- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

Major League Baseball has been burning, while Bud Selig has been playing second fiddle to Jose Canseco.

That reality possibly prompted Selig’s surprising observations to USA Today this week, when he said he would consider punishing Alex Rodriguez and revising the game’s record book, starting with Barry Bonds’ career home run mark.

Perhaps Selig has come to recognize that his legacy as commissioner of baseball is in need of burnishing. It was on his watch that baseball took up with steroids and altered the fundamental truths of the game. Sixty became the new 50.

Both management and the players union did not object to the corruption until Congress started hauling the principals to Capitol Hill to give their version of the events. The depth of the lying and cheating soon became apparent and unsettling to anyone who cared about the game’s statistical history.

The numbers always have set baseball apart from football and basketball, whether the number is 56, 61 or 755. Only one number in another sport resonates in similar fashion: 100, the number of points Wilt Chamberlain scored in a basketball game in 1962.

Selig’s motivation to do something, anything, is understandable after Rodriguez’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003. Selig has come to the conclusion that it is just not going to go away, this steroids mess that hangs over the game like a radioactive mushroom cloud.

And like it or not - and many hold their noses at the mention of his name - Canseco remains the game’s most reliable source on chemistry and baseball.

That is an indictment of Selig, Donald Fehr and George Mitchell, whose report left out Rodriguez. That omission elicited the objection of Canseco at the time, and again the passage of time has validated his contention.

Canseco may be a clown - his recent celebrity bout with Danny Bonaduce plumbed new depths of absurdity - but his veracity on steroids is unquestioned.

If Selig is inclined to start rewriting the record book, he is liable to find that his is a no-win proposition. If he wants to remove the “Steroids Era” from the record book, how might he address two other statistically skewed eras of the game? That would be the game’s “Dead-Ball Era” and “Segregation Era.” How might he deal with Gaylord Perry and the rest of the spitball practitioners of the game? They, too, cheated.

The prospect of Selig toying with the record book is relatively easy compared with going after Rodriguez. The players union would rally around Rodriguez, and the punishment would be overturned in short order.

Selig’s potential get-tough stance in the wake of the Rodriguez revelation lacks a restorative measure. The damage to the game already has been done. The 500-home run barrier no longer carries the mystique of yesteryear.

When Selig and the union could have acted in a forthright manner - and spared the game from nearly a generation’s worth of deceit - they could not agree on the simplest measures, much less testing.

They could afford to disagree because of the game’s surge in popularity, induced in part by the long ball.

The apex was the home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, when the principal story line was how the two had restored the game’s health, damaged because of so many management-labor showdowns.

Baseball people knew something was not right long before 1998, going back to the late ‘80s. Previously average-built players would report to spring training looking like bodybuilders after devoting themselves to so-called rigorous weight-training sessions in the winter months. That was their story, and baseball, from Selig to Fehr, allowed the practice to burgeon.

Selig’s sudden philosophical shift comes about 20 years too late.

His anxiety over the record book comes late, too.

A good majority of the baseball public already has attached asterisks beside the names of Rodriguez, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Roger Clemens and so many others.

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