New Hall of Famer Tony La Russa appeared on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" on Monday morning and addressed issues from the new sliding rules, to testing for performance-enhancing drugs, to a hypothetical future as president of the Seattle Mariners. All are hot (or least warm) topics, but the PED stuff has been on the front burner with the Alex Rodriguez suspension news.
Here's part of what La Russa told hosts Matt Vasgersian and Harold Reynolds about why PED testing in the majors has come so far in the past 10 years — because the players' union wants it:
They know their priorities but, for a long time, protecting their players' right of privacy in collective bargaining issues, you know, they were an obstacle to getting this thing in the right direction when it first started. Now it looks like everything's coming together.
La Russa isn't wrong about the MLBPA. Former executive director Marvin Miller would have bristled, and subsequent leader Don Fehr had a history of bristling, at the suggestion MLB should test for PEDs. The union has since acquiesced, seen the light, changed its mind. Enough players want PED testing that the league does it.
It's just a strange thing for La Russa say while omitting another part of history: La Russa has managed (at least) two of the most notorious PED users of the past 30 years.
As manager of the Oakland Athletics in the 1980s, and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1990s, it was La Russa's fault, partially, that Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire took PEDs with impunity. La Russa made the problem worse by not cooperating with reporters investigating (using the word loosely) PEDs at the time. Why? To protect the privacy of his own players. To protect his own clubhouse from bad attention. To make his own life easier.
A manager of any team bears some responsibility for his players actions. It would be one thing for La Russa to say that about the union and add something like, "A lot of us looked the other way." He didn't do that, and he hasn't done that, possibly because he thinks he did nothing wrong. But if MLB really has had a PED problem like La Russa says, he shouldn't act like he wasn't there, too. He ignored it. Or covered it up. Implicitly encouraged it. Let it happen.
Even in 2005, when Canseco's book came out, La Russa defended McGwire. His defense rang hollow then, but now that McGwire has admitted he used, La Russa looks even shadier on the PED subject.
Of course, he's trying to become a team's president right now. Maybe the Mariners president. He deserves a shot, and it's not a great time to be taking metaphorical bullets in a PED scandal.
La Russa retired from managing after the 2011 season and has been a special assistant for Major League Baseball since 2012. As his selection for the Hall of Fame shows, La Russa was a special manager — obviously one of the best. But if the likes of Canseco, McGwire, Barry Bonds and Rodriguez are made to wear a scarlet PED, then others who aided them should also.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the MLB Network show as "Hot Corner." Of course, that's third base!]
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