“NOTHING Is More Important Than The Integrity Of The Game”

So said Commissioner Bud Selig at his press conference today in NYC

With that statement, Bud Selig confirmed the rumors that have been circulating all week… he announced that Major League Baseball is initiating a formal investigation into allegations that The National Pasttime has been infected with the disease of illegal performance-enhancing supplements for—at least—the last decade.

Years of speculation regarding the use of steroids and other illegal performance-enhancers (ie, Human Growth Hormone) in baseball culminated in the seating of a Grand Jury in San Francisco to investigate the activities of Victor Conte and his Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO). Conte was found guilty of orchestrating an illegal steroids distribution scheme and spent four months in jail… in fact, he was released just today and must now serve four additional months of house arrest.

The grand jury investigation / testimony then led to the Congressional testimony of 2005… which forever sullied the reputation of Mark McGwire (“I am only here to talk about the future”)… and which forever identified Rafael Palmeiro as a liar (once it was revealed that he subsequently failed a steroids test).

The grand jury investigation / testimony and Congressional hearings then inspired a journalistic investigation of the BALCO / steroids / baseball connection by SF Chronicle writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams… an investigation that culminated in the publication of the book “Game of Shadows” which alleges, in part, that SF Giants outfielder Barry Bonds has enhanced his on-the-field performance by using steroids, HGH and other illegal performance-enhancing supplements.

The allegations contained in the book have not only piqued the interest of the journalistic community and the general public, but it also got the attention of the US Congress… which has made a formal inquiry of MLB asking—essentially—who knew what and when. Ummm, Mr. Commissioner… any comment?

Selig has been embarrassingly slow to act in response to the steroids controversy. He has had several opportunities to get ahead of the curve on this issue—opportunities that he allowed to pass without acting. Bud has, essentially, tried to sweep the issue under the rug… hoping it would go away. It didn’t. And now it is the issue that will likely serve as a blight on his record and a stain on his legacy as Commissioner of the game.

The current testing policy is too little, too late… and everyone is aware that it did not result from the Commissioner’s insistence “in the best interests of the game”; rather, it came to fruition as a result of the threat of congressinal intervention.

Donald Fehr and the MLPBA share an equal amount of the blame for this debacle—especially since the majority of the members of the union wanted testing, but Fehr was more interested in his own legacy than in cleaning up the game! Why should he agree to a “give back” in the contract when the concession might actually make him look weak?? And shame on the players for allowing a jester (Fehr) to lead them on a fool’s errand on this issue! JERK!!

BUT, with the grand jury indictments / sentencing of Conte; the Congressional hearings; the subsequent SF Chronicle investigation and book; the current Congressional inquiry into what MLB knew and when; and now the fervor surrounding the game on this issue, Bud Selig could no longer afford to sit on his hands.

Thankfully, Selig has contracted for the services of a slugger—not some punch-and-judy hitter—to investigate the allegations… a big-time political actor whose reputation is beyond question. Senator George Mitchell, D-ME, former US Senate Majority Leader, was sufficiently qualified to broker peace in Northern Ireland in 1996… and he was sufficiently qualified to investigate allegations of “fixing” and bribery in the site selection process of the International Olympic Committee in 2002… and he was sufficiently qualified to chair the International Fact-Finding Committee on Violence in the Middle East… so one would assume he is sufficiently qualified to lead MLB’s inquiry into the steroids scandal.

Mitchell will be assisted by a bevy of lawyers with investigative and prosecutorial experience.

And it must be said, that the selection of Mitchell assuredly is not arbitrary or by accident. Commissioner Selig DOES NOT want Congress to become involved in the affairs of baseball… and it appears almost certain that the selection of Mitchell is designed to quell the fears of certain individuals on Capitol Hill who may be itching to become involved to further their own political agendas. Few people are held in higher esteem on both sides of the aisle in Washington, DC, than George J. Mitchell.

Mitchell, for his part, has been assured of complete autonomy by the Commissioner’s Office. In a printed statement, he said: “I accept the responsibility placed on me by the commissioner in full recognition of the seriousness of the many issues raised by the task. The allegations arising out of the BALCO investigation that major leaguers have used steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs have caused fans and other observers to question the integrity of play at the highest level of our national game. These allegations require close scrutiny.”

It is unclear whether former / current players will cooperate with the investigation or whether they can be forced to do so by baseball. Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association, declined comment. It is expected that Bonds will not cooperate with the investigation… the question is, how will Selig respond if he fails to cooperate? Would he threaten to suspend Bonds, using the ‘best interests’ clause as his justification in an attempt to compel Bonds’ cooperation? Would such a threat / action violate Bonds’ 5th Amendment Right against self-incrimination? Such questions are heady, constitutional legal issues that may eventually need to be resolved, not in the court of public opinion, but in a court of law.

And with respect to the investigation findings, would baseball seek to penalize players if any (say, Bonds and Giambi) are found to have used steroids before Sept. 30, 2002 (the date of the joint drug agreement between management and the MLBPA) Baseball began drug testing in 2003 and started testing with penalties the following year… but the question remains what, if anything, CAN baseball do about steroid use before that date…

and if baseball can do something, WILL it?

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