With the cheers from the Midsummer Classic and Bryce Harper’s “Field of Dreams” reality show with his dad still echoing, let’s look at Bud Selig’s signature contribution to American sport: He has helped create a world where the majority of us don’t believe what we see anymore from our athletic heroes.
The commissioner of Major League Baseball had plenty of help, but no one turned more of a blind eye to the use of performance-enhancing drugs when the neck muscles of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds began to bulge like the Michelin Man’s at the exact time they were obliterating home run records that had stood for three and four decades.
Now that we know there never was a “post-steroid generation” in baseball, Selig is reportedly preparing to level the most punitive suspensions in baseball history on players connected to the Biogenesis scandal. He believes the millions lost by the suspended players — said to be as much as 100 games in some cases — finally will become a major deterrent to others considering injections from shadowy synthetic chemists running “nutritional” clinics.
But if the commissioner really wanted to take a step toward cleaning up his sport, if he wanted to begin to erase a blemish so unsightly during his stewardship that it overpowers all the good he has done, all it takes is changing his mind regarding one executive decision:
Restore Roger Maris and Henry Aaron as the greatest single-season and career home run hitters in the game’s history. Make the rightful owners of the most hallowed records in baseball leapfrog the musclehead frauds who needed shots, pills and special testosterone creams to artificially erase the accomplishments of two men who used only their God-given swings.
Bring the Maris family and Aaron to the World Series this year. Take pictures with them. Have a news conference in which you apologize for making them schlep all over the country in 1998 and 2001 just so they could witness “history.” Make it a public spectacle, and make it about the past because baseball is nothing without its past.
And don’t mention McGwire, Sosa or Bonds. Ever. Because that will hurt those men’s egos more than any monetary damages at this point. Selig reneged on any notion of the idea when asked in 2011 after Bonds’s conviction on obstruction of justice charges in connection with the BALCO case. But with as many as 20 Biogenesis clients facing potential repercussions shortly, he needs to reconsider.
See, the reason many of the swiftest and strongest take so long to come clean about being dirty — from Lance to Big Mac and beyond — is because they can’t stomach letting down their say-it-ain’t-so public. Their legacies are as important or more to them than the millions made from dishonesty; it’s why they risked their health and reputations in the first place and began rationalizing that everyone in their sport used so they would, too.
It’s why Roger Clemens can’t stomach telling the truth about his use of PEDs, because if enough of his enabling loyalists believe he wasn’t a phony, then The Rocket believed it, too, and his place in baseball history isn’t as muddled as everyone else thinks.
Selig needs to understand that tapping into psychological deterrents rather than only players’ wallets will help him clean up his sport — and his figurehead reputation — much faster.
Chris Davis, who says he believes Maris should be the real record holder, has tied the record for the most home runs by an American League player before the all-star break, 37. If Davis had played 25 years ago, he would be a bigger story than Yasiel Puig this summer. But because he plays with people who still put needles in their buttocks and align themselves with sketchy health gurus, he has been subject to suspicions that are both totally unfair and completely understandable.
It’s perception, of course, but chasing Maris sounds and feels a lot more wholesome than chasing Bonds. It feels like the record still matters, that seeing is still believing when it comes to major league sluggers.
Some say record books don’t have space for morality, that numbers are numbers and McGwire’s swings did clear the fence 70 times in 1998 and Bonds muscled many of the 73 balls into McCovey Cove in 2001. But this isn’t morality; these are known facts. McGwire has admitted to his usage, Bonds tested positive in 2003 and there is a treasure trove of data out there to convict him more than any Biogenesis client.
Selig needs to make the marks matter again. Otherwise, it will feel like everything else to curb usage and clean up the sport the past 15 years — including a testing program that is stringent compared to the other major revenue sports — was done more for politically expedient reasons to keep the turnstiles spinning than for the good of the game.
Selig is so concerned with cleaning up his game that he has chosen to suspend players connected with Biogenesis after the All-Star Game, even though three under suspicion were introduced as all-stars Tuesday night, a game in which home-field advantage is decided for the World Series, in which Melky Cabrera was named the MVP a year ago and a month later was suspended for 50 games because his urine sample came up dirty.
Baseball and PEDs in a nutshell: This is the second straight year in which the actions of a juiced player in the middle of July could benefit a pennant-winning team in October, when said player would not even be around to thank.
This is why Bud Selig needs to reinstate Maris and Aaron as the real record holders. By restoring their names, he will begin restoring integrity to the marks and a sport he purports to care so deeply about.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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