• By: OLM Staff

Steroid Shame Falls on Selig

There are several kinds of disappointment in sports, ranging from the collective failure of an entire team (say, this year’s Toronto Blue Jays) to the personal shortcomings of a team’s individual players (say, this year’s Toronto Blue Jays). Baseball’s most pervasive frustration, however, has managed to develop on the field of play and spiral to the point where it resonates far beyond it.

With MLB’s trade deadline recently passed and teams positioning themselves for the regular season stretch run, performance-enhancing drugs continue to cast a pall over any on-field exploits, resuscitating the great steroid debate that nearly torpedoed the game in the mid-2000s. Just as BALCO ignited baseball’s original doping scandal, Florida’s Biogenesis clinic has cast several current players under scrutiny, spurring reports that they’d provided PEDs to a notable subset of major leaguers.

No less than nine suspensions are expected to be announced over the long weekend, with New York Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez and a slew of presently nameless offenders currently embroiled in settlement talks with MLB. Last month, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun was dinged 65 games, or the rest of the 2013 season, mostly due to his association with Biogenesis in previous years.

Alex Rodriguez could face a lifetime ban from MLB.
Alex Rodriguez could face a lifetime ban from MLB.

It seems as if Braun, Rodriguez and other yet-to-be-named transgressors are being castigated and punished by Selig less for juicing their bodies and abilities, and more for violating their sport’s perceived sanctity – a sanctity abused and debilitated under the commissioner not-so-watchful eye in last decade’s round of steroid revelations. Selig’s suddenly become the crusty father figure, sending his players away for 50-game timeouts for embarrassing him, shaming him, disappointing him.

Of course, Rodriguez’s ban will far exceed 50 games; he could potentially join Pete Rose and the 1919 Chicago Black Sox in the pantheon of disgraced players confined to the sideline for life. This’ll only happen if A-Rod blatantly refuses to accept a slimmer suspension, which reinforces Selig’s faux-tough-guy posturing. After allowing steroid use to run rampant for more than a decade of tainted seasons, only now is he taking a firm stance. He’s harping on the most tangential of connections to condemn a new generation of stars and claim that MLB was always this serious about cracking down.

The problem with Selig’s approach? They weren’t always serious, if ever. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were all linked to PEDs throughout their superlative baseball careers, yet never faced official reprimand from the league itself. Their punishment was limited to the court of public opinion and withering tut-tuts from scorned baseball writers – largely, the same writers that elevated the sluggers to deity status at the height of their powers.

Barry Bonds currently holds baseball's all-time record for career home runs.
Barry Bonds currently holds baseball’s all-time record for career home runs.

Selig, for his part, petulantly stayed away from the ballpark during Bonds’ record home run chase in August 2007, expressing baseball’s disappointment but simultaneously failing to enforce it. Now, he’s taking it out on MLB’s current miscreants – players that have erred or purposely wronged the game, but to nowhere near the same extent of their predecessors. Braun and Bonds will be subject to the same post-career criticism, but only one will actually feel the brunt during their playing days.

The reverberations of MLB’s ceaseless steroid saga are poignant across the board, from Coral Gables to Milwaukee to New York – but they’ll be felt most significantly at Cooperstown, site of a baseball Hall of Fame that’s atrophied to the point where not a single living player was elected this year. That’s the consequence and the legacy of the Steroid Era, driven by the power of Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Braun and Rodriguez – all celebrated, loudly and temporarily, and all shafted later on, loudly and permanently.

The first part of the Hall of Fame’s six-word motto reads, “Preserving History” –except, the implication goes, that disappointing period of history that MLB is suddenly so willful to extend. Such is life, apparently, under Bud Selig.