Free Minds & Free Markets

The Baseball Commissioner Who Made Bush President

The culture, politics, and economics of baseball in the Bud Selig era

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But government's efforts to litigate the steroid era wouldn't end there. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—a committee, Pessah reminds us, that "failed to hold hearings into torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison" and "never looked into how the Bush administration could send troops to war in Afghanistan and Iraq without proper armor"—once again held hearings on baseball.

Humiliated by the drug revelations, the legacy-obsessed Selig would spend his autumn years as baseball's boss desperately trying to redefine himself as a dogged steroid hunter. The man who enthusiastically celebrated the tainted McGwire/Sosa home run derby of 1998, Selig made a show of standing with his hands in his pockets when the steroid-implicated Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron's career home run record in 2007.

That same year, former Sen. Mitchell, a longtime Selig ally (and Boston Red Sox executive), released his eponymous report, billed as the comprehensive history of the steroid era. It delivered on its promise to name names. But despite the millions Mitchell personally made on the report (paid for by MLB) and the two years it took to create, the document was mostly a retread of information already gleaned in the BALCO investigation.

The only significant scoops came from two snitching drug dealers who were able to cut deals to avoid prison by cooperating with Mitchell: New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski and former New York Yankees/Toronto Blue Jays trainer Brian McNamee, both of whom implicated dozens of players, including arguably the best pitcher of his generation, Roger Clemens.

For all its hype, the Mitchell Report would not be the last word on the Steroid Era. In 2013, the South Florida–based "anti-aging clinic" Biogenesis was revealed to have been peddling performance enhancing drugs to numerous players, including such stars as Ryan Braun, Bartolo Colon, and Nelson Cruz—but none so drew Selig's ire as much as Alex Rodriguez.

Unlike the three aforementioned players, Rodriguez had not failed a drug test, but the overwhelming evidence that he bought drugs from Biogenesis for years, plus his determination to obfuscate MLB's investigation, led to open warfare between the commissioner and the player many once hoped would pass Barry Bonds on the career home run list and be anointed baseball's "clean" home run champion.

As loathsome as the serial liar and recidivist cheat "A-Rod" is, Selig was determined to give him a run for his unethical money. He enlisted MLB's "investigative team," consisting of dozens of former police officers and even a head of the Secret Service, to nail the slugger at any cost—and baseball's private cops would engage in plenty of legally questionable tactics to do it. Though the "I-Team" would succeed in securing demonstrable proof of Rodriguez's years of drug purchases from Biogenesis, baseball would have to consort with known criminals, sometimes paying them cash for stolen documents in shady backroom deals, to preserve the "integrity" of the game.

Pessah describes these efforts by Selig as having an ironic effect. Rodriguez's legacy was already irreparably damaged, his name mud. But Selig's personal quest to nail the fallen star only kept steroids and baseball prominently featured in the headlines for longer than they otherwise would have been.

Since the 1994 strike, baseball has enjoyed zero work stoppages. Players' salaries continue to rise, but so do team revenues. Though he's especially rough on Selig, Pessah ultimately credits him, Steinbrenner, and Fehr as titans of their time, all worthy of the sport's Hall of Fame.

But with a fan base that grows older by the season, will future generations care about a game with a deliberately leisurely pace, one that has thus far failed to market its newest stars as effectively as the National Football League and National Basketball Association? Will they be entertained by the markedly decreased offensive output of the post-steroid era? Has the age of publicly subsidized stadiums finally come to a merciful end?

The Game can't answer those questions, but it can help explain how we got here. This fascinating book demonstrates how an uneasy marriage of punitive socialism and barely restrained capitalism made MLB more profitable than it had ever been but left its future cloudy and uncertain.

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  • EndTheGOP||

    I'm still blaming Ronald Reagan for unleashing the disaster which is 'The Bush Family' on America.

    If Reagan had not picked the lying "Read my lips, no new taxes" Bush 41, we never would have had Bush 43 which was the single worst event to ever happen to our country. Because of Bush 43 we got Obama, the second worst event to ever occur in America. God help us if Jeb ever finds his way to the White House.

    Yep, we're pretty much fucked!

    IT'S ALL OVER FOLKS! And the socialists won.

  • Jay Dubya||

    There are few phrases as contemptible as "crusading agent from the Internal Revenue Service".


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