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How To Fix The Baseball Steroid Mess

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Rather than yet another post with the non-news that's trickling out of Cubs camp so far (hopefully, we'll get more once actual games start on Wednesday), I thought I'd weigh in with some thoughts on how the sport might actually begin to not only clean up the steroid mess, but make sure it doesn't happen again.

When have you ever seen
Bud Selig smile before?

Over the weekend, I came across several online articles that not only summarize the history of the problem succinctly, but place blame where it's needed -- not that blame is going to solve anything -- and suggest ways in which things might be cleaned up.

Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley (who used to write for the Sun-Times) posted this thoughtful column in which he writes that Bud Selig must take responsibility for what's happened on his watch, and quotes Selig:

"The idea that I said this wasn't my fault is nonsense," Selig said. "I'm the commissioner, and I accept everything that's happened. But every decade and every commissioner has had to face problems that affected the record book.

"We've had amphetamines, a very serious problem; we had cocaine issues in the '80s, and I know that from running my own club in Milwaukee; we've had the Pittsburgh drug trial, and we had four players go to jail. All of that, and they still couldn't get a drug test in baseball back then. Think about that."

Selig makes compelling arguments. He details how there are quotes from him regarding steroids dating to a 1995 story in the Los Angeles Times, well before the time Selig claims to have had an epiphany.

But here's the problem. He's the commissioner of Major League Baseball, a sport that has desecrated its holy grail (the record book), a sport in which many of the bigger stars (Bonds, Rodriguez, Sosa, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi), have been exposed as cheaters. A couple of them might end up in jail.

Regardless of when Selig saw the light, this all happened on his watch. And that's why he made $18.3 million last year. While his owners/employers enjoy their new revenue streams and their glorious digital future, Selig must wear the flak jacket and take the arrows, from here to eternity.

That's the bottom line, I think. Selig claims he knew about this years or even decades ago, but his comments and Bickley's column indicate that he (and the rest of ownership) turned a blind eye because all the home runs were bringing people back to the game after the disastrous work stoppage of 1994-95. As I have written before, Selig's commissionership (I started to type "leadership", but that's not quite right, is it?) has made baseball's owners billions of dollars. (And not coincidentally, it has made the players multiple millions of dollars too, so they may be equally culpable. More on this later.) So, they have a vested interest in keeping things status quo, right?

Right, but it's not quite that simple. Biz of Baseball columnist Jordan Kobrits suggests some solutions, and they won't be pretty and they won't be easy to implement:

But if Selig wants to be known as something other than the steroids commissioner, he needs to focus on the future, rather than the past. It’s not too late, but he must act quickly, decisively and forcefully. If I were advising Selig, here’s what I would tell him to do.

Selig should hold a closed door meeting with the players on every team during spring training. The union conducts such meetings every spring and there’s no reason why Selig can’t do likewise.

In those meetings, Selig should tell the players that he believes that the overwhelming majority of them are clean, and yet a skeptical public suspects all of them are cheating because of the actions of a few. As commissioner, he intends to invoke the "best interests of baseball" clause in the Baseball Agreement and order unannounced, year-round drug testing to begin, say, 90 days after the beginning of the season.

He should further tell the players that the testing program will be conducted by an independent agency selected by them. The players are the ones being tested, and they should decide who they can entrust with their reputations. All players who test positive the first time will be suspended for the equivalent of one full season and will also forfeit their salary and benefits during the period of suspension. A second failure will result in permanent disbarment from the game.

Of course, the union will scream. But the union, led by executive director Donald Fehr and his sleazy sidekick, Gene Orza, long ago forfeited the high ground on the steroid issue. If a majority of players are clean, and I think they are, they should be allowed to tell the union what they want, rather than the other way around.

(Emphasis added by me in the last paragraph, and I happen to agree with the author's proposed penalties.)

To me, Fehr and Orza are just as culpable as Selig. Hiding behind legalities, technicalities and the cries of "violating privacy", they've protected the bad boys of baseball for too long. It's time for these two to step up, and as Kobritz wrote, take the cue from the leaders among MLBPA members, rather than simply dictate policy and have players follow in lockstep. I'm a member of a union myself (for those of you who don't know, I am a Directors Guild of America member and have been elected to serve on both local and regional councils) and to me, the best leaders of unions take direction from the members and lead in the way the members want to go, not the other way around.

Fehr and Orza have to wake up and see that the public -- the people who are responsible for ponying up the money that pays for their multimillionaire members' contracts, whether it be by ticket prices, souvenir purchases, or by buying the products of the advertisers who wind up financing the billion-dollar TV contracts -- isn't going to put up with MLBPA members cheating, then lying about it, all in the name of "I didn't think I could live up to my contract", or jealousy, or whatever other reasons, stated or not, for doing PED's.

Athletes getting an edge on other athletes? That's a time-honored way of competing, and I don't have an issue with it -- just be above-board about it and don't break the rules. (This doesn't mean I'm in favor of everyone doing PED's, either.) Let's level the playing field and bring professional sports to a fair competition level. Watching part of the Sandberg game yesterday on the MLB Network, I was struck by how much smaller the baseball players of 25 years ago looked than those of today do. Part of that may be better nutrition and better workouts.

But part of it isn't, and that's the part Selig, Fehr and Orza have to deal with. When the labor agreement of 2002 was finally signed, the union and management acknowledged that an adversary relationship in labor relations was hurting the game, and that working together was for the benefit of everyone -- and it did so, making untold billions of dollars for all involved in baseball over the last six years.

That can be true for the steroid issue as well. Get it done, so we can start talking about baseball again, instead of this.

Finally, if you were or are wondering about whether A-Rod was telling the truth of not during his press conference, here's an interesting take from a Ph.D. who is, according to the article, a "recognized authority on the role of emotions and body language through his extensive experience with Fortune 500 Companies".