Thank goodness for Bud Selig.
In a week in which NBA commissioner David Stern has earned criticism for the iron-fisted, nuance-free management style that resulted in two key players being suspended from a key playoff game for essentially jaywalking, Selig has risen to the occasion, rallying to remind us what a first-class boob in charge of a major American sport really looks like.
Selig stepped up to the microphones in Boston Thursday after a two-day owners meeting with two issues dwarfing all others for his office: The ongoing steroids issue and how baseball generally and Selig specifically will respond to the impending moment when Barry Bonds will tie and then pass Henry Aaron's career home run record.
And Selig made it clear he would discuss any issue except two: The ongoing steroids issue and how baseball generally and Selig specifically will respond to the impending moment when Barry Bonds will tie and then pass Henry Aaron's career home run record.
Asked for the eleventy billionth time whether he plans to be at the ballpark when Bonds hits his 756th career homer, breaking Aaron's 33-year-old record of 755, one of the sport's most honored marks, Selig said, "I don't have any different thoughts than I have had the last month or so" and "I'll make up my mind at some appropriate time, and nothing has changed" and "I'm really not going to comment on it anymore."
Any more than what? He has been avoiding this question for years. And when would the appropriate time be? Assuming Bonds stays healthy, he could break the record any time after about mid-June. He's halfway to the 22 he needed at the start of the year to break the record, though he's without a home run in his last seven games, his longest such drought of the season.
"I understand everyone wants to know where I'm going to be and where Hank Aaron is going to be, but we will just let that go until I finally make a decision," Selig said.
We'll be over here holding our breath, Bud. The only decisions Selig makes quickly are the ones about money. Anything that raises revenue today, no matter the cost to tomorrow or anything else, Selig says yes. Everything else, we wait. If it were up to Selig, he'd still have a few more years to decide what to do about the Montreal Expos, never mind how to handle the 12th inning of the 2002 All-Star Game.
And the crazy thing is that this should be an easy decision for Selig: Go to the game.
When Bonds gets to home run No. 753 or so, you get on the plane, go to wherever the San Francisco Giants are, and plant yourself in the front row for every game until he hits No. 756. Then you congratulate him, shake his hand and head for the exit.
You don't have to give a speech extolling his virtues -- which would be a very short speech indeed: "Dude sure can hit!" You don't have to give a speech downplaying the record and saying we really can't be sure what it means because we don't know all the facts, or one that condemns Bonds as a cheater but explains that your hands are tied, there's nothing you can hang on him yet, or one that tries to explain away the roughly two decades when you and the other owners ignored the steroid issue.
All you have to do is stand up in the front row, call Bonds over, shake his hand, say, "Congratulations" and walk up the aisle. You're free to go. You can even go to your own house if Bonds breaks the record in one of the six games the Giants play in Milwaukee between June 18 and July 22. Bonus.
Selig has to go because otherwise he's sending the message that Bonds is hitting illegitimate home runs and setting a new, illegitimate record. Is that baseball's official stance? "Our product is bogus"?
That was stupid then and it would be stupid now.
Of course there are questions about the legitimacy of Bonds' achievement. Chief among them is "What performance-enhancing drugs did he use and when did he use them?" followed closely by "Is he still using them?"
But there are a lot of other important questions, like:
"Did they make him a better hitter?"
"Was he anything like the only hitter using them?"
"How many pitchers were using them too?" and
"Did they make those pitchers better?"
The answers are: Good question, you've got to be joking, probably a lot and good question.
The thing for Selig to do is let history decide just what Bonds setting the record means, and, knowing that, and what a churl Bonds is, and Selig's own history of benign neglect that helped lead to the mushrooming of the steroid culture in baseball in the first place, not make too big a deal of No. 756.
But he can't turn his back on it. If Selig and Major League Baseball want to come out and say that Barry Bonds is a cheater and his achievements are not legitimate, well, let's hear it.
Presumably Selig will be instructing the clubs to refund the ticket price to all fans who have attended a Giants home or road game since 1999, the year Bonds first used steroids, according to the book "Game of Shadows." The home runs will be taken off the records of the pitchers Bonds hit them off of, and the standings will be adjusted to reflect losses for the Giants in all the games won by a Bonds hit.
We're waiting, Bud. Just like always.
Hank Aaron, by the way, can turn his back on Bonds. He has said he won't be there when Bonds breaks his record. If I were Aaron's friend I'd say, Either go to the games and shake Bonds' hand or come out and say you believe Bonds is a cheater, rather than hinting at it by claiming to have a golf date on whatever day Bonds hits No. 756. But Aaron's not the commissioner of baseball. He can stay away just to pout over his record falling for all I care.
Every record comes with mitigating circumstances, a context that could call its legitimacy into question. It might be the quality of the opposition, the helpful or hindering effects of a home park, the run-scoring environment of the era or a hundred other things, including, now, the prevalence of drugs, including steroids but also including the amphetamines that were eaten like candy by ballplayers during the career of Hank Aaron.
For all the Jackie Robinson Days and Negro League Throwback Uniform Days baseball plays host to, it's very rare for anyone around the game to say, "Sure, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, but he never had to face Satchel Paige or Bullet Joe Rogan or Nip Winters, he never had Oscar Charleston race into the gap and turn even one of his 506 doubles into an out." And don't forget how the New York Yankees built a ballpark specifically designed for Ruth to hit home runs in.
Not making a decision is itself a decision. Most of us learn that when we're kids. Selig evidently missed that lesson. We also learn that ignoring something won't make it go away, even if that something is really bad and gives us an icky feeling in our tummy. Selig didn't catch that one either.
So what about the steroid issue itself? What about the single issue that dominates the baseball landscape, the single issue Selig will be most remembered for, if he isn't most remembered for canceling the 1994 World Series?
Selig simply refused to discuss it.
There's the man in charge of your national game, Americans. Hail to the chief.
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