Sunday, March 01, 2009

Baseball still has a steroid problem, and it's its own fault
Two things I heard today during an exhibition game between the Dodgers and the White Sox made me frustrated.

Hawk Harrelson, who, despite his blatant homerism and odd style, I generally like, parroted two themes that have become central to baseball's defense of itself.

1. The media want to talk about steroids, no one else really does. Let's just play ball.

2. Bud Selig is a great commissioner.

I've tackled both of these issues before. Needless to say, I think Selig is quite corrupted, and has been compromised since the moment he took the "interim" job in 1992.

Needless to say, it's been a bumpy road since then. Selig acted as commissioner while still owning a team, which was a major, major conflict.

Of course, the Brewers weren't any good for most of the time he held two positions, so who cares.

But hey, baseball's making money, right? Sure, the Yankees payroll may hover around $200 million while the Marlins barely scratch $35 million. And yes, baseball's best player is involved in the steroid scandal. And yes, it's a weird scandal, because baseball didn't even bother to act on it in any way until 2003, when it tests were only for information gathering.

And yes, baseball canceled the World Series in 1994, had an All-Star Game tie in 2002, was called before congress and humiliated in 2005, and ... well, I could go on about Bud's rule, which has been littered with indifference and incompetence.

What Harrelson was arguing was that the media was harder on baseball than other sports.

Yeah, so hard it looked the other way for most of 1998, and didn't even bother to get interested until the fans -- yes, the fans -- did.

People tell you the fans don't care about steroids. Is that why Barry Bonds' breaking of Aaron's record caused such a negative reaction in 2006? Because the fans didn't care?

In truth, the fans probably would have looked the other way, too, but things just got too blatant. A guy in his late 30s blasting 73 homers? A starting pitcher having his best season in his mid-40s?

Baseball was content to ride the money train, and would still be riding it today unless someone blew the whistle.

Oddly, that person wasn't Selig. It was Jose Canseco, one of the sports biggest users.

I seem to recall his book on the issue was a best seller (there's your counterpoint the next time someone tells you fans don't care).

Other sporting organizations, like the Olympics and the NFL, have had steroid policies and punishments for more than 20 years.

Baseball's had one since 2004.

Selig's only defense is money. In fairness to his supporters, it isn't the worst defense in the world.

Baseball's very profitable now, but it sold its soul to get there.

People try to find villains. The fans, the media, the players, the owners have all been mentioned.

Is what has happened to baseball's integrity all Selig's fault? No. But he's been more than willing to cash $17.5 million checks while sitting at the top of the sport's mountain.

Fair or not, he has to be held accountable.

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