Getting Bud Selig on the telephone is no big trick. The tough part, normally, is getting him off the phone.
But the commissioner was unusually tight-lipped early Tuesday evening. He grunted terse, short answers, ducking questions about Sammy Sosa like a skilled hitter who couldn’t be enticed to chase a breaking pitch off the plate — a category that rarely applied to Sosa.
He said he could not confirm the New York Times report about Sosa testing positive for steroids in 2003, the supposedly anonymous round of testing, but clearly was disappointed that another slugger, another potential Hall of Famer, had joined the long line of the disgraced. He was angry. He wanted to vent. But he would not agree to be interviewed on the record.
This much was clear: He and others at Major League Baseball believe a lawyer with the U.S. Attorney’s office — past or present — ignored a court seal to whisper Sosa’s name to Michael S. Schmidt, the New York Times reporter who broke the story. They see the leaks as unethical and unlawful.
And there’s apparently no end in sight.
Baseball heroes continue to be reduced to zeros as a result of their use of now-banned performance-enhancing substances that were in wide use before 2004, when random testing — complete with suspensions — was implemented as a result of 7.2 percent testing positive in the 2003 survey. You know the names so far.
And now Sosa is on that list.
It’s fair to say he was one of Selig’s favorite players, mostly for how happily he carried himself when he was hitting 292 home runs in a five-year period. Now he’s just as tainted in most people’s eyes as Mark McGwire, whom he traded home runs with throughout a magical 1998 duel.
McGwire essentially took the fifth amendment at a congressional hearing in 2005, the one in which Sosa lawyered up behind an attorney who explained that the often-quoted slugger suddenly wasn’t comfortable speaking English. But getting good legal advice didn’t make Sosa guilty. Nor did McGwire’s disinterest in “talking about the past.”
The difference between Sosa and McGwire, in my mind, was that McGwire’s name had surfaced in a New York Daily News steroid investigation, one that found a federal agent who said McGwire had been a buyer back in the 1990s (when it was the sellers, not the users, who were at risk). But now Sosa takes his place right next to Big Mac. And MLB keeps taking a whipping for a societal issue that claims lives in the NFL and has left the Olympics a highly sanitized cesspool.
Baseball’s steroid scandal is a story it can’t seem to get past — one the sport believes its fans are over. The New York Times’ story follows four months behind one from Sports Illustrated that tied Rodriguez to the 2003 testing, which was done with promises of confidentiality. There were 104 players who tested positive — and 1,334 who did not — but the understanding was there would be no sanctions, with the urine samples destroyed by the testing facilities.
But union chief operating officer Gene Orza did not order the samples destroyed when he first could have, and the U.S. Attorney’s office sought and received an injunction to stop them from being destroyed.