How convenient if Bud Selig were responsible for the steroids Alex Rodriguez stuck in his (Alex's, not Bud's, that would be weird) rear end.
Wouldn't this be easy if it were Tom Hicks' fault, him and all his owner buddies? Or, even better, Don Fehr's, because he impeded the commissioner's early – and, granted, not whole-hearted – efforts for a drug-testing program.
Then we could all agree this was about the culture and the greed and the nefarious scheme, and not about the decisions made by – what? – hundreds of players. Thousands?
We could lay it at the tawny wing tips of the wealthy old men who run the game, because they, of course, let this happen. Because they got rich off it. They took your dollars and bloated the players and the game, and now it's such a mess we can't see the purest for the trees.
If only they were so culpable. If only they were so bright.
Now that the steroid era has been reduced to a waiting list of a hundred or so survey test positives from six years ago, and Barry Bonds' joblessness, and the occasional A-Rod thunderbolt, and Jose Canseco's random observations, and Roger Clemens' pathetic legal posturing, and the laboratory battles on the HGH front, many seem to have forgotten where most of the previous conflicts were lost.
As fastball velocities and home run balls decline in unison, and the greenies are swept away, and the game takes a stab at normalcy, already history's note takers are making this a Selig problem, or at best an institutional problem, conveniently ignoring the names and résumés of an entire generation of cheaters and liars and criminals.
Selig wears his share and he'd be well-served to say so, because the time is long past where every conscience connected to the game – baseball side, union side, media side, medical side, management side – should raise his hand. "It's not my fault," plays poorly, even if it's mostly true, because it's not entirely true. And what today needs is a few more leaders, instead of all the usual finger pointers and rear end wall paperers. We've got plenty of those.
But, for the sake of an honest history, let us not forget the grown men whose insecurities and greed and laziness got us here, to the back side of an epidemic of selfish and short-sighted decisions. Hopefully it's the back side.
I'd like to know when we stopped demanding accountability from athletes, from people, because they wear a uniform and maybe can still hit a little. When the climate – and a perceived nod from the boss – became a standing order to ram a vial of Deca into one's posterior. How, unlike so much that has been written and ranted lately, these hundreds and hundreds of individual decisions to cheat the game morphed into a single man's failure.
No way was Jason Giambi's choice any less significant than Selig's actions, or inactions. Fernando Vina is right there with Don Fehr. Paul Lo Duca stands alongside Gene Orza, who stands with Adam Piatt, who stands with Mark McGwire, who stands with any owner of any franchise who turned his back and counted the take.
This was not one man's negligence as much as it was a thousand men's weaknesses.
Even now, they duck behind apologies parsed by their attorneys. They hide behind the permissiveness of their leaders, and the environment created by their buddies, still, years later, because only a few among them have had the courage to protect the game from itself.
And they knew they were cheating. Every one of them knew. Whether they obtained flimsy prescriptions or shared needles or cowered in the men's room stalls, they knew. Hopefully, they do not raise their sons and daughters to the same standards of accountability, because the next generation would seem to have enough on its hands without being guided by such excessive doses of rationalization. We've had one too many "loosey-goosey" eras, I'm thinking.
Unfortunately, many players – even the ones who lost the most when their pals were shooting up – are reluctant to discuss it. Even now, most hold up their hands and shake their heads, still bound by the code that got them into this mess. They'll whisper about indulgent owners or dirty teammates, but refuse to put a name by it. They'll address a period they seem to believe has seen its worst days, but prefer cover.
Most, but not all.
Casey Blake, the Dodgers' third baseman, was a rookie with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999, the year after McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged their historic home run chase. Asked about the notion Selig was responsible for that summer and the ones before it and the ones to follow, Blake set down his crossword puzzle.
"I wouldn't place any blame on anybody else but the individual," he said. "I think each individual knew that what they were taking was wrong. I just wish guys would be more forthcoming."
The batters' box is a small place, perhaps just large enough for a man and his values. It's no wonder so many players became so much bigger, and still fit.
"Bud Selig should not wear that. Why?" Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "The players' association should not wear that. Why? You should be accountable and say, 'I did it.' Don't blame it on anyone else. You messed up. Be a man and take it."
Funny, in a game that rests its head every night on accountability – hit or miss, win or lose, we're not holding players to the same standard when they're sitting in their living rooms, deciding whether or not to depress the syringe plunger. Because, you know, it's so much easier to assume it's Bud's fault for letting it get that far, for raising the vein.
At best, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, the responsibility is shared.
"There was a systematic problem with the way management in baseball viewed it," he said. "There certainly were individual moral and ethical issues players ignored. … There's a lot of people to point to, to where the breakdowns were. It was complicated. But I don't think this is on Bud Selig and I don't think this is on Don Fehr."
Even Canseco suggested recently the commissioner's office – the owners – recognized that a game of puffed-up players was counterproductive. For years Canseco insisted baseball powers allowed steroids to generate profits, and that he was banned for having a big mouth, but lately he's changed tacks.
"I was cut off," he was quoted as saying recently in the Los Angeles Times. "Not being able to play at 36. That's how old I was when baseball colluded to keep me out. They were sending a message to all the other players: 'Stop using, or you will be like Jose.' "
The details can be a loose translation, at best.
So rail against Bud Selig if you must, if it makes you feel better, if you can't recall the other names. But don't forget to save a little for Adam Piatt and all the others, because they're the ones who drove it, one decision at a time.
- Bud Selig
- Don Fehr
- Jose Canseco