While Alex Rodriguez continues to be the center of attention due to his taking of illegal performance drugs, his story is not an unusual one – and the way that Rodriguez has been lambasted by Major League Baseball, media and fans alike is perhaps rather unfair considering how other pro baseball players were treated for their chemical indiscretions not so long ago.
While waiting for superstar MLB slugger Mark McGuire to arrive at his locker for the monotonous round of questioning after a regular season game in 1998, Associated Press reporter Steve Wilstein noticed a little brown bottle labeled “androstenedione” sitting on McGwire’s shelf. Little did anyone realize that this would be the beginning of the end for McGwire and other superstars like Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, who had suddenly found a way to hit the ball into a different time zone through the use of banned substances. The US was suddenly knocked back on its heels by the revelation that their favorite players weren’t getting those stellar performances through practice alone. And it seemed as if recently appointed MLB commissioner Bud Selig and the teams’ billionaire owners were turning a blind eye to it in order to bring back the very fans that had been alienated only a few years prior during the 1994-5 season strike.
At the time of this discovery, the press began making inquiries to Selig as to why a stimulant that, according to Wilstein had been “banned in the NFL, Olympics and the NCAA,” could still be permitted in an American sport that goes back over a hundred years. Selig’s response to whether the rumor that MLB would outlaw androstenedione was true was fudging and opaque: “It’s not only premature, but very unfair. None of this should ever diminish from Mark McGwire’s extraordinary season.”
In fact, the best that Selig would do at the time was to commission studies of testosterone’s effect on the body and blame the players’ union for fighting him on testing for drugs usage. It was not until almost five years after the discovery in McGwire’s locker room that Major League Baseball and the players’ union actually agreed on minimal testing in the minor leagues. In a 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated, Selig defended himself by saying, “In ’02, we finally had a program. Yes, it was weak. It was the best we could do [with] a union that was fighting us.”
He also went on to say in the interview that, rather than allowing players to carry on necking steroids while the turnstiles continued to spin, he did not have a clue that any performance-enhancing substances were being taken at all. Selig revealed: “At that point nobody had brought it to my attention, and I know people say, “Well, he should have known…” Well, there were writers in clubhouses…. I’ve talked to them since then and they didn’t know, and I believe that and I respect that.” One has to wonder as to how Commissioner Selig, who was and remains a smart, shrewd cookie, could miss the fact that Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and numerous other athletes had transformed themselves from thin and lanky ballplayers to hulking barbarians with tree trunks for necks.
During the past year, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball have pounced on New York Yankees’ third baseman Rodriquez for his alleged lies in regards to steroid use, as well as for his unproved attempt to purchase and destroy evidence connecting him to the now defunct Biogenesis clinic in Miami where he, again allegedly, purchased the drug. While Rodriquez has demonstrated time and time again that he is not above acting like a classless cad, he may deserve a bit of a defense on this one.
A-Rod and the Major League ballplayers before him were simply going along with the status quo, a status quo set up by Bud Selig and Major League Baseball a few years earlier with their denials, stall tactics and refusals to attack the steroid problem head on. Now it is coming back to haunt them – and it’s A-Rod that’s rather unfairly bearing the brunt of the criticism. In a recent article for The Huffington Post, Jonathan Weiler agrees, writing, “Now that Commissioner Selig has thrown the book at Alex Rodriguez, it is past time for sports media to stop giving a free pass to the man who is most responsible for having allowed the steroid problem to fester for as long as it did – the commissioner himself.”
If Alex Rodriguez is to be suspended for 211 games, essentially putting a halt to his career, there should also be penalties for Bud Selig and all of the MLB brass who turned a blind eye during the 1990s while McGuire, Sosa and Bonds were hitting 550-foot bombs over the fence in just about every ballpark in the majors. A-Rod should have some company on the bus out of town.