baseball world moved quickly to question the legacy of Barry Bonds in the wake
of his portrayal as a serial steroid user in the book Game of Shadows (SI,
March 13), the revelations immediately brought the professional reputation of
another man into sharp focus: Allan H. (Bud) Selig, the commissioner of
baseball and the man who presided over the Steroid Era. Because of Shadows,
Selig must finally deal with Bonds. For all the good Selig has sowed--the wild
card, interleague play, revenue sharing, the first labor deal without a work
stoppage, the growth of advanced media such as MLB.TV and the cool
straight-out-of-the-box World Baseball Classic (page 109)--his term will be
defined by what he does with Bonds, just as Fay Vincent's was by George
Steinbrenner, Bart Giamatti's was by Pete Rose, and Judge Landis's was by the
Selig chafes at
the criticism that he and his fellow owners were steroid enablers, prodded to
activism only by external forces such as the SI special report steroids in
baseball (June 3, 2002), the '03 raid of BALCO and the '05 congressional
hearings. Shadows is Selig's latest wake-up call--and the chance for someone
who as recently as last month claimed there was nothing to investigate to prove
he has the backbone to make the difficult calls. For a commissioner who leads
by consensus, the need for such conviction does not play to his strength.
Indeed, Selig's first public response to the Bonds bombshell fell flat. He
cracked jokes like a bad lounge act during a news conference last week, showing
none of his trademark anguish and not once admitting honest concern. He could
not bring himself to spit out the word investigation and barely managed to
cough up review. Even by Selig standards, the obliqueness in the face of a
crisis was uninspiring.
Those close to
Selig, however, say he is deeply troubled by the revelations, especially given
his meeting with Bonds in 2004 in which he warned the slugger of dire
consequences if his denials were insincere. Well, we will find out. Selig said
he will vet the information and sources in Shadows. At some point Selig must
address the findings; he either acts decisively or risks being forever regarded
as soft on steroids.
It seems highly
unlikely that Selig would not conclude what any other reasonable reader of
Shadows would: that it is built on a solid basis of truth. The book is
extensively sourced and annotated. The response from Bonds's lawyer, Michael
Rains, neither challenged the facts nor contained a denial. Instead he
questioned the motives of the authors and their sources and called the book
"an unfortunate distraction," a semantic tap dance that outdoes
"wardrobe malfunction" in absurdity. (True to form, fellow players have
reacted largely with the same blue-wall-of-silence mentality that allowed the
Steroid Era to fester in the first place. The Cubs' Derrek Lee nearly tore his
ACL with this knee-jerk reaction: "He hasn't been caught, so leave it
alone. I don't think it's a story." Thank you, Mr. Murrow.)
seems to have more to worry about than just Selig. Prosecutors could still
pursue perjury charges against him, and the IRS could investigate alleged cash
payments to his mistress, Kimberly Bell. And one source close to the
congressional committee that grilled Mark McGwire and others last spring
refuses to rule out new hearings if Selig doesn't adequately deal with Bonds.
As for the hobbling slugger--he rests on a folding chair between rounds of
batting practice--he refuses to acknowledge the book and clowns for the crew
filming Bonds on Bonds, a weekly "documentary" to air on ESPN beginning
after the commissioner reviews the evidence is what defines Selig's conviction.
He could suspend Bonds--a possibility, according to those close to
Selig--knowing the issue could wind up being decided by arbitrator Shyam Das.
That would put the players' association in the position of defending a steroid
cheat who dropped out of their licensing program. Bonds, the union would argue,
could not be subject to penalties for steroid use before 2003 because no
penalties existed, and he could not be subject to any since then without a
positive drug test. Selig, however, would be suspending Bonds not for a
violation of the drug policy but for conduct detrimental to baseball. Whether
Das would uphold the suspension is almost incidental to Selig's establishing an
official condemnation of Bonds, tantamount to an asterisk next to his home run
Selig knows what
is at stake: the integrity of the game, especially when fans already have
access to an extensive catalog of performance-enhancing drug use by a
player--one who happens to be challenging the game's most hallowed record.
Selig told associates last week, "I must and I will do what's right."
Bonds's problem is now Selig's problem. The reckoning is here.
? Get a fresh
version of Scorecard every weekday online at SI.com/scorecard.