So this is the way it's apparently supposed to work: If Bud Selig gets into the Hall of Fame then Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are supposed to get in right behind him, as if it's some sort of referendum on equivalency. Only it's not.
If Selig is responsible for the use of performance-enhancing drugs by some of the most prominent names in baseball history, then so are a lot of us in the media, and not just the baseball media.
If you want to throw the book, and that means the record book, at Selig for not acting sooner, then ask yourself something: Why didn't the same people still prosecuting Selig for baseball's drug past tell us what was going on in the 1990s? What was stopping them?
Could Selig have stated his concerns about PEDs earlier than he did? He could have, could have applied common sense before he had actual evidence or proof, taken the high ground from the intractable union leadership of Donald Fehr and Gene Orza. He could have said that if it were up to him -- and this is in the mid-'90s -- he would unilaterally impose drug testing on the spot, even though he knew that was impossible under the sport's Collective Bargaining Agreement. Selig could have said he was doing it in the name of the record book, and clean players.
He could have done better. We all could have done better. I wrote a book about 1998, and the magic of it for my sons. Bob Costas, who started hitting the subject hard around 2000, on his various platforms, says now, "I wish I'd addressed the issue sooner."
Bonds and Clemens may eventually make it to the Hall of Fame. If you aren't bothered by what steroids and human-growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs did to the record books, then you have a perfect right to champion their candidacies, and call out Hall of Fame voters who won't vote for them, and accuse those voters of being moralizers. That's a form of moralizing, too, but don't let that slow you down if you've got a good head of steam going.
Of course, Bud Selig doesn't get a hall pass on the steroids era just because he's in the Hall of Fame now, where he absolutely belongs. No one is suggesting that he should. But Bonds and Clemens don't get to follow him through the doors like Selig's running interference for them, either. It doesn't work that way.
Selig didn't force Bonds to take whatever he was taking to look the way he did at the end of his career, producing some of the numbers that bore scant relation to the ones he produced when he was skinny and already one of the most gifted and complete players you will ever see. He didn't force Clemens to take PEDs that his good buddy Andy Pettitte said Clemens once took, before Clemens accused poor Andy of "misremembering" who did what and when. These guys made their own choices and now live with them.
Was baseball slow to react to what was happening in broad daylight? Say it again: We all were. A lot of people who love the sport would like to have known in the late '90s what we know now. But unless there was some law passed that no one was supposed to blow the lid off the issue of steroids in baseball, then how come Selig is the only guilty party here?
Bryan Curtis did a terrific, long piece on the coverage of PEDs in baseball, going back nearly 30 years, at Grantland in 2014, and referenced Thomas Boswell, the great baseball writer from the Washington Post, going on with Charlie Rose in 1988 and fingering Jose Canseco, one of the Bash Brothers along with Mark McGwire, as a steroids user.
This is what Curtis wrote about that appearance a decade before the home run summer of McGwire and Sammy Sosa:
"Like any other newspaper of substance," said George Solomon, who was the Post's sports editor, "you have to have your sources. You have to be 100 percent sure of what you print. At that point, we were not. What Boswell said on CBS was Boswell's opinion."
Boswell had put the notion of steroids in baseball into the air. But he hadn't gotten it into the newspaper.
In that same piece, this is what my friend Bob Ryan, one of the best sports columnists of all time, said to Curtis about the coverage, or lack of coverage, of steroids in baseball:
"It did not register that something nefarious was going on. People say, 'You overlooked it!' No, I was stupid. … I'll take naive and stupid over willfully evil."
In a business in which cynicism is so often the coin of the realm, and skepticism is supposed to be part of the job description, the whole thing was playing out in front of our eyes. Boswell said what he said and then, 10 years later, Steve Wilstein of the Associated Press put himself in the barrel by writing about the jar of androstenedione in Mark McGwire's locker. Three years before that, Bob Nightengale wrote of steroids in baseball in the Los Angeles Times. Later on, Ken Caminiti came clean to Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated. By then, the genie, in all ways, was out of the bottle, and fine investigative work, some of the best sports sections -- including my own at the New York Daily News -- had ever seen was being done from coast to coast. And Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams wrote "Game of Shadows" about Bonds and BALCO.
Now this is supposed to be all Selig's fault. Only it's not all anybody's fault. There is plenty enough blame to go around. Selig looked the other way, we are now told, because home runs were so good for business, and nobody is supposed to point out that after the great home run summer of '98, attendance actually went down slightly in baseball the next season. But to use Bob Ryan's expression, it was Selig who is supposed to have been "willfully evil." Maybe that is why Selig gets no credit for the survey testing that produced drug testing in baseball at last, over the objections of Fehr and Orza, who fought drug testing, kicking and screaming, until the very end.
No matter. Selig was the sport's gatekeeper, despite the immense power the Major League Baseball Players Association had built over the years, to the point where that association was essentially running the sport when Selig and fellow owners deposed Fay Vincent and Selig first became acting Commissioner in 1992. Forget about everything else: Selig belongs in the Hall just for taking control of the game back from the union.
He's in. Bonds and Clemens are still out, at least for now. That could change. But to blame Selig for where they are, on the outside looking in, isn't just an absence of logic. It's one on steroids.