So Major League Baseball has dropped the hammer on Alex Rodriguez and suspended him for 211 games, for drug use, even though it really has no proof through testing that the New York Yankees player has used any performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) at all.
Baseball’s evidence came from the word of some employees of a now closed Miami anti-aging clinic named Biogenesis, along with some written documentation. Apparently that is enough evidence for the Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Bud Selig and his colleagues to suspend the 38-year-old third baseman from the industry.
In a statement released after the announcement of the suspensions, Selig said: “Major League Baseball has worked diligently with the Players Association for more than a decade to make our Joint Drug Program the best in all of professional sports. I am proud of the comprehensive nature of our efforts.” He went on to discuss these efforts in some detail.
Make no mistake, although Allen Huber “Bud” Selig claims he is not worried about his legacy, he is trying to cleanse himself and the game from all forms of PEDs.
The ‘Steroids Era’
Selig, along with various owners and leaders of the players’ union, went through the 1990s turning a blind eye to the possibility that players were juicing. The owners had just gone through a rough time, with the players striking in 1994. Fans stayed away from the product, although the corporate community still attended games and municipalities forked over money to build new stadiums. Still, baseball people like Selig were looking for something to spur what eventually he would call “baseball’s renaissance.” That something in 1998 was a race to see who could break Roger Maris’s 61-home run mark.
The Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race got the fans back, although along the way it was discovered that McGwire was using what in 1998 was called a “steroids precursor.” Steroids usage by players was ignored by owners and the players’ union, even though the possession of steroids without a physician’s approval had been made illegal in 1990.
Baseball owners soon had money thrown at them, from municipalities, which wanted to build new stadiums for teams, and from cable TV. The home run race revitalized the sport.
Between 1998 and 2005, however, the whispers of players using performance enhancers grew louder. Finally in March 2005 a U.S. House of Representatives committee held a hearing on alleged steroids usage in baseball. Two of the players who testified were McGwire and Sosa.
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association were hauled down to Washington for two reasons. First, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge began criticizing professional baseball’s drugs policy after MLB told the IOC it would not send the sport’s biggest stars to the Olympics. In 2003, Rogge went so far as to complain to U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). Second, in 2005, former star slugger Jose Canseco released his book about steroid usage in baseball.
A few years back, U.S. Congressman Clifford Stearns (R-Ocala, Fla.) called for Selig to step down, because baseball had done nothing to punish banned substance users following an internal investigation led by the former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell.
Now – going by his All-Star Game news conference a couple weeks ago and a politico.com question and answer session – Selig seems rather upbeat about the sport, in spite of Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension and the throwing of the book at Rodriguez.
At the New York All-Star Game news conference, Selig said “this sport is cleaner than it’s ever been” and sent a message to critics about a perceived slowness in reacting to baseball’s doping problem. “People say, ‘Well, you were slow to react.’ We were not slow to react. In fact, I heard that this morning, and it aggravated me all over again.”
In the last eight years, the owners and players have hammered out a tougher drug agreement which includes major suspensions and losses in pay. The industry has suspended a good number of players and in the world of public relations and in the court of public opinion it has won over baseball fans. But some players were allegedly still doping and the Miami New Times, a weekly alternative newspaper, broke a story on Jan. 31 with the headline, “Miami Clinic Supplies Drugs to Sports Biggest Names.” It forced the MLB to react.
Selig and his organization overplayed their hand with the newspaper, which refused to turn over any documents. Selig and MLB decided to go after the owner of the clinic, Tony Bosch, and his associates to get the information. They got it. They have since used it against players who allegedly went to Biogenesis.
Milwaukee Brewers’ Braun more than likely negotiated his suspension, which will cost him the rest of the 2013 season and millions of dollars in pay. But MLB, through its alliance with baseball writers, has made no secret that Rodriguez is the big fish it wanted to land. A public relations blitz through writers and other sports news agencies has apparently been orchestrated.
“A-Rod”, whose contract with the Yankees might be nullified if he doesn’t accept a suspension with the possibility of losing millions of dollars, has decided he will not take the suspension sitting still and he plans to fight it through the courts.
A Baseball Lifer
Selig is truly a baseball lifer. He has been in love with the game since he was a child, watching minor-league baseball in Milwaukee.
In his 20s, Selig became the largest stock holder of the Milwaukee Braves, investing money he made from the family’s Ford automobile dealership. That team left Wisconsin after the 1965 season and relocated to Atlanta. But that didn’t stop Selig from finding a team to replace his beloved Braves.
In 1968 and 1969, Selig persuaded the Chicago White Sox ownership to play nine games a year in Milwaukee. He then bought the Seattle Pilots, after the team declared bankruptcy, in a rather complicated deal. Selig originally purchased the team directly from Pilots ownership, but the American League wasn’t keen on approving the deal. Selig’s lawyers suggested the Pilots ownership declare bankruptcy and that Selig could purchase the team that way.
A Milwaukee advertising executive, Robert Block, got to know Selig well when working with Selig’s Ford dealerships. Selig was one of the upcoming young Milwaukee business executives, along with his college roommate Herb Kohl, whose family owned local department and food stores. Block helped develop an advertising strategy for the Kohl stores, and he also negotiated the first television contract between Selig’s Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee’s WTMJ-TV.
Selig went on to become the owner of an MLB franchise in Milwaukee; Kohl embarked on a political career that saw him become a U.S. senator. He also became the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise. Block became one of the pioneers of pay TV in the United States.
Block says Selig is a “very smart guy with good character who can handle a bunch of balls thrown in the air” and adds, “He understands the difference between wrong and right, I considered him a very smart guy, honest guy. He was a good man for the job. He doesn’t want his legacy to damage baseball in any way.”
A Damaged Legacy?
But Selig may have a damaged legacy, and not just because the so-called Steroids Era took place on his watch, first, as acting MLB commissioner and then as commissioner. His legacy could be tarnished by a number of decisions he made or agreed to as an owner.
Many commissioners have been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Kenesaw Mountain Landis “cleaned” up the game after the 1919 Chicago White Sox allegedly threw the World Series. Landis tossed eight White Sox players out of baseball. But Landis failed to get baseball owners to lift their ban on Negroes playing professional baseball.
Landis’s successor, Happy Chandler, is in the Hall of Fame. Chandler’s tenure included the integration of Major League Baseball in 1947. The story goes that Chandler was fired in 1954 because he seemed to favor the players in financial matters more than the owners liked.
Ford Frick is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame but his legacy lives on with the award of the annual Ford C Frick Award that honors a baseball announcer.
Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame. Kuhn’s tenure included strikes; an antitrust suit filed by King County in Washington over the Pilots’ move to Milwaukee, which was settled with the American League’s 1976 expansion into Seattle; and his stance defending the old reserve clause, which kept a player tied to a team in perpetuity.
Selig, it could be argued, has a lengthy rap sheet of decisions that could be seen as detrimental to baseball.
In the late 1980s, Selig was one of 26 owners who were found guilty of collusion, for price fixing, and as a group had to pay $280 million in damages to the players. In 1995, Selig was one of 28 owners (a group that included the then Texas Gov. George W. Bush) who were found guilty of bad faith negotiations during the 1994-95 baseball players strike, at a court hearing before Judge Sonia Sotomayor in New York. Justice Sotomayor ended the strike.
Roughly at the same time, Selig began to campaign for a new stadium for his Milwaukee Brewers. He lost the first round, when Wisconsin voters rejected a new ballpark, but he continued to lobby Madison legislators and eventually a new stadium bill was passed, with the bulk of the money coming from a sales-tax hike in the five counties surrounding Milwaukee. Selig had pledged that the Brewers would be competitive with a new stadium, which he said they needed to keep up with other teams.
In 2004, Wisconsin legislators and residents were stunned to read that the Brewers, now run by Selig’s daughter, were cutting payroll and trading away the team’s top moneymakers, because the franchise was having financial woes. This was only three years after the Brewers opened the new park.
Selig was also the point man in the 2001 “contraction” talks, when MLB threatened to put two teams out of business. One of the teams on the chopping block was the Minnesota Twins. In 2002, a Minnesota judge ordered the Twins to honor their lease. Selig was still on the contraction bandwagon in February 2003, even though the collective bargaining agreement called for 30 MLB teams during the life of the deal. In a speech, Selig told Oakland businessmen that the A’s franchise was a contraction candidate.
Selig was doing Twins owner Carl Pohlad a favor and trying to create leverage in his bid for a new stadium. What was conveniently left out of the discussion was that Pohlad had lent money to Selig when Selig was running the Brewers. It could also be argued by eliminating Minnesota, the Brewers’ territory would revert to the old Milwaukee Braves territory. Selig’s Brewers would then be able to pick up fans from western Wisconsin and Minnesota, without the Twins’ competition.
There are also still some questions about Selig and his fellow owners’ actions surrounding the sale of the Boston Red Sox to the then Florida Marlins owner John Henry. The deal took place in January 2002 and had several moving parts. Henry and his group were in an auction to buy the Red Sox, Fenway Park and the New England Sports Network from the Yawkey Trust, following the death of Jean Yawkey.
Henry submitted a bid of $660 million, which was the third highest in the process, behind Miles Prentice and a Charles Dolan-Dr. John McMullen joint bid. Major League Baseball wanted Henry in Boston. To accomplish that, Henry sold his Marlins to the Montreal Expos owner, Jeffrey Loria, and Major League Baseball took over and ran the Expos in 2002, 2003 and 2004, before relocating the franchise to Washington, D.C.
Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly talked of launching an investigation into the bidding process, but dropped the probe after making sure the Yawkey Foundation and charities got an extra $30 million. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball destroyed the Montreal baseball market.
Furthermore, Selig and his staff have decided that Mets owner Fred Wilpon, his brother-in-law Saul Katz and son Jeff Wilpon are suitable to own a baseball team, despite their having done business with the convicted fraudster Bernie Madoff. The Mets ownership settled with a federal trustee before a court case was to begin and agreed to give $162 million to a trustee for Madoff’s victims.
Wilpon, who needed new partners to help with the Mets’ finances, brought Steven Cohen into the fold. In July, the Security and Exchange Commission called Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors “a veritable magnet of market cheaters,” with federal prosecutors announcing criminal charges against Cohen’s hedge fund.
Cohen was not charged with any crimes, though he could be barred from trading in the future. Wilpon continues to align himself with bad apples but that seems to not matter to Selig and the league.
In 1997, Selig and his baseball owners began the process of removing Marge Schott from the ownership of the Cincinnati Reds, because of her use of racial slurs and some concern over allegations that she falsified the sales of cars at a car dealership she owned. In 1999, Schott sold the Reds.
Wilpon is part of baseball’s inner circle. Schott was not.
A Man Rooted in the Past
Selig, who is on record as saying he isn’t concerned about what his standing will be when historians look at his record, claims he has never sent an email. He is a man who is somewhat rooted in the past.
But he did sit down recently with an Internet news organization, politico.com, to take some questions. One question came from an eight-year-old named Will, from Los Angeles, who asked: “How old will I be when…you can say that there are no more cheaters in baseball, not one?”
Selig answered: “Will, this is what I would say to you. I used to object way back when, when people would talk about steroids. They’re not a baseball problem or a football problem or a basketball problem. They’re a societal problem.”
However, when responding to another politico.com questioner, Selig dismissed the idea that his actions against drug users were aimed at anything other than cleaning up the game.
“Some people say now that I’m over-vigilant because I’m worried about my legacy,” Selig said. “That’s nonsense. That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. This is in the best interests of baseball. I was brought up to understand that you are to do what’s in the best interest of this sport no matter what, even if it’s painful, and we’re going to do that.”
Despite such words, it seems Selig celebrated his 79th birthday July 30 with one wish: To shine up his legacy by being the baddest sheriff in town.
Evan Weiner, the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award winner, can be reached at email@example.com. He has written several e-books on sports, including, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition,” which is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com.