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Nipping Bonds Scandal in the Bud

MLB waited too long to act on Steroids

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With Public Enemy No. 1 closing in on the Babe, everybody just take a deep breath and relax about Barry Bonds cheating.

I know, I know — it's easy to hate the guy, and Pittsburgh fans know firsthand about his repellent personality. Everybody from Tony Kornheiser to the driver of the 61A has weighed in on whether Barry's home runs should count, be asterisked, or printed in red ink with little hearts and flowers around it. But as bad as Barry looks in light of the Balco scandal, possible perjury charges and several condemnatory books, he's hardly going to ruin baseball.

Baseball will survive this, just like it did racism, the Black Sox, World War II, the cocaine trials and Pete Rose.

Some might argue that baseball is a perfect game. Depending on my mood, I might agree, but I'd counter that it's played by imperfect individuals and run by even less perfect owners, commissioners and other puffed-up types. If you look at it hard enough, almost everybody comes out stinking of steroids.

Particularly Commissioner Bud Selig. His mishandling of the whole steroids issue has been somewhat overlooked because it's just so fun and easy to hate Bonds.

With the release of Game of Shadows and the Grand Jury perjury investigation looming, Bud finally appointed George Mitchell to investigate steroids in baseball. Why did he wait that long? How might a Commissioner like Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Peter Ueberroth or Bart Giamatti have handled steroid use to avoid this imbroglio? You can bet they would have handled it better than Bud. If such wagering were legal, that is.

But Bud rode the steroids train just like McGwire and Sosa and the rest. Selig embraced McGwire's and Sosa's chase of Roger Maris' record, even though there were rumors about players juicing back then. We all knew about the andro in Mac's locker. I suspected steroids and you suspected steroids; every panelist on ESPN's Sports Reporters suspected steroids. And if Mike Lupica and Bob Ryan suspected it, the Commissioner suspected it or should have suspected it. But Bud fiddled while the players juiced.

He did so because after overseeing a disastrous strike, and with attendance in the crapper, he needed Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy to revive MLB. There was no investigation and no righteous indignation from the Commissioner's office because fans were pouring through the turnstiles.

Which is why Selig's current get-tough stance in regard to Bonds is laughable. No matter how much sympathy Barry tries to curry, he's wrong when he claims that Bud's quest to get him is racially motivated. Race has nothing to with it, Barry. The only color that matters here is green.

Of course, the union only recently capitulated to testing in the collective-bargaining agreement. Still, Selig could have done something before now; after all, the players union hasn't given its blessing to the current investigation, either. In fact, the union's No. 3 official, Michael Weiner, sent an e-mail to players' agents telling them to inform the union if they are contacted by Mitchell. The investigation is in contravention of the current CBA, Weiner claims. I'm sure the Commissioner's office anticipated at least some stonewalling and contention from the unions at this juncture, just as they would have encountered in 1998 or 1999. Some avenues to investigation had to have been available to Selig even then. Why didn't Selig do something, anything?

At the very least, the Commissioner could have invoked "the best interest of baseball" clause. But Selig has never represented the best interest of baseball (i.e., the fans); he's always represented the best interest of baseball's owners instead. That's really all he cares about. Now, all of a sudden he's in a tizzy about Aaron's record or Ruth's record? He didn't care so much about Maris' single-season record.

Barry's a world-class jerk and very possibly a cheater. But Selig is going after Bonds for a very simple reason: If Barry gets away with what we all think he's gotten away with, it makes Bud look bad. The legacy of Ruth and Aaron aren't the issue — Selig simply doesn't want Barry's feats to sully his own legacy.

Makes me wonder which guy is less likable: Bud or Barry?

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