Unindicted Co-Conspirator

The Jason Giambi comments have gotten a lot of attention. Here’s the account of his comments to USA Today last Wednesday:

“I was wrong for doing that stuff,” Giambi told USA TODAY on Wednesday before playing the Chicago White Sox. “What we should have done a long time ago was stand up — players, ownership, everybody — and said: ‘We made a mistake.’

“We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. … Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it.”

While much attention has revolved around the Yankees’ potential interest in voiding the remainder of his contract (which now only has a year and a half left), Giambi’s comments about the game are noteworthy: baseball had a widespread problem and everyone, including upper management and the commissioner’s office, knew it.

One of the striking facts about the steroids story is the degree to which anger over the abuse of performance enhancing drugs in baseball has focused on one individual: Barry Bonds. He’s not the only person to be attacked for undermining the game’s credibility by presumably using PEDs. Mark McGwire got snubbed in Hall of Fame balloting this off-season because of a backlash against his alleged use and Rafael Palmeiro failed test in the summer of 2005 summarily ended his career. It’s just that Bonds, for a variety of reasons – racial realities, his own personality, and the fact that he’s closing in on the most hallowed individual record in sports – is the most common targert. And, the focus on Bonds has engendered much discussion about whether Commissioner selig will even be in attendance to ordain Bonds’ record-breaking moment, as the Giants’ slugger closes in on Np. 756. A corollary to the unjustifiedly narrow focus on Bonds for the sins of the past decade (or more) is  how the commissioner has gotten off scot-free, as if he has been an innocent bystander to the steroid era. Joe Sheehan, of Baseball Prospectus, is all over this point:

Fourteen months ago, Commissioner Bud Selig drafted George Mitchell to investigate the use of PEDs in baseball during the pre-testing era. I said at the time, and I believe now, that the Mitchell Commission is a cynical exercise in public relations, designed to turn up no surprises. What I didn’t see coming was how the Commission would be used to focus blame for the era exclusively on uniformed personnel. Every time the Commission makes the news, it’s in some way reflecting badly on the players: they won’t talk, they won’t give up medical records, they won’t cooperate. If the Commission isn’t going to make any new findings along the way, it will certainly make sure to establish in the public eye who the villains are.

To which I say, “enough.” The Mitchell Commission isn’t going to—and isn’t designed to—make any discoveries about the nominal Steroid Era. It has neither the authority nor the gravitas to do any real work. It exists merely in the hopes that it will provide a veneer of credibility to official disdain and/or condemnation of the media-approved bad guys of the timeframe.

Sheehan also notes the commissioner’s dodge – that he was a stalwart campaigner of steroid use before he was unaware of it:

However, I think of it as the Colonel Jessup problem. Bud Selig has stated that he had never heard of a steroid problem in baseball before 1998. However, elsewhere he claims that management tried to negotiate a PED policy with the MLBPA as far back as 1994.

Why the two arguments, Mr. Selig? If you’d never heard of a steroid problem until 1998, then why argue that MLB—which you were the de facto head of in 1994—wanted a drug-testing policy in 1994? There’s a dissonance here, and investigating that dissonance should be as much a part of the Mitchell Commission’s mandate as digging through Barry Bonds’ medical file is.

When major scandals erupt on a leader’s watch, typically that leader pays a price – whether Nixon being forced to resign in the wake of Watergate, or President Bush experiencing historically low approval ratings for the profound failures of his administration. If the steroids era painted a black mark on the game of baseball, why is the man in charge of baseball not responsible for that, at least in some measure? In addition to the self-contradictory excuses Sheehan notes above, we’ve also heard for years that the players’ union is responsible for the delayed implementation of drug-testing by MLB. But, while the union’s foot-dragging on the issue is part of the story, the fact is that Selig had no hesitation in waging a ceaseless campaign of disinformation about the baseball’s finances and the union’s intransigence on salary cap and other issues in the years prior to the 2002 collective bargaining agreement. So, if steroids undermine the very credibility of the game, and Selig is such a great fan of the game and its hallowed traditions, why didn’t Selig harp constantly on the scourge that was afflicting baseball during the same period – the several years leading up to and including 2002?  There is no plausible way to argue that the reason he did not talk constantly about steroids was his fear of the union’s reaction. One can conclude, instead, that Selig cared far less about lifting a finger to deal with steroids than he did to make sure that his already incredibly wealthy owners (including his daughter), should become even wealthier.

If Barry Bonds is a villain who has sullied the game, what does that make Selig? How about: unindicted co-conspirator?

Sports media should spendless time  debating whether Selig should be in attendance when Bonds hits the record-breaker, and start debating whether he should resign for having presided over the longest running scandal in the sport’s history.

4 Responses to “Unindicted Co-Conspirator”

  1. Originally, I thought the steroid debacle in baseball would require a “truth and reconciliation” type commission to air all the dirty laundry, get all the skeletons out of the closet, and… (sorry, I couldn’t think of another metaphor).

    but now I think they are just going to let the scandal die down.

    As long as there aren’t aren’t any monster physical transformation from skinny kid to beast like McGwire and Bonds, people will assume the problem has died down.

    Now, folks who use steroids are smart enough to start them before they get to the big stage, making their size seem natural. With relatively short usage cycles combined with predictable drug testing times for savvy cheats, chemical supplements are here to stay.

  2. you know this just typlifies the larger “war” on drugs; go after pushers and small-time trafficers, but leave the cartels alone. jails are full of young men and women (most of whom are black and hispanic) that don’t own poppy fields, don’t grow coca trees, and don’t have giant, irrigated plantations. we ignore the root and continue to prune the tree. does anyone honestly think snubbing mcgwire, ignoring and marginalizing bonds and making a punchline out of palmerio is going to stem usage of PED’s in MLB? no, as giambi’s failed test last year and the four suspensions that have already occured this year attest. so long as selig and the rest of the MLB owners cabal continue to only pay lip service to the problem, it will continue to exist. i suspect that they, as much as any player, are trembling in anticipation of the Radomski revelations. these owners, especially selig cannot be allowed to play pontius pilate any longer.

  3. [...] before the player’s union.  I have criticized this line of defense before, so I will quote myself here: But, while the union’s foot-dragging on the issue is part of the story, the fact is that [...]

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