MILWAUKEE – Maybe this is all part of an elaborate plan to keep Bud Selig's true intentions secret. And if so, congratulations are due, because he's plenty better at it than J.K. Rowling's publisher.
Perhaps the idea is to string along baseball's fandom for drama's sake, which makes sense, seeing as Barry Bonds' quest for his 755th home run lost its compelling steam, oh, five or six needles ago. The NFL has Michael Vick and his dogs. The NBA has its dirty referee and his mob friends. Major League Baseball, then, might as well up the ante from Barry and his pharmacologist with an injection, so to speak, of the commissioner.
Selig continued his steroid samba Friday night at Miller Park, sashaying around a definitive answer of whether he would continue to follow Bonds around as he pursues Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. He spoke a lot, answering almost eight minutes' worth of questions. He didn't say a lot, never uttering Bonds' name and not seeming to realize that his response to the will-he-or-won't-he-be-there question – he'll decide "at the appropriate time" – kind of doesn't work anymore, because Bonds is at 753, and now is the appropriate time.
Sooner or later, Selig knew, this day would arrive. His worst fear: Aaron, his close friend, losing baseball's most hallowed record to the face of his sport's performance-enhancing drug use. There would be no middle ground. He would go or he wouldn't. He would follow Bonds at the risk of ruining his friendship with Aaron and further legitimizing Bonds' accomplishment, or he would skip it at the risk of looking like a hypocrite.
Your classic win-win situation, of course.
Everything Selig didn't say Friday night pounded home that he would opt for the former and stay as far away from Bonds as Aaron will. He trotted out copious excuses for his presence: the weather, the proximity of his office, the pennant race (in mid-July) and the history, what with July 20 the day of Aaron's last home run, which landed in what's now a Miller Park parking lot.
"I'm not passing judgment, nor should I," Selig said after a series of questions about the veracity of Bonds' record, offering up an all-time great non-denial denial.
No, he wouldn't pass judgment on history, either, and that might have been the most telling thing Selig said. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn demanded Aaron play on the road as he approached Babe Ruth's record, then did not attend Aaron's record-breaking 715th – decisions that didn't create nearly the fervor then that the ambiguity of Selig's decision has now.
"Listen," Selig said, "Ford Frick wasn't there in '61 when Roger Maris hit the (61st) home run, and purposely wasn't there, which I find interesting. Bowie made a judgment. I happen to remember it well, because Bowie and I talked about it."
So there is precedent, and that could be enough for Selig to skate in the minds of some. But then there is the overarching fact: He is the commissioner, and thus he is wedded to the game. In good times and in bad. In sickness and in health. In the Cream and in the Clear.
He doesn't have to speak with Bonds – Selig said he couldn't remember the last time he had done so – and he doesn't have to clap when Bonds reaches and usurps Aaron. No matter what, he does have to acknowledge something has happened, toward which he took a step Friday, be it baby or otherwise.
"I know what I feel," he said. "I know what I think. I'm here and I think it's the right thing to do."
It might just be the right thing Friday, Saturday and Sunday because Selig lives here and to skip out would look nefarious. Yes, this seems an elaborate plan, all right, to straddle the fence for as long as possible, knowing from the get-go what he wanted to do and playing partisan so as to keep the peace – and preserve the storyline.
The first game of the series proved nothing special. Bonds grounded out in his first at-bat, walked in his second, popped up in his third and stared at a 98-mph Derrick Turnbow fastball to end his evening, replaced by rookie Fred Lewis in the bottom of the eighth. Off to the showers he went, his postgame comments limited to a gaze that would have made Medusa proud.
By then, Selig was long gone from his luxury suite, glad to have survived another night in limbo, wielding one of his many nuggets of wisdom: "I learned long ago, and I've done this for a long, long time, that I have to do what I think is right."
His secret was safe for at least one more day.
- Bud Selig