If George Mitchell's investigation into steroid use in baseball is as fair, impartial and thorough as Major League Baseball promises, there can be only one result.
Bud Selig's resignation.
And that's what makes this whole exercise laughable, nothing more than a case of poorly executed crisis P.R. Any worthwhile investigation does not seek only information, as Selig announced baseball's would do Thursday. It lays blame. Instead of attacking the arms that flail in every direction, it goes for a kill shot to the head. At the end of this, if the truth and nothing but the truth were told, Selig would be too embarrassed to continue as baseball's commissioner.
Of course, that won't happen. The investigation will last a few months and, by all indications, focus almost solely on players and distributors. It may uncover a skeleton or two. Baseball will parade those around like trophies, much as it does all of its minor victories. Barring some kind of a bombshell that almost certainly would have been rooted out already, the investigation will change nothing.
Because the crux of the whole issue is already there for public consumption: Players cheated, baseball ignored it.
Teammates ignored it and managers ignored it and scouts ignored it and general managers ignored it and owners ignored it and the union ignored it and, worst of all, Selig ignored it.
He put his usual spin on it Thursday. He lauded baseball's drug-testing program as the toughest in sports, which is true, but that doesn't necessarily make it good enough. He said Mitchell was a fair and impartial investigator even though he advised Selig in the past and works for the Boston Red Sox and Disney, the parent company of ESPN, which is an MLB rightsholder. He said during the 1994 collective-bargaining talks that he brought up the issue of steroids, a backhanded whack at the union.
What he didn't mention was that steroids were part of a larger drug-testing proposal that the union unequivocally rejected, and that Selig did not make a peep about it afterward. The issue didn't seem too important to him then.
Seems that only books get Selig's conscience ticking. Last year, it was Jose Canseco's bombshell. All of a sudden, the steroids plan the owners and union spent months putting together wasn't sufficient. Congress involved itself, Selig caved and baseball took uppercut after uppercut.
Now it's "Game of Shadows," the thorough account of BALCO's infiltration of baseball and its alleged distribution of steroids to Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, among others. Out came the cry for an investigation.
To reveal what, exactly? That players took steroids? That the problem, in fact, was prevalent? And that baseball, more than happy to profit off it, watched its pockets grow fatter as its players grew stronger?
All of this we know. This investigation is nothing more than the McDonald's clerk stuffing a free apple pie into your sack because your order is late. On the surface, it's a nice gesture. In reality, if they'd just gotten things right in the first place, the whole charade wouldn't be necessary.
And because the investigation is rushed, and because it's forced, and because the premise behind it is so full of holes, problems abound. Mitchell has no subpoena power, meaning he's going to have to ask pretty, pretty please with sugar on top to get any questions answered.
On top of that, baseball isn't sure how it will handle what Mitchell does find. The information will become public, which is laudable, but Selig doesn't know if, how or when he will mete out punishment.
Whatever the case, it doesn't bode well for baseball. With the collective-bargaining agreement due to expire in December, labor tension is the last thing Selig needs, and it's the first thing this creates. Even more, it keeps steroids in the news, threatening to ruin what has been a beautiful resurgence for the game. The longer steroids are a topic of discussion, the more fans, rabid and casual alike, roll their eyes.
Unfortunately, the pressure was too immense for Selig not to do something. He could have simply apologized, and while that would ring hollow, it would be baseball's first step in confronting its past – and its responsibility in the matter – rather than sweeping it under the rug. He should threaten to strike statistics from the record book. All baseball players have are their numbers, and the clean players might be compelled to talk if theirs are in jeopardy.
For so long, baseball has dealt with steroids like they're bacteria. Feed the problem more and more medicine and it just might go away.
No. Steroids are a virus. They take more than a solution here, a patch there. They called for an all-out assault early on, and they didn't get that.
"Nothing," Selig said Thursday, "is more important to me than the integrity of the game of baseball."
He's right. It's too bad he only realizes that now.