Vincent connects on steroids while Selig whiffs

March 11, 2006|By JOHN EISENBERG

Bud Selig said he would rather have root-canal surgery than deal with the controversy stirred by Game of Shadows, the new book about Barry Bonds reportedly using steroids.

Fay Vincent said there should be an investigation into allegations that Bonds used steroids for years.

And you wonder why baseball has image problems?

While Selig, the current commissioner, looks for the nearest plot of sand to bury his head in, Vincent, the former commissioner, sounds a note of clarity.

It's a shame Vincent isn't still in charge. He understands it's long past time to confront an issue that amounts to an assault on baseball's soul.

Maybe Selig could invoke the "best interest of baseball" clause and name Vincent czar of steroid abuse. Vincent has railed about the subject for years, lamenting his failure to step in when he still had the power to effect change. Vincent gets it on this. Selig apparently just wants to get laughing gas and sleep through the ordeal.

But he can't, of course. I hate to break it to the commissioner and his dentist, but as the game's current leader and primary caretaker, he has no choice now but to be proactive and aggressive in dealing with Bonds.

Baseball's steroids era is over. We're into cleanup mode now, and Selig, of all people, should act accordingly.

Rep. Henry Waxman of the House Government Reform Committee, the group that pressured baseball into toughening its steroid testing program last year, has already called on the commissioner to conduct a "responsible and comprehensive investigation" into Bonds. Vincent said the probe should be led by someone with broad shoulders, such as former Sen. George Mitchell, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo or lawyer John Dowd, who investigated Pete Rose's gambling habit.

"One of the first things to do is talk to Bonds. Will he cooperate? If he doesn't, I think that leads to disaster for Bonds," Vincent told the Associated Press.

Amen to it all. Enough of being afraid of Mr. 703 (and counting). If there is an investigation that does, in fact, determine wrongdoing occurred, there should be sanctions, such as a suspension, or some punishment demonstrating the sport's intolerance of systematic cheating.

Please understand: Despite what most people think, steroids were, in fact, banned from baseball as early as 1991, when Vincent, as commissioner, circulated a document titled "Baseball's Drug Policy and Prevention Program," detailing the prohibition of "all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids." ESPN The Magazine has reported on the little-known policy's existence, and also reported that Selig sent out a similar memo in 1997.

The policy was irrelevant because the commissioner's office and team front offices took a see-no-evil approach to steroids, and the players' union refused to submit to a testing program. But that didn't mean steroids were legal. They were against rules established by two different commissioners.

No, Bonds wasn't the only one allegedly flouting those rules. There's no telling how many players used illegal performance-enhancing substances to better themselves and their games. That's one reason Bonds' supporters say he shouldn't be singled out. What about the others?

But this isn't about the others. Nor is it about the similarly thorny issues of what to do with Bonds' statistical accomplishments, or whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Those are questions for another day, and we'll get to them.

But right now, this is simply about what a sport's appropriate response should be to a detailed, sober-minded report that suggests its greatest modern player abused banned substances - a bombshell development that demands action.

The easy response would be to do nothing - go to the dentist. You get the feeling Selig would love to do that, despite his professed concern for ridding baseball of steroids. Taking on Bonds could lead to trouble with the players union, complaints from Bonds' team, the San Francisco Giants (who stand to make a lot of money off Bonds this year) and maybe even a lawsuit from Bonds himself.

But Selig can't afford to ignore the problem or dismiss Game of Shadows as a shallow endeavor. Enough with people having their heads in the sand. It's important to achieve as much of what Vincent calls "sunlight" on the issue, meaning furthering the story and gathering information grounded in fact, not rumor.

This is a no-brainer. You investigate the allegation, regardless of possible fallout.

Baseball has a problem in the first place - with Bonds as well as steroids in general - because Selig, the team owners and everyone in the game, including the media, averted their eyes for far too long. The lesson is that you have to act, respond, take chances.

The one thing you can't do is, well, nothing.

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