Column: Selig's last stand on steroids is upon him
Originally Published: February 20, 2009 5:56 p.m.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig proved, once again, why he may be the most overpaid person in sports. When Alex Rodriguez confessed to using steroids, the commissioner told USA Today he was contemplating disciplining the Yankees' third baseman.As Selig accurately pointed out, what A-Rod did was against the law. But it wasn't against baseball law. The owners and players had agreed that there would be no consequences for anyone who tested positive in 2003. The commissioner cannot unilaterally and retroactively re-write that agreement, and Selig later admitted as much.Then Selig, demonstrating his understanding of the old adage that the best defense is a good offense, accused A-Rod of "shaming the game." Not so fast, Bud. King Solomon would be hard pressed to equitably parcel out blame for the steroid mess in baseball. And in the event that $17.5 million per year isn't enough to purchase mirrors in your homes in Milwaukee, Scottsdale and New York City, some of that blame can rightfully be assigned to you.Selig has presided over perhaps the greatest financial expansion in the history of U.S. sports leagues. And yet, when his contract expires in 2012, Selig may ride off into the sunset with a one-word legacy: Steroids.Kennesaw Mountain Landis will forever be remembered for cleaning up baseball after the Black Sox Scandal; Peter Ueberroth is synonymous with collusion. It matters not what other contributions those former commissioners may have made to the game. In sports, as in public life, a person's legacy is often reduced to their most notable accomplishment or their most visible failure. And so it will be with Selig.But if Selig wants to be known as something other than the steroids commissioner, he needs to focus on the future, rather than the past. It's not too late, but he must act quickly, decisively and forcefully. If I was advising Selig, here's what I would tell him to do.Selig should hold a closed door meeting with the players on every team during spring training. The union conducts such meetings every spring and there's no reason why Selig can't do likewise.In those meetings, Selig should tell the players that he believes the overwhelming majority of them are clean, and yet a skeptical public suspects all of them are cheating because of the actions of a few. As commissioner, he intends to invoke the "best interests of baseball" clause in the Baseball Agreement and orders unannounced, year-round drug testing to begin, say, 90 days after the beginning of the season.He should further tell the players that the testing program will be conducted by an independent agency selected by them. The players are the ones being tested, and they should decide who they can entrust with their reputations. All players who test positive the first time will be suspended for the equivalent of one full season and will also forfeit their salary and benefits during the period of suspension. A second failure will result in permanent disbarment from the game.Of course, the union will scream. But the union, led by executive director Donald Fehr and his sleazy sidekick, Gene Orza, long ago forfeited the high ground on the steroid issue. If a majority of players are clean, and I think they are, they should be allowed to tell the union what they want, rather than the other way around.If the union decides to go to court, Selig should shut down the game until the case is decided or the players relent. The NHL shut down for an entire season over monetary issues. This issue is about so much more than money.Selig will be applauded by everyone save the unions and the labor lawyers. For once, he will be acting as the "commissioner of baseball," instead of a shill for the owners and their pocketbooks.The action may be painful, and if the union goes to court, Selig may ultimately lose. But that scenario can't be any worse than what the commissioner is doing now. And it may be the only way for Selig to salvage his legacy. At the same time, the commissioner may restore credibility and integrity to a game that is in dire need of both.(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.)