Let it be recorded that December 4, 2016 was a great day for cheaters everywhere.
Also for cronies, toadies, cons, lackeys and mediocrities.
On that day, Allan H. (Bud) Selig, a charter member of all of those fraternities, made it to Cooperstown. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, no less.
I’m proud to say that Selig was not elected by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, but by a newly-formed panel called the Today’s Game Era Committee. The names of the voters have not been made public but Selig got 15 of a possible 16 votes. I would like to know who the holdout was. A person of rare integrity, no doubt.
The election of Selig — who oversaw baseball’s Juice Age, extended the World Series in to November, tried to shut down competition to his Milwaukee Brewers and allowed a manager to tell him to end an All-Star Game, to name just a few of his career high points — is great news for Alex Rodriguez. And for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
After all, how can you legitimately slam the door on the users when you’ve already enshrined their prime enabler?
Baseball’s revisionist historians can defend Selig all they like, and try to rehabilitate his image not as the enabler he was but as the noble crusader who finally rid the game of the chemical scourge foisted upon it by the evil MLBPA.
But history tells us a different story, and we all recall it. Selig was as much in the bag for steroids as the players were, and their union leader, Donald Fehr.
After the 1994 work stoppage that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series — another highlight of Bud Lite’s watch — baseball was desperate to get back into the good graces of its already dwindling fan base.
The game found its salvation in chemistry. Steroid-inflated players began hitting home runs as they had never been hit before. After more than three decades in which no player had hit more than 52 home runs, suddenly you had two guys, McGwire and Sosa, obliterating the 61-home run barrier, which had stood since 1961.
But instead of investigating the sudden and unexplained power surge — and the sudden presence in baseball clubhouses around the league of 25 Arnold Schwarzeneggers — Selig and his cronies chose to glorify the steroid era, even marketing the All-Star game with animated representations of cartoonishly-muscled ballplayers.
And when McGwire was called out for using androstenedione — legal at the time but already banned by the NFL, a caldron of steroid abuse itself — Selig and cronies chose again not to take action against the player, but to discredit the reporter, Steve Wilstein. McGwire’s manager, Tony LaRussa — who presided over steroid-fueled teams in both leagues but still preceded Selig to Cooperstown — even went so far as to try to pull Wilstein’s credential.
But that wasn’t even the first clue. As far back as 1995, a San Diego Padres GM named Randy Smith spoke to the LA Times about the prevalence of steroid use in baseball. His words were ignored, as were the words of a bunch of players and those of Sandy Alderson, at the time an MLB VP (read: Selig crony) on HBO’s Real Sports in October of 2000. Here’s a sampling:
— Texas Rangers outfielder Gabe Kapler: “The guys who are using steroids are completely open. Open with it to other players and I think the reason for that is they don’t mind anybody knowing because it is so spread out now. There’s a lot of people doing it.”
–L.A. Dodgers outfielder Gary Sheffield: “About six or seven (players per team juicing).”
— San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn: “In the game of baseball you see an opposite field home run and you see who is hitting it, you know, you expect your Bonds, the McGwires and Sosas to hit balls out the other way. But when other guys do it, I think, you know the light goes on and people wonder. And as of now that’s all they are going to do, is wonder, because nobody’s gonna be able to find out.”
— And Alderson: “I’d say it’s more likely than not, in some form. How extensive that testing might be, how frequent, how random, I couldn’t tell you today. But I think in some form, that it’s very likely.”
Still, it took the embarrassment of a disastrous congressional hearing in 2005 — 10 years after Randy Smith and seven years after Wilstein’s andro story! — for Selig to “get religion” on the issue of steroids and eventually commission the Mitchell report. Incidentally, one of the congressmen to expose Selig’s lies and hypocrisy was a little-know Vermont rep named Bernie Sanders.
In fact, in 2005, Selig claimed he “had never heard of steroids” until 1998.
This leaves only two possibilities: Either Bud Selig was willfully ignorant, or he was complicit. Neither is a good option, and either should disqualify him from the Hall of Fame, the way it has disqualified some of the holders of baseball’s most hallowed records.
Which, by the way, are no longer so hallowed, thanks again, to the recently enshrined former commissioner of baseball. Suddenly, 500 homes runs no longer seems like such a big deal. At the same time, it has become impossible to know whose numbers to trust in today’s game, and to feel confident about who is playing clean and who is cheating. As a result of Selig’s not-so-benign neglect, the exploits of players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are viewed with the kind of skepticism that should have been showered upon McGwire and Sosa during their tainted Summer of ’98, and Bonds during his 73-home run explosion three years later. It may not be fair, but it’s perfectly understandable.
That’s another part of Bud Selig’s legacy, the fact that an entire generation of ballplayers must now come under perhaps unfair scrutiny because a pervious generation was allowed to run wild.
Add all of that to the rest of Selig’s ledger, which also includes the ridiculous decision to allow the winner of the All-Star Game to determine home-field advantage in the World Series (thankfully rescinded in the new CBA), his selective prosecution of Dodgers’ owner Frank McCourt, who committed the sin of getting divorced, while bailing out his buddies the Wilpons, who were involved in a Ponzi scheme with Bernie Madoff, and the belief of former commissioner Fay Vincent that as an owner, Selig was instrumental in colluding against the players to the tune of what Vincent characterized as “a $280 million theft,” and the real place for Bud Selig’s plaque seems to be a Hall of Shame.
Years ago, I gave up my privilege of voting for the National Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. after it enshrined promoter Don King, on the grounds that a man who had made his living exploiting and damaging fighters had no place in a museum commemorating their greatness.
I feel the same way now about Cooperstown. Putting Bud Selig on the wall seems almost as bad as enshrining Arnold Rothstein, the gangster who fixed the 1919 World Series.
But the real upshot of his election is that now, there is no longer a moral foundation to keep admitted cheaters like A-Rod and McGwire out of Cooperstown, or for that matter, the ones who have yet to fess up, like Clemens, Bonds and Sosa.
If Bud Selig’s in the Hall of Fame, anything goes. Opens the doors and let ’em in. Let ’em all in.