The Man Who Destroyed Baseball
This past week Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were elected to the Hall of Fame, an honor which is well deserved. However, there were the only two nominees to be elected because the prior commissioner failed to admit that he was atleast partially responsible for the widespread PED use that has caused so much controversery in Baseball.
When an athlete is suspended by the NFL for breaking the NFL’s league policy for performance enhancing drugs, the public barely hears a word about the positive drug test nor the appeal until the suspension is announced. And after the games are played, the suspension becomes yesterday’s news. So how is the story different in baseball? Well we know the answer. First, somehow there would be a leak to the press that a MLB player was suspected of using PEDs. Just like in every other sport, the ball player would deny “knowingly” taking any drugs. Than we would hear about the multiple failed drug tests, an investigation, followed by weeks of court tv coverage by all the major networks. The commissioner might even “pay off” informants to get dirt on the athlete. The end result, Major League Baseball is now a damaged brand, because Bud Selig participated in several smear campaigns of MLB Stars including Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens to name a few.
Now don’t get me wrong, nothing in this article should lead you to believe that I condone the use of PEDs. But why would any company purposely go out of their way to damage the legitimacy of the product they are selling to the public. It makes no sense. In sports, the product the fans are buying is the athlete. The star athletes are responsible for selling everything from tickets to the overpriced beer. So why would Bud Selig go out of his way to damage the reputations of his star athletes. Simple, ego!
In 1994, Major League Baseball's owners and players were unable to reach a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement, so the players went on strike, and the season ended when the two sides couldn’t reach a deal. Commissioner Bud Selig canceled the rest of the season. There were no pennant races and no World Series. Fans were fed up, they blamed both sides, with many fans pointing the finger directly at Bud Selig. How could the National Pastime have no World Series? What followed were some dark days for Major League Baseball.
When play resumed in a shortened 1995 season, attendance dropped by some 12% per-game across the league. Fans still weren't showing up in 1996, when attendance was about 9% off the 1993 mark. But just when Baseball was at its darkest, things suddenly began to change. In 1996, 17 hitters had at least 40 home runs, that’s 12 more than the five players who hit the long ball in 1993. From 1996 to 2001, at least a dozen hitters belted 40 or more home runs each year. And then there was 1998!
In 1998, McGwire and Sosa captivated the Nation in their battle to win the home-run race. It was 1961 all over again. Every night was must see TV, as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Maris, Ruth, and Mantle. Ultimately, they each passed Roger Maris’s long-standing record. The two sluggers became instant legends of the game and where McGwire and Sosa left off, Barry Bonds picked up.
In less than five years, Bud Selig went from zero to hero. The National Past Time was back. From 1995 to 2001, the year Bonds eclipsed McGwire's home-run mark, attendance at games was up 44%. The average ticket price for a baseball game had gone from $10.65 to $18.99 , a 78% increase. Major League Baseball revenue increased by 115%. Americans were in love with Baseball again and the league knew it. MLB revenue grew from $1.4 billion in 1995 to $3.7 billion in 2001. All this growth of course was fueled by steroids. So did Bud Selig look the other way?
As we entered a new millennium. Sports writers and fans, with a little help from Jose Canseco's book Juiced, began to wake up from there Home Run induced coma and realized there might be too much of a good thing and blamed Bud Selig and MLB for ignoring obvious signs of steroid use that was now rampant throughout the game. In 2003, the MLB and players agreed to confidential testing with no penalties. If more than 5% of the players tested positive, than in 2004 there would be tougher testing with penalties to follow.
As we know there were significantly more than 5% of the players testing positive in 2003. And in 2004, MLB began implementing new testing and penalties for PED users. Now here is where I take real issue with Bud Selig for destroying the game of baseball. If Bud Selig followed the lead of the other major sports, and just issued the suspensions and focused his attention on the game, then MLB would be in great shape. However, Bud Selig didn't want his legacy to be tainted with the fact that he ruled baseball during the Steroid Era. Instead, Selig went to war. He decided that he was going to be responsible for “cleaning up” the game. In the process, he has destroyed the reputations of his star athletes, thrown the record book in the trash, and has made the MLB Hall of Fame a joke.
Baseball has always been about fathers passing the game down to their kids. Watching a game, and talking about the players from their generation. What should we tell our kids about the best players from our generation? Is Barry Bonds the Home Run King? What about Roger Clemens? What about the magical 1998 season? Instead of giving Baseball a clear direction, Bud Selig just fanned the flames. And by doing so, Bud Selig has called into question everything we as fans witnessed for the past 25 years.