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Archive for Thursday, December 13, 2007

Commentary: Baseball’s top officials owe apology

December 13, 2007

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No matter what else is embedded in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use that finally slapped down on baseball commissioner Bud Selig's desk on Tuesday for a 48-hour sneak peek, the 21-month-old investigation better - at minimum - prompt some apologies in high places by the time the public gets its first look at the findings today.

Baseball can't just watch George Mitchell name names, or blame small fry team trainers and see-no-evil general managers. He can't just chide the users and strength trainers and clubhouse attendants who had the audacity to have some drug shipments FedExed right to the stadium. He has to trace the blame all the way to the top.

Selig has to do a novel thing - for him - and finally accept responsibility for the charade that unfurled during his reign, and quit lying about what he knew and when he knew it. And union leader Donald Fehr should concede that union leadership badly let down its membership by consistently treating performance-enhancing drug use as some competitive issue or personal choice/personal rights issue rather than a health issue.

Let's deal with Fehr first.

If baseball's union leaders really wanted to do right by their players, they should've taken a cue from every two-bit company in America that offers smoking cessation help or wellness programs for its employees and began framing drug testing as something good for the game and good for their membership's long-term personal health.

As the most powerful union leader in sports, Fehr should've tried to create a level playing field for everyone. Instead the union kept throwing up roadblocks to drug testing that paved the way for the creation of a sort of gladiator class of drug users who gained such a significant advantage from performance-enhancing substances, it created a horrible domino effect within the game.

Other players - even the ones disinclined to cheat - felt pressure to use just to remain competitive or keep their jobs. The oft-overlooked result is a whole generation of players that not only set tainted records. They exposed themselves to potential side effects ranging from heart trouble and profound depression to sexual dysfunction.

The steroid issue is rarely framed that way, of course. It's been reduced to arguments about whether steroids lead to more home runs, and who knew what - and when? Which is where Selig and Mitchell come in.

Will Mitchell - who owes his job as a paid adviser to the Red Sox to Selig - really trace blame all the way to ownership or his benefactor's office, especially when there's no question where Selig stands on the steroid scandal?

Time and again, Selig has absolved himself and ownership of blame. Earlier this year, harking back to the McGwire-Sosa home run chase of 1998, Selig scoffed at his critics, telling the New York Times: "They like to say we turned our backs on it. Turned our backs on what?

"I've interviewed clubhouse guys, reporters, general managers and trainers who all said they were unaware of steroid use back then. So how were we supposed to know? No owner ever fought drug testing. And people think the commissioner is omnipotent, but unfortunately, that isn't true. Everybody knows the union fought it. To put it on ownership or the commissioner's office is revisionist history."

No, it's not. The problem with Selig's version is anyone capable of doing a Google search can easily show he's the one revising history.

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