Vincent, it was in the best interest of baseball to have a Commissioner who could act as a mediator between the Owners and players. For the Owners, it was better to have an individual who was their puppet. Vincent was not their puppet. The MLB Owners were interested in money; Fay Vincent was interested in maintaining the honor of baseball.

Vincent was so concerned about preserving the decency of baseball that in 1991 he proposed a Drug and Steroid Policy. Commissioner Vincent wanted to be proactive and set the ground work to handle what seemed like a potential steroid problem. That’s correct, in 1991, enough rumors had swept through the Commissioner’s office about steroid use that Fay Vincent decided a policy had to be created to control the potential abuse of steroids. Baseball Owners, including Bud Selig, saw the steroid policy and viewed it as a negotiating tool that could be used against them by the MLB Players Association. In order to implement the Drug and Steroid Policy, the Owners figured that they would have to make concessions during the coming negotiations in 1994. The Owners didn’t want to make any concessions in future negotiations with the Player’s Association. The Owners wanted to break the Player’s Association and maximize their return on investment. Vincent stood in their way. Vincent had to go.

Between June and September of 1992, Selig led the Owner’s assault that finally drove Vincent to resign. Immediately upon Vincent’s resignation, Selig was rewarded for being baseball’s hatchet man. He was appointed to Baseball’s Executive Committee and a couple days later appointed to be the Acting Commissioner. It was the beginning of the end for Major League Baseball’s integrity.

Reports vary about the path of the Vincent’s Drug and Steroid Policy. Some reports infer that Selig successfully tabled the 1991 Drug and Steroid Memorandum. That the topic never hit the bargaining table in negotiations between Players and Owners in 1994. Other reports say that the policy was placed on the bargaining table and the Player’s Association rejected it. In either case, nothing came of the Steroid Policy because the Owners were completely focused on money and bringing the Player’s Association to it’s knees. Selig was their puppet. The Owner’s demands were great and Selig’s skills were terrible. The combination resulted in the premature end of the 1994 baseball season and the canceling of the playoffs and World Series. Baseball’s public image took a line-drive to the mid-section from which it would never truly recover. Starting the 1995 season with ‘replacement players’ dealt an even lower blow to the game. Fans were completely disgusted. Baseball reached a low-point in popularity. In the end, the Owners had to concede to the players requests in what could easily be viewed as the greatest debacle in baseball history. All this occurred within three years of Selig’s appointment.

The 1995, 1996 and 1997 seasons were financial busts for baseball. Selig was appointed Commissioner in 1998. Was this a reward for a job well done as Acting MLB Commissioner? Or was it a reward for a job well done as Appointed MLB Puppet?

During this period, 1992 – 1998, rumors and questions about steroid use circulated through the media. Fans were questioning the growth and performances of certain players. Selig did nothing.

The 1998 season was highlighted by a home run derby between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Home runs, towering out of ball parks were being hit at an incredible rate. Fans were crying out about the potential use of steroids and Selig did nothing. The media was questioning the validity of these performances and Selig did nothing. A tube of a performance enhancing drug banned by the National Football League and the International Olympic Committee was found in McGwire’s locker and Selig did nothing to address the problem, let alone confront or control it. Instead, Selig constantly made statements that he had never heard any rumors of steroid use in Major League Baseball. McGwire went on to break Maris’ Single Season Home Run Record that year.

While the fans and the media were questioning the truthfulness of baseball and its participants; Selig avoided the Commissioner’s primary purpose.

Why didn’t Selig address the questions of steroid use? Why didn’t he admit that he was aware of rumors that prompted Fay Vincent to distribute the 1991 Drug and Steroid memorandum? The answer seems clear. In 1998 and 1999, baseball saw unprecedented growth in attendance and revenue due to the long ball. This revenue was sorely needed by the Owners after the previous three seasons. Selig wasn’t appointed by the Owners to preserve the integrity of the game, he was appointed to preserve the Owner’s bottom-line. Protecting his buddies, the Owners, was his primary purpose, and baseball suffered for it.

Books were written and testimonials given about the use of steroids in baseball and Selig did nothing. Sosa hit 65 home runs in 2000 and 64 in 2001. Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 to easily eclipse every home run record in baseball history. Still, Selig did not address the questions, on the Major League level, that every television viewing, radio listening sports fan was asking. Are steroids being used? Who is using them? Why isn’t MLB doing anything to address these obvious questions?

The year following Bond’s 73 home runs, 2002, Ken Caminiti openly admitted that he used steroids during the 1996 season when he won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. In response, Selig stated that he had been concerned about steroid use for a couple of years. He stated his concerned, but again there was no concrete action on his part to address the issue.

It finally took concerned representatives of the Major League Baseball Players Association to put a steroid testing policy on the table. Players were so concerned about the obvious public outcry that they felt they had to act to preserve the reputation of the game they loved. On August 7, 2002, the players took on the responsibility; Bud Selig did not.

Since then much negotiating has taken place between the Player’s Association and Selig. Selig has managed to build upon the MLBPA steroid testing proposal making it appear that he has championed the cause from the beginning. In reality, public and Congressional pressure forced both the Player’s Association and Selig to act. Unfortunately, it was and is too little, too late.

The integrity of baseball is in serious question. The last two home run records are owned by two ‘Steroid Era’ players, McGwire, who was caught with a tube of Andro in his locker and Bonds, who many suspect of steroid use. Many fans feel an asterisk should be placed next to their record book entries. Currently, Barry Bonds is 22 home runs away from breaking one of greatest records in baseball history, Most Career Home Runs. Many fans are confused as to whether they should celebrate or turn their backs on the event. It’s a pretty pathetic state of affairs when you consider that one of the greatest achievements in the history of baseball, breaking the Career Home Run Record, is potentially the game’s greatest tragedy.

The individual responsible for this tragedy and deterioration of baseball’s integrity is Bud Selig.

Bud Selig has single-handedly allowed the decency and fairness of baseball to deteriorate in favor of greater revenue for the Owners and a relaxed level of accountability by the Player’s Association. The Owners and the players are happy. They are handling more money than they probably ever imagined while the integrity of the game sits in the cellar.

Baseball still needs a true Commissioner to fill the vacancy created when Vincent resigned in 1992. That individual needs to regain the character, morals and truthfulness that baseball has lost since the appointment of Alan ‘Bud’ Selig. Only then will the new Commissioner be able to exercise the primary purpose of his office. Baseball will be better served if a new Commissioner starts his/her new job immediately.

Allan Doherty maintains

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