I’m going to take a brief break from my postings on foreign policy to talk about baseball. The recent Biogenesis case has given baseball fans an opportunity to engage in a longstanding guilty pleasure: bashing A-Rod. It’s hard not to enjoy it. After all, A-Rod is easy to hate. He has lied about his use of performance enhancing drugs, led a less than admirable personal life, and did this photo shoot. But despite all this, it is not A-Rod who should be the subject of our ire – it’s Bud Selig, the long serving commissioner of baseball.
That A-Rod was involved with Biogenesis and sought to cover up his role through a variety of nefarious behaviors should surprise no one. A-Rod has never had any scruples when it comes to advancing his own interests and his suspension for 211 games is entirely justified. I do not, however, believe he should be banned for life from baseball unlike some journalists and former players. My reason for this is simple: A-Rod is a product of his time. And the era in which he has played is the product of Bud Selig.
It’s amazing the 180 baseball has pulled on performance enhancing drugs in the past decade. It was only 15 years ago that all of baseball and America cheered on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they chased Roger Maris’ long-standing home run record. The spectacle of two steroid-fueled giants crushing home run after home run was so captivating that many credit it with saving the sport after the disastrous 1994 labor dispute. Newspaper after newspaper proclaimed McGwire and Sosa national heroes. Bud Selig, when asked about the impact the chase had on interest in the sport, declared it “huge.” The week McGwire broke Maris’ record, Sports Illustrated released a second issue of their weekly magazine for the first time in its 44 year history. On the cover: Big Mac. The chase was a ratings and publicity bonanza. And its effect was not lost on other players at the time. In fact, a jealous Barry Bonds was inspired to use performance enhancing drugs after witnessing the hero-worship directed toward McGwire and Sosa.
McGwire and Sosa’s magical season was the fulfillment of almost a decade of steroid use (McGwire has admitted to having used steroids since 1989). While MLB knew about McGwire’s and other players’ use of performance enhancing drugs, there was almost zero interest in reigning in the practice; there was simply too much money at stake, a fact which the famous 1998 chase only served to emphasize. That otherworldly year showed just how much the league, players, and advertisers stood to gain from juiced-up stars putting up record numbers. The result was nearly another decade of widespread steroid abuse that enjoyed tacit approval from the league. It wasn’t until the 2006 season, prompted by growing outrage among fans and the media, that the league adopted a truly powerful drug policy (the initial policy, put in place in 2004, was a joke).
For looking the other way when it was obvious to anyone who cared to notice that steroid use was rampant, Selig deserves the blame for the fallout baseball has been experiencing since the drug policy went into effect. Tasked with overseeing the sport and protecting its legacy since his ascent to commissioner in 1992, Selig permitted and fostered an environment that led to rampant steroid use. And for this, I believe he should either resign or be fired. It’s ironic that many people were calling for Selig to ban A-Rod for life using the “integrity of the game” provision contained in Article XI of the league’s collective bargaining agreement when, if you think about it, Selig bears far more responsibility for destroying the integrity of the game over the past decade than any single player has, A-Rod included. That he has so far been unwilling to admit any responsibility for the steroid era is either evidence of his own ignorance or a futile attempt to preserve his legacy. Perhaps Selig hopes that by bringing the hammer down on A-Rod he will be forgiven for his past complacency and remembered as an anti-steroid crusader. But the truth is simple and hard to ignore: for over a decade into his tenure as commissioner, Selig ignored the issue and let it grow into a giant problem.
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Selig had a willing accomplice in the Players Union for many years. But while baseball is governed by the collective bargaining agreement, Selig still came around to the issue of drug testing slowly and only started using his bully pulpit as commissioner until steroid use had already become prevalent. In short, he should have done more and sooner, but didn’t and baseball has paid the price. This is why he, and not A-Rod, deserves to be fired. Bud Selig owns the steroid era like George Bush owns the Iraq War. And to see him cracking down on users while going unpunished himself is just too much hypocrisy to bear. Baseball needs to fire Bud and move on. It’s whats truly in the best interest of the sport.