By Mike Steffanos
Sure, Bud Selig's official title is the Commissioner of Baseball, but his only real concern nowadays seems to be doing creative rewriting of baseball's history in regards to steroids in the hopes of removing the stain from his own legacy.
Frankly, he has as much chance of doing that as Jose Lima has to reach 300 major league wins. Still, hope springs eternal and the self-absorbed Bud keeps pressing on:
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig again defended his role in the sport's steroids scandal Friday, pointing to the players' union opposition to drug testing and a lack of curiosity by the media as the problem started to grow.
On a visit to Camelback Ranch, the new spring training home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, Selig said the testing program adopted in the labor agreement of 2002 was "weak." But he said baseball was just recovering from the 1994 strike and could not afford another work stoppage.
"What I could do unilaterally, I did almost immediately," Selig said, pointing to a minor league testing program started in 2001.
Fewer than 1 percent of minor leaguers now test positive for banned drugs, down from 9.1 percent in 2001, he said.
"The players' association was fighting us at every turn. There's no question about it," Selig said.
Selig also noted that baseball has banned amphetamines.
"All I could do at the end of the last decade and the beginning of this century is to clean the sport up. And so I've done that," Selig said.
The problem, of course, is despite Selig's almost comic repeated attempts to absolve himself of all blame, the problem of steroids was getting a lot of attention long before 2002.
Also, agreed that baseball was in a precarious position after the 1994 strike, but Selig has as much to do with the underlying causes of that strike as anyone.
Prior to Selig taking over as Acting Commissioner in 1992, the Commissioner of Baseball was, more or less, supposedly independent of ownership. After the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919, one of the Commissioner's main job was policing the game and ensuring that there would be no more black eyes for baseball like that mess.
Neither applies to Selig, of course. As an owner, he was up to his eyes in the free agent collusion that was a huge factor in hardening the player's stance against ownership (which still included Bud Selig at that time), along with the owners' determination to jam a salary cap down the union's throat. Wikipedia does a good job of summarizing:
The dispute was played out with a backdrop of years of hostility and mistrust between the two sides. What arguably stood in the way of a compromise settlement was the absence of an official commissioner ever since the owners forced Fay Vincent to resign in September 1992. Vincent described the situation this way:
"The Union basically doesn't trust the Ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf of that money from the players. I mean, they rigged the signing of free agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the players. And I think that's polluted labor relations in baseball ever since it happened. I think it's the reason Fehr has no trust in Selig."Incidentally, on February 11, 1994, the owners greatly reduced the commissioner's power to act in "the best interests of baseball."
So what you basically had was the ouster of a truly independent commissioner who was replaced by an owner who was one of the architects of baseball's clumsy attempt to hold down the free agent market in the 1980s. Whatever else you can say about the player's union, can you really blame them for an ongoing relationship of complete mistrust with Bud "It's All Their Fault" Selig?
Ownership's heavy handed efforts to have a Commissioner virtually in their pocket and force what they wanted down the player's throats backfired badly. While the strike undoubtedly hurt players, it hurt the game of baseball and its fat cat owners more.
During the strike Selig and company further drove a wedge between players and ownership by unilaterally implementing a salary cap and making the decision to go into the spring of 1995 with replacement players.
Ownership's decision to appoint Selig as permanent commissioner in 1998 ensured that the distrust between the commissioner's office and the union would continue indefinitely.
By 1998 it was clear that something weird was happening in baseball, too. After years with little serious challenge, Roger Maris' record of 61 HR in a season was broken by both Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66) in the same season. The chase after the record rejuvenated baseball, which chose to turn a blind eye to growing rumors that these record-setting ballplayers were chemically enhanced.
The situation started to get silly when McGwire (65) and Sosa (63) topped Maris' record the following season, then Barry Bonds shattered the record again with 73 in 2001. Steroids were the worst kept secret in baseball by then, but they were not officially banned by the game until 2002.
The players who took steroids were individually (and indisputably) responsible for their actions, but they weren't enhancing their performance in a vacuum. The 1994 strike, for which Bud Selig deserves a great deal of blame, weakened baseball to the point that they were desperate for anything that would bring the fans back to the game.
Ongoing mistrust of Selig by the players and their union made the task of cleaning up the game more difficult than it already was. Selig's self-serving efforts to absolve himself of all blame at the expense of practically everyone else in baseball -- except for his beloved owners, of course -- just makes the past stink a little more.
Sadly, Selig has been kept on as Commissioner through 2012, so this ugly situation won't go away any time soon. This is despite the fact that the 1994 strike and ensuing steroids scandal easily caused more enduring damage to the game than the 1919 scandal. A whole generation of statistics and records -- a cherished part of baseball -- have been tainted beyond redemption under his watch. This, my friends, is Bud Selig's true legacy.
Baseball will muddle through the next few years with its selfish and cowardly Commissioner. Perhaps then the owners will wake up and realize the sport would be better served by a Commissioner who gives at least the appearance of being independent of all interests except the fabled "best interests of the game of baseball." Probably not, but we could hope.
In the meantime, the Commissioner's endless attempts to point the finger of blame at everyone else only serves to show why not all successful men and women qualify as great. A great Commissioner would candidly accept his share of the blame and help the sport to move on. In the end, Selig is just a reasonably good business man who is a shameless cheerleader for himself.