- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2004

Cadillac Bud Selig is the Christopher Columbus of sports commissioners — trying to find a route to the East and instead discovering America.

Look at the ways Cadillac Bud has gone off course. He finally gets a drug-testing program in place in baseball — albeit a weak one — in his new labor agreement and a year later faces perhaps the biggest performance-enhancing scandal in the history of American sports with the BALCO grand jury investigation.

Then, in the midst of Cadillac Bud’s effort to internationalize the sport, America couldn’t even qualify to defend its gold medal in the Summer Olympics in Athens, and now the proposed World Cup is in danger because of — surprise! — concerns about the ability of players to pass the more stringent drug testing they would encounter in international competition.

And, of course, let us not forget several years ago, days after the exciting seventh game of the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks that had the entire nation buzzing, Cadillac Bud dumped all over the game by declaring baseball was going to shut down two teams.

With Cadillac Bud at the helm, the game always seems to be on the verge of getting lost, going back to the strike that resulted in the owners shutting down the World Series 10 years ago.

But then on the horizon, a new world appears, and a guy who can’t even find the right continent stumbles onto an abundance of riches: Cal Ripken and the consecutive games streak. The Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race. Three straight years of exciting postseason play.

This time the land aplenty is Alex Rodriguez.

Think about it. Here we are with spring training opening up in Florida and Arizona, and baseball should be on its heels, hoping no one will notice.

There are daily reports coming out of the grand jury investigation in San Francisco looking at the use and distribution of steroids and other performance-enhancing substances that imply some of the biggest names in baseball may wind up testifying.

Then there is the embarrassment of the Montreal Expos, a team going into its third season under the control of the 29 other major league owners in what can only be termed as a blatant conflict of interest. The Expos split their time between Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The nation’s capital, meanwhile, is still denied the national pastime.

But last weekend, with all that was going on — the Daytona 500, the NBA All-Star Game and the Buick Open with the redemption of John Daly — the talk of the sports world was the trade of A-Rod to the New York Yankees and the continuing dramatic rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, who spent nearly the entire offseason trying to bring the shortstop to Boston.

Despite all the cries of outrage about the inequity of it all — how the rich Yankees simply get richer and take away the competitive balance of the game with their spending — the A-Rod trade was great for baseball. It got people talking about the game on the field and not the troubles away from it and got everyone juiced up for the first pitch of the season even before spring training began.

It couldn’t have happened at a better time, between the end of the NFL season and the start of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The NBA is 3-pointing and slam-dunking itself off the radar screen, and the biggest thing the NHL has going for it is that everyone expects it to shut down next year. The void was there for the taking, and, thanks to Boss Steinbrenner, baseball filled it.

The question remains, though, why? Why do we care so much? Why does it stir us up?

First, contrary to the NFL’s treasured “parity,” there is no greater drama than David vs. Goliath, and thanks to the Yankees, we have that. And despite all the hand-wringing about competitive balance, Davids won the last two years — the Florida Marlins beat the Yankees in the World Series last year and the Anaheim Angels beat them in the American League Championship Series two years ago.

But deeper than that. It is simply this — football is our lust, and everything else is a one-night stand. Baseball is still our love. It must be love. How else would you explain our continued passion for a sport that has Cadillac Bud steering its course?

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