On Feb. 9, New York Yankees superstar third baseman Alex Rodriguez admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his tenure with the Texas Rangers. As one of the most explosive offensive players in baseball and a likely candidate for a first-ballot selection into the National Baseball Hall of Fame upon retirement, the news of Rodriguez’s steroid use struck many baseball fans as an unpardonable betrayal of trust. With Major League Baseball already enmeshed in a campaign to clean up the game and eradicate America’s pastime of steroid use, Rodriguez’s admission threatens to considerably diminish or disenchant more of baseball’s fan base.
Two days after Rodriguez’s ESPN interview, in which he made his admission, Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bud Selig issued a statement directed at the Yankees’ star, asserting that “those who use [performance-enhancing drugs] have shamed the game.” These remarks place the blame for the MLB’s steroid debacle squarely upon the shoulders of the players.
What Selig fails to mention is that baseball’s steroid culture flourished essentially unpunished in the 1990s – at the same time that Selig was establishing himself as commissioner. Selig’s eagerness to assign all the culpability to the offending players themselves without admitting the negligence and oversight failures of his office demonstrates a dishonesty equivalent to that of which he accuses Rodriguez and others.
Selig assumed the role of acting commissioner of baseball in 1992, and has been in the position officially since 1998. Many baseball fans recall the spirited home run race between sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa during the 1998 season: Both men were chasing, and eventually broke, Roger Maris’ 1961 record of 61 home runs. The MLB pounced on the opportunity to publicize a sluggers’ duel and by late August, meaningless games were being televised just in case Sosa or McGwire’s next drive made it to the cheap seats. It was a fan’s dream and the MLB knew it. The glory days of old were back.
The bad news arrived quickly. During the chase itself, McGwire admitted to using the supplement androstenedione.
Before Congress, Sosa and McGwire later danced around straight questions regarding their steroid use. When asked by a congressional panel in 2005 if he had used steroids in 1998, McGwire coyly answered, “I’m not here to talk about the past,” later adding that it was “not for me to determine” if steroid use constituted cheating.
The above news was, and likely continues to be, disheartening to any baseball fan. The idea that some of the sport’s finest athletes cheated gives rise to serious questions about the legitimacy of their achievements.
There is no doubt that those players who chose to take steroids should face consequences for their actions. Unfortunately, Selig and his office have refused to accept any of the responsibility in this matter. In 1998, Selig gave his tacit support of the home run chase, the players involved and the renewed enthusiasm that this friendly competition restored in the hearts of baseball fans throughout the country and the world.
In his later condemnation of the steroid culture, evident in remarks like those directed at Rodriguez earlier this month, Selig can be likened to a fireman with hose in hand idly watching a house burn to the ground, only to later blame the destruction on the inhabitants.
As commissioner of Major League Baseball, Selig is ultimately responsible for the integrity and fairness of the game. Regarding steroids, Selig simply never committed to any significant prohibition or oversight until the momentum of investigative journalism and public opinion demanded that he take action.
At best, Selig had no idea that steroid use was occurring during his tenure. Even this, however, seems nearly impossible for anyone endowed with the faculty of sight and some brain activity. How can anyone explain Brady Anderson’s 50-home run season of 1996 when his second-best total in his career was 24? Is it reasonable to think Barry Bonds naturally hit his power stride in 2001, at the age of 37, when he totaled 73 home runs despite having never topped 50 in any season prior or since?
The apparent answer would be that such statistics were chemically enhanced. If Selig were honestly unaware of steroid use, the professional negligence exhibited by a failure to monitor his league properly would demonstrate a depth of incompetence that is unacceptable for anyone in his position.
At worst, Selig understood the unspoken use of steroids in the MLB throughout his tenure as commissioner in the 1990s and allowed it to continue. In this case, his failure to proactively address the problem would be nothing less than criminal – at least as dirty as any player who ever sought the elixir of youth in a syringe. It’s time sporting fans recognize the failure of Bud Selig and the Office of the Commissioner to address the steroid problem.
There is little doubt that Selig will continue to denounce the shameful decisions of those athletes who voluntarily used steroids. Most shameful here is not the actions of the players, however, but rather Selig’s refusal to take responsibility for his failure to ensure that the ethical and professional standards of the game were upheld. His convenient denial of responsibility in this matter ought to be seen for the morally bankrupt act that it is. Selig, not Sosa, McGwire or Rodriguez, should be remembered as the face of the steroid era.
Jackson Holahan is a senior in the College.
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