Unearthing more on Bonds wouldn't dig MLB out of hole

The Kickoff

March 13, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- For his next trick, baseball commissioner Bud Selig is going to try to put the steroid genie back in the bottle, and I think that's a big mistake.

Pressure continues to build on Major League Baseball to institute a comprehensive investigation into the sport's damaging steroid scandal and, more specifically, into the allegations that Barry Bonds used several illegal performance-enhancing drugs during his meteoric climb up baseball's all-time home run list.

The issue came front and center again last week when an excerpt from a new book about the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative scandal - Game of Shadows - detailed an extensive pattern of alleged steroid abuse by baseball's most feared power hitter.

The ensuing clamor for an MLB investigation will almost certainly lead to some kind of action by Selig, who wants to go down in history as the anti-steroid commissioner when he isn't trying to go down in history as the father of baseball globalization. I'm guessing he'll commission the steroid equivalent of the Dowd Report that persuaded former commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti to ban Pete Rose from the game for betting on baseball while Rose was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Though it's tempting to think that baseball might be able to cleanse itself of its steroid stain by pulling up the rug and thoroughly exposing the filth beneath the surface of the sport, I think that an investigation to confirm what most of us already think we know would do much more harm than good.

Major League Baseball may have been late to the party when it came to implementing an effective anti-steroid policy, but the current plan - which calls for a 50-game suspension for a first positive steroid test - should be strong enough to discourage a new generation of potential cheaters. The fact that such a plan was approved by the Major League Baseball Players Association is an acknowledgement of the depth of the steroid problem that has sullied the national pastime.

So, what's the point in trying to dig up more dirt at a time when baseball is already buried in bad steroid publicity?

If it's to wallow for a couple more years in the tawdry muck of the steroid era, then bring it on. If it's to somehow prevent Bonds from making an assault on the sacred home run figures of the sport, then I think that Selig and everyone else who has recently gotten religion on the steroid issue will be sadly disappointed in the outcome.

The Dowd investigation was a necessary precursor to action by Giamatti to prevent Rose from working in baseball or becoming eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. Even if an investigation of Bonds produced incontrovertible evidence that he used steroids, it remains problematic what Selig could do about it.

The new steroid policy, which has become part of baseball's collective bargaining agreement, calls for stiff penalties for players who test positive for prohibited performance-enhancing drugs, but it does not allow for any retroactive disciplinary action against players who might be proven to have used steroids before the imposition of baseball's first anti-steroid program.

Theoretically, MLB investigators could come up with videotape of Bonds injecting himself with Winstrol in 2001 and there would be little Selig could do about it since - technically - steroids were not specifically prohibited in baseball at the time.

Of course, even that would presuppose that whoever Selig chose to conduct the inquiry could do a more thorough job than the Justice Department, which spent considerable time and money on the BALCO investigation and did not file any charges against Bonds.

Did Bonds use steroids to build his heavily muscled frame? I think we all have drawn the same conclusion about that. Did he commit perjury when he reportedly told the BALCO grand jury that he used "the clear" and "the cream" but didn't know that they contained any illegal substance? We all think we know the answer to that, too.

The excerpts from the BALCO book certainly crystallized our suspicions about Bonds, but if a lot of the soon-to-be-released Game of Shadows is based on leaked BALCO grand jury testimony and evidence, then why didn't that investigation produce at least a perjury charge?

Don't misunderstand. I'm not buying Bonds' story, but I can't imagine that an MLB investigation - which will not have the power of subpoena that the BALCO investigators possessed - is going to accomplish much more than creating a comprehensive review of everything that already has been uncovered.

In other words, we'll just get to relive the whole mess one more time, and why would anyone want to do that?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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