03/11/05 — OPINION: Betrayal of trust

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OPINION: Betrayal of trust

By Neil Fuller
Published in Sports on March 11, 2005 2:03 PM

Bud Selig had a choice between an investigation and a cover-up.

He chose the cover-up.

He had a choice between protecting possible cheaters and keeping faith with baseball fans.

He chose protecting possible cheaters.

I don't pretend to know whether commissioner Bud is consciously papering over illegal acts that made baseball piles of money or is merely oblivious to the betrayal of trust that has many fans wondering whether hitting records set over the past decade constitute the game's big lie.

But now that baseball is finally testing for steroids, he says the past is irrelevant. A new policy is in place, everything is great, let's sell those $7 beers and play ball!

It would be "unfair" to review any tainted records, he declared in Phoenix over the past weekend.

"In fairness to those players, no one has been convicted of anything," he said. "And we can't turn history back.

"My job is to protect the integrity of the game. Each era, each decade has had situations where people said there were unfair advantages."

It is astonishing that any commissioner would acknowledge that his job is to protect the integrity of the game and then shrug his shoulders and suggest all morality is relative, so what the hey.

It is astounding that before even attempting to ascertain the facts, he should announce a decision, like a judge reaching a verdict before hearing any evidence.

Unless, of course, like San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers, commissioner Bud suspected what was going on at the time and doesn't want to go there for that reason.

But it is important to understand that some people in the game -- like many fans -- feel that steroids abuse is a bigger deal than other perceived advantages over the years. Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle is one.

If it could be shown that players using steroids set certain records, he was asked Monday, should those records stand?

"I don't think it's right," Hurdle said. "I'm not that educated to say I know all about this. Does it help you hit the baseball? I don't know. Does it help you hit it farther? I would imagine so. It's going to make you stronger. You take pretty incredible athletes and give them that edge, maybe you see what we've seen. And maybe that's why you've seen it."

Namely, six single-season performances of 63 home runs or more from 1998 to 2001 after more than a century of baseball without one.

"The purity of it," Hurdle said. "The sanctity of it. I'm sure Babe (Ruth) had some gimmicks, too. Maybe Henry (Aaron) had some gimmicks. But not of this magnitude. Not of this nature."

These are the questions baseball should be asking because these are the questions the fans are asking.

"I just think we need to be as proactive as we can be," Hurdle said. "They've put this policy in effect, now we've got to service it. We've got to go public. There should be public-service announcements out there right now."

The criticism of Selig's dismissive position is mine, not Hurdle's.

But many fans share his interest in a game that appears to be facing up to its problems.

For many older fans, watching the great players of their day supplanted in the record book by behemoths they suspect were chemically enhanced seems blatantly unfair. That the commissioner should say it's OK is unfathomable.

People who did not grow up with baseball as a companion might think the notions of "purity" and "sanctity" are hopelessly naive to start with.

It's just a game, after all. Who really cares?

Baseball fans care.

I remember my father's stories about Aaron chasing Ruth's record. Today, I have no idea who the legitimate single-season home run champion is.

Is it impossible to determine if Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds -- authors of the six 63-plus home run seasons --exceeded Maris' mark with the help of steroids?

It is not.

If baseball conducted the sort of investigation it conducted into Pete Rose's betting, I have little doubt it could come up with answers.

So the remaining justifications for not doing so are that "no one has been convicted of anything" -- a convenient formulation, given that players called before the BALCO grand jury were given immunity from prosecution -- and that baseball had no rule banning steroids at the time.

But if you believe commissioner Bud, the majors would have adopted the minor-league ban and testing program some time ago had it been up to him.

Which means his position must be that the success of Donald Fehr and the players' cartel in blocking a ban now legitimizes the illegal use of steroids and any records that resulted.

This is logic so twisted it leads to only one conclusion: Commissioner Bud doesn't want to know.

He doesn't want you to know, either.

(Neil Fuller can be reached at nfuller@newsargus.com.)