Bud Selig has just become The Man Who Stole Summer.
It would be easy to look at Major League Baseball’s Biogenesis scandal and see it as hubris on the part of Selig, or at least a legacy-burnishing pursuit of two big-name players who have managed to avoid being suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
But even Selig’s closest friends and the shakers and movers among ownership who buy into the historical imperative behind a settling of outstanding accounts with Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun must surely be uncomfortable with the wide net that the baseball commissioner is casting these days. At a time when the game ought to be setting itself up to take centre stage – the NHL and NBA playoffs are crawling to a conclusion and south of the border college football and the NFL are not yet talking points – Selig has set in motion events that could lead to the suspension of as many as 20 to 30 players, in some cases altering the landscape of pennant races.
He has put PEDS at the forefront, even though there is little indication that television executives, sponsors or fans are all that interested. Franchise values have increased dramatically, attendance has held up through the dark days of the most recent economic downturn and extremely lucrative network and cable TV agreements are all done and dusted. Congress has been satiated – nobody threatens Selig with removal of the game’s anti-trust exemption any more – and the degree of labour peace he has achieved is the envy of every other North American professional league. The game is flush; if anything is on steroids these days, it’s baseball’s finances.
Rodriguez’s name has been linked to steroids since Jose Canseco outed him in his best-seller Juiced, the book that created momentum toward drug-testing, and he has admitted using PEDS – but before drug-testing was instituted, meaning he has no formal connection. For all the chatter, Rodriguez can say he has never been suspended under baseball’s drug-testing program. Braun, meanwhile, embarrassed Major League Baseball when in February, 2012, he successfully appealed a 50-game suspension based on a positive test that showed elevated testosterone levels, basing his argument on the logistics of the handling of his urine specimen.
Is the historical record that important to the 78-year-old commissioner that he would strike an agreement with an individual, Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch, whose veracity is subject to serious question? That he would risk suspending Braun and in the process all but kill the post-season aspirations of the team Selig’s family once owned, the Milwaukee Brewers, and deal a blow to the city in which he makes his home and has an office?
Know this about Selig: He is a fan, and it is entirely in keeping with his reputation that he would want the game’s past tied up in a neat package before he moves on. And it is possible that he believes this is the time to drop one more final hammer on PEDS; that the very fact the game is so strong economically and has long-term stability in terms of TV and corporate packages means it is buttressed enough that it can absorb this kind of shock to the system.
What other reasons could Selig have for pursuing this matter at this time? There are suggestions that this is all part of a plan that will somehow lead to a team such as the New York Yankees being able to launch legal action to get out of the remaining obligations it has to a player such as Rodriguez (five years, $114-million), ostensibly using some legal definition of fraud, but given the workings of baseball’s collectively bargained drug-testing plan many legal observers see it as a long-shot. When baseball first threatened to take legal action against Bosch, some observers saw it as an attempt to shift the debate away from the players to parties that aid and abet them in attempting to skirt around the game’s drug-testing program – parties that might ultimately include the players agents.
Mostly, though, this seems to be about dealing with the two that got away. Selig has outlasted and out-foxed his critics for the better part of the last 15 years, but turning what could be the biggest sports scandal in North American history into a plus is another matter entirely.