Commentary

It still ain't over, Bud

What's standing between Bud Selig and the end of the steroids era? His own inaction

Originally Published: January 14, 2010
By Roy S. Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

"The so-called steroid era -- a reference that is resented by the many players who played in that era and never touched the substances -- is clearly a thing of the past."
-- MLB commissioner Bud Selig, Jan. 10

No, Bud, it's not over. Not yet. Sorry.

Mark McGwire's tearful admission that he, indeed, used steroids during his career was -- despite the stop-the-presses (kids, ask your parents what presses are) treatment it got -- just the latest validation of what we already knew: that an entire era of baseball's storied history is 'roided, stained by the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

[+] EnlargeMark McGwire
UPI bg/Getty ImagesBud Selig presented this trophy to Mark McGwire in 1998 for breaking Roger Maris' home run record. Shouldn't the commissioner ask for it back?

It's certainly not fair to the myriad players who did not use needles or illegal prescriptions to play the game. But let's face it: Almost every significant performance since the late 1980s is besmirched by the specter of steroids.

But it's not over. And it won't be until MLB commissioner Bud Selig does his own confessional. As did McGwire -- and as have numerous players, including Jose Canseco, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez -- Selig must admit to his own, to baseball's, role in the steroids era.

He must flat-out say: Baseball is to blame, too. I am to blame. I'm sorry. (If he cries, though, I'll puke.)

In 1992, Selig, then owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, became baseball's acting commissioner. He assumed the role for real six years later. Thus, he was the "guardian" of the game during its most embarrassing chapter. Yes, the players union is equally complicit, and Selig would no doubt argue that any efforts to clean up the game were vociferously thwarted by union head Donald Fehr and his constituents.

That does not absolve Selig and baseball. How hard did they fight? How privately did they battle? How insistent were they that PEDs be banned from the sport?

Mildly, at best. In the mid-'90s, baseball endured a buzz drought sparked by the '94-95 strike, which forced the loss of more than 900 games and the cancellation of the '94 World Series. After that, America was done with the sport.

Then baseballs started flying skyward like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa happened, and they reignited the nation.

[+] EnlargeBud Selig
AP Photo/Mike GrollThe next stand-up guy in the effort to move baseball past the steroids era should be Selig himself.

Barry Bonds happened and, well, left us speechless.

Roger Clemens happened.

Baseball was back. Selig was king.

Hey, what's that in his locker?

Now we know it was all a charade, maybe even a conspiracy.

Selig's play for baseball's confessional was the 2007 Mitchell report, a 311-page publication that took 20 months to conclude that the use of PEDs had been pervasive for more than a decade. "Everyone involved in baseball shares responsibility," said former Sen. George Mitchell, who led the investigative effort. "Commissioners, club officials, the players association and players. I can't be any clearer than that."

Selig supported the report. Of course, he had no choice but to do so.

"[It] should act as a road map not only for us, but for the people that come after us," he said, though his tone reminded me of a certain line from "Casablanca": I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Since Mitchell, baseball has done little but wait. Wait for player after player to step forward. Or be dragged forward. (See: Clemens.) Now Selig must act. He must not allow the onus to rest only with the players and their own weaknesses, but with baseball's weakness as well.

He must also address what appears to be a major league double standard. Why welcome McGwire back to baseball's family with such open-armed glee when he did not do the same for Pete Rose, who confessed -- almost six years ago to the day -- that he had bet on baseball, an act for which he was banned from the game in 1989?

Sure, McGwire was never banned from the game, while Rose "accepted" a permanent ban. But is McGwire's crime -- serial steroid use -- any less egregious than Rose's wagers? No.

[+] EnlargeRoger Maris
AP PhotoRoger Maris was asterisked back in 1961, and he still isn't being given his due by baseball.

It's time to welcome Pete back, too, Bud.

Most important, Selig must conceive of a clear way to deal with the statistics of the steroids era. Do they all receive an asterisk? It may not be fair to the untainted who played during that time, but it's necessary nonetheless.

Whatever Selig's course, something must be done to recognize the now clear injustice of Roger Maris' being relegated to seventh on the single-season home run list. The three men ahead of him -- Bonds, McGwire and Sosa -- all made their marks during that era, though only one has actually confessed to using PEDs. And something must be done soon. Certainly before Selig leaves the game, reportedly in 2012.

Maris' former single-season record of 61 home runs was once asterisked simply because the '61 regular season was longer than the '27 season, when Babe Ruth, whose record Maris surpassed, played. How childish does that seem now?

As childish as saying it's over when we all know it's not. Not yet.

Roy S. Johnson, a veteran sports journalist and media consultant, is the editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.

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Roy S. Johnson

Contributing writer, ESPN.com