When Miguel Tejada stands before a Washington court Wednesday morning and pleads guilty to giving false statements to Congressional staffers, he likely will offer an apology. Steroid cheats finally understand the quickest way to salvation is contrition, however insincere and scripted and full of caveats and vague and cloying and slanderous – did Alex Rodriguez find a new shade of lipstick for his? – it may be.
It's very simple, these words: I'm sorry. A-Rod mixed it in amid his excuses, and Tejada will say it to U.S. Magistrate Alan Kay as he tries to avoid jail time for playing dumb when investigators questioned him about Rafael Palmeiro's steroid use. In New York, the two people who really should be saying it – who should have said it long, long ago – will watch as another casualty of the culture they supported gives baseball one more snapshot for its steroid scrapbook.
Bud Selig and Don Fehr, Major League Baseball's commissioner and its players' union chieftain, respectively, did not tell players to inject performance-enhancing drugs and swallow muscle-swelling tablets and rub hormone-laden cream all over their bodies. They could not control the actions of adults. Yet they are the sport's keepers, and just because something was of others' making does not absolve them from responsibility.
Let Selig chirp on about how the game is experiencing a great renaissance and let his apologists parrot him like good little puppets. Revenues and attendance don't make a renaissance. Under Selig and Fehr's leadership, the greatest pitcher and hitter have had grand juries called to investigate whether they perjured themselves, the best player just spent a half hour telling the world how he cheated, the ultimate home run masher went all J.D. Salinger, 103 others are gnawing their nails in hopes their names don't surface and a former MVP – one from abject poverty who made something of himself before he gave in to the devil on his shoulder – is pressing his nicest suit and hoping for probation and nothing more.
And still, no apology.
Selig and Fehr have done everything they can to avoid one. I'm sorry. Three syllables impeded only by pride. Saying sorry takes ownership, something Selig and Fehr have avoided from the beginning of the steroid scandal to now, perhaps its nadir after months of peace and quiet had rendered it barely an issue.
Stars define their sports, and baseball's have spent the last five years under indictment, by either the court of law or public opinion. Disgrace continues to course through baseball, and no matter how active Selig and Fehr have been in advocating a stronger drug program – the current one is the best among American sports, though doping experts pick it apart like vultures on a carcass – their inaction during the height of steroid use continues to fester.
They thought they amputated the problem. Instead, a phantom limb haunts them.
First it's Mark McGwire, then Barry Bonds, then Roger Clemens and now Rodriguez. Important records are fraudulent. World Series winners were filled with steroid users. Philadelphia reliever J.C. Romero tested positive Aug. 26 for using a banned supplement. Under the ludicrous appeal rules, he continued playing all the way through the World Series, where he pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings and won the series-clinching game.
So, no, it's not just the past for which baseball's fan base deserves an apology, though that is what needs the most redressing. Selig and Fehr have insulated themselves with a wall of ignorance. They didn't know this. They didn't understand that. And, hey, look, the NFL is doing it, too, so why doesn't it catch nearly the flak baseball does on the performance-enhancing drug problem?
The public is not a 2-year-old easily distracted by shiny objects and Tonka trucks. Yes, there is a double standard with professional football. In no way does that lessen what was allowed to happen in baseball, and let's be clear: This was no passive activity on Selig and Fehr's behalf. This is their sport. Anything that happens under their watch was allowed.
At best they fiddled while Rome burned. At worst they watched the arsonists strike the matches.
And so we're left with a sport in flux, and some would posit that calling it a sport is tantamount to calling the WWE a sport. When you take the rules of a game and so blatantly flout them, is it still a game? Or is it some bastardized version that people still love because it was so close to perfection in the first place, it would be tough to wreck it, even with the acidic potion of selfishness and greed?
Selig tried to own the problem by ordering the Mitchell Report. For $20 million, it bought him one big name – Clemens – and the headaches that followed. And as much as turning an investigator's eye on the game spoke of Selig and Fehr's desire to rid baseball of performance-enhancing drugs, it didn't resonate nearly like admissions of guilt.
There is still time. No statute of limitations exists on apologies. More names are bound to leak, more shame bound to glom itself to baseball. Nearly four years ago now, Congress held its first hearings on steroid use in baseball. The title was: "Restoring Faith in America's Pastime."
It's still possible.
Three simple syllables.
One huge step.