FENNO: Bud Selig’s legacy at root of looming Biogenesis smackdown
The uncompromising scowl of Kenesaw Mountain Landis is frozen on a plaque inside the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Perhaps no man in the game’s winding history of sinners and saints has inspired the same fear as Major League Baseball’s first commissioner.
Sixteen words below the picture point to the legacy: “His integrity and leadership established baseball in the respect, esteem and affection of the American people.”
Stare at the plaque long enough, though, and you start to see Bud Selig. The commissioner once called Landis a dictator, but is poised to issue baseball’s most wide-ranging discipline since his heavy-handed predecessor in connection with the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.
Ridding baseball of fixed games and gambling influences consumed Landis — he placed eight White Sox players on baseball’s permanently ineligible list following charges they threw the 1919 World Series — and followed him to Cooperstown.
Selig has bet his legacy on eradicating PEDs. He’s overseen radical changes to the game’s schedule, divisions, postseason and All-Star game. New stadiums popped up. Attendance has soared. So have profits. All that will fade into history. The looming mass suspensions, however, will forever define Selig.
This is the same man who presided over baseball’s Steroid Era, over the cream and the clear, and baseballs flying out of stadiums with turnstile-pleasing regularity.
This is the same man who declared that Steroid Era finished in 2010 and the game virtually free of the PEDs that fueled home run records and the resurgence of baseball’s popularity following the 1995 labor apocalypse.
The braggadocio didn’t change reality. The creams and injections, of course, festered beneath the surface. Ramped-up penalties in the Joint Drug Agreement didn’t dissuade would-be dopers. Not enough, at least. Neither did an expanded testing regime that introduced in-season blood tests for human-growth hormone in 2013.
A handful players were suspended, enough for Selig to wind up his face in a stern look and insist the drug policy worked. The avalanche of documents that emerged in January from the now-defunct Miami anti-aging clinic Biogenesis linked a roster’s worth of players to PEDs and buried Selig in a different reality.
The scandal has thrown a season-long cloud over the game. Over every pitch and home run. Over every clubhouse. The era Selig believed over actually never ended. That’s why the coming suspensions are as much about cleaning up the commissioner’s legacy as they are about cleaning up baseball.
“Just keep in mind that, regardless of the verdict of juries,” Landis said in August 1921 after he banned the eight men, “baseball is competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.”
That was only the beginning. Joe Gedeon knew of the plan to fix the World Series and was banned. Same with Benny Kauff, who was arrested to auto theft. Heinie Groh and Ray Fisher and Dickie Kerr were banned after pay disputes. The list goes on.
Landis left no doubt as to who ran the game. Selig is trying to do the same thing.
Impose suspensions so harsh, so wide-ranging that no sane player would consider doping. Then Selig can retire in 2015 as the man who rid baseball of PEDs, much as Landis did with gambling connections. Otherwise, Selig carries the mark of the man under whom the drugs flourished and propelled the game’s record-breaking resurgence.
That’s why MLB launched an all-out attack on Biogenesis, using a questionable civil lawsuit in Florida to force the company’s founder, Tony Bosch, to cooperate or face unending, ruinous litigation. That’s why threats swirl of adding Alex Rodriguez to the permanently ineligible list, baseball’s death penalty, despite having never failed a drug test.
But this isn’t about Rodriguez. Oh, he’ll be the headline. The big name. The one Selig will wag his finger about while trotting out well-worn phrases about the integrity of the game. But Rodriguez is 38 years old, owner of a worn-down body after underwent hip surgery in January and broken-down reputation.
He’s an easy target for Selig, someone Seattle supporters threw thousands of fake dollar bills toward in his return to Safeco Field after he departed the Mariners for $252 million from the Rangers. Someone who admitted PED use from 2001 to 2003. Someone owning a bloated contract through 2017. There’s little sympathy and less room for doubt.
And so the commissioner will soon scowl and suspend. But this is about Selig. His game. His legacy.
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