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Friday, March 18, 2005
MLB's leadership a disgrace

By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com

March 18

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sen. Jim Bunning's testimony had ended Thursday morning, and Angels players were told about the confusion and the loopholes in the drug agreement.

"What loopholes?" asked one veteran Angels player. He was told about the $10,000 fine and the incredible 90-minute grace period if a player were unable to fill his cup.

"What?" asked another player.

"Those weren't in the agreement we voted to ratify a couple of days ago," said the first player.

After batting practice, he went into the locker room, then came back and said there were no loopholes in what they voted on. He was told that MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred told the Mike and Mike radio program the loopholes were, indeed, in there. The player, and several others, were outraged. "We want a serious drug-testing agreement," said another player.

This [drug-testing agreement] is about saving the stars. The union is all about the star player. Bud Selig doesn't want any more stars in trouble. I'll guarantee this is a deal where a star can get a fine and anonymity, and pieces of [----] like me get public suspensions.
A current player

Royals players began their batting practice Thursday morning, and they had the same discussion. "I don't trust either leadership," said one player.

"This is about saving the stars," said another player who is a former player representative. "The union is all about the star player. Bud Selig doesn't want any more stars in trouble. I'll guarantee this is a deal where a star can get a fine and anonymity, and pieces of [----] like me get public suspensions."

That is the way many players say they feel. And should, because they all have to prove their innocence because their representatives refused to concede they are entertainment -- not National Labor Relations Board -- lawyers.

Mark McGwire was the biggest loser Thursday, but in many ways, the players aren't those most to blame. Several weeks ago in Florida, a player who might be the most intelligent man in uniform said, "if I were a four-A player whose game was power and I thought I could make $100 million by taking steroids, who am I to say I wouldn't have done it? There was an entire culture on the periphery, and they were easy to get. There were no warnings in the game against them. They weren't illegal in our workplace. I think the moral outrage directed at some of these individuals is pretty hypocritical."

Union head Donald Fehr and chief operating officer Gene Orza are highly moral, principled men, but they and the Players' Association are to blame. They represent their constituency, and if they did not know about the steroid subculture, they didn't know their players. Orza had been a strong driving force in substance abuse treatment. Well, this mess is far worse than the Pittsburgh drug scandal of the 1980s.

They are to blame, and so is the commissioner's office. Former commissioner Bart Giamatti rightly spent millions investigating Pete Rose. So when Washington Post reporter Thomas Boswell dropped the Jose Canseco steroids bombshell on CBS in 1988 and a Fenway Park crowd that October chanted "steroids," should Fay Vincent have spent the necessary money on private detectives to get a read on the issue? And once steroids were made illegal in 1991 and in the next two years the subject was widely discussed -- like at the 1993 World Series -- where was Bud Selig to investigate?

In many ways, Selig's record as commissioner is unrivaled in his sport. Revenue sharing. Wild card. Record attendance. A complete overhaul of the business.

But he could have investigated the subculture and presented the evidence and prodded the union. Leadership is about more than making money, and to end up with McGwire in Washington shrinking to the level of Patrick Lennon is the result of an utter lack of leadership of the commissioner and the Players' Association. Not to mention the arrogance and incompetence that led to the subpoenas for MLB records and the bungling of the loopholes.

McGwire, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds are not victims; they are very, very, very rich. But they were hardly the only players suspected of using enhancing-performing drugs, part of the subculuture that the leaders never discouraged.

If Selig and Fehr think their performance gets them off the hook, they're wrong. Every day that Bonds runs at Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron, the nation and Congress will be reminded of this issue. In December, 1994, when President Clinton offered up Willam Ussery to mediate baseball's labor dispute, both sides spit on him [one union official called Ussery "senile"] and the Clinton administration.

They'd better not do it again this time. Oh, they will try to throw lobbyist dollars to preserve their anti-trust exemption, but if they keep up the stonewalling, maybe they'll get what they deserve. One of Selig's favorite phrases is "we are where we are."

Well, they are where they are, the game they run is disgraced and its integrity is in question, because of the leadership offered to the players and owners.