HEN I'M KING
of the World (Steroid Edition). . .
Nobody with a financial interest of any kind in a major league baseball club will be permitted to serve as commissioner . . . Nor will any officer, director or partner of any ballclub be eligible to head an in-house investigation of player activities that might compromise the best interests of the game.
When baseball's scandal-scarred owners asked federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to save them from themselves, they handed the keys to a judicial disaster. Many of Landis' major rulings were overturned on appeal or by presidential pardon. He was the spear point for the banning of heavyweight champion Jack Johnson from boxing for a Mann Act violation.
Judge Landis was a white supremacist determined to keep major league baseball a segregated sport. In other words, he was perfect for the job of first commissioner of baseball in the political climate of 1920 and he ruled both players and owners with an iron fist, starting with lifetime bans for eight members of the Chicago White Sox accused of fixing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
Landis was succeeded by the underrated Happy Chandler, who wrapped two terms as governor of Kentucky around a term in the U.S. Senate and a term as commissioner of baseball. Jackie Robinson was integrated into baseball on his watch, an event he favored that surely contributed to his rejection for a second term.
Next came Ford Frick, a sports writer, PR director and National League president who was a bland commissioner.
Frick stuck the asterisk on the home-run record of Roger Maris that was later removed. Other than serving as Babe Ruth's ghostwriter during his Hearst newspaper days, Frick's shining moment came as NL president in 1947 when he threatened to suspend any Cardinals player who took part in a threatened boycott if Jackie Robinson played against them.
After Frick, the owners unanimously elected a man with no baseball experience, Gen. William "Spike" Eckert. Media wags dubbed him "The Unknown Soldier." To borrow a medical imperative, Spike did the patient no harm during his 3-year run.
Bowie Kuhn was a patrician lawyer whose name became forever linked with career antagonist Marvin Miller during turbulent times when his players union took control of the game. Kuhn did a much better job of keeping owners like Charles O. Finley and George Steinbrenner in check. Against Miller, however, Kuhn and MLB were winless in every major case that went to court or arbitration. It was not a Hall of Fame performance, but Bowie was voted in by the Veterans Committee this month in what was perhaps a gesture of gratitude for the ineptness that made most of them millionaires. Miller, who actually scored them the money, fell far short of election.
Former travel agent Peter Ueberroth helped the owners negotiate a TV contract that edged them into the economic shadow of the NFL. He also taught them the meaning of the word "collusion." But the Lords of Baseball were so inept at pulling in the same direction, they bungled into three costly union grievances that eventually cost them $250 million.
Bart Giamatti was the Pete Rose commissioner - while he lived - and Fay Vincent, appointed to finish Bart's term, was unseated by a junta of smaller-market owners dubbed "The Great Lakes Gang." Brewers owner Bud Selig was a ringleader of a rebellion against Fay's owner-unfriendly methods - banning Steinbrenner for life was one. Moving the Cubs and Cardinals to the National League West with dire time-zone implications was another. The Cubs sued Vincent and he resigned. Selig, a self-styled consensus builder, was elected at an owners' meeting appropriately convened in Kohler, Wis., toilet capital of the world.
Under Selig, the pastime has experienced unprecedented prosperity, record attendance, an exponential spread of global marketing and deep disgrace. The ongoing steroid scandal, now pushing 20 years, makes the Black Sox fix and Pete Rose betting on baseball look like traffic violations. On Selig's watch, the only expansion bigger than revenue that topped $6 billion in 2007, was the expansion of biceps pumped to bursting by an epidemic of anabolic steroid and human growth hormone abuse so pervasive it has overrun the sport.
And with the release of 85 names last Thursday in a legally worthless, MLB-mandated, report implicating seven former MVPs and several future Hall of Famers, Selig has ridden shotgun over a process that has marked the entire sport lousy. Using classic Vietnam Hearts and Minds doctrine, Bud burned the village to save it. All 30 ownership groups are co-conspirators.
Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a current director of the Red Sox, released the names. The names were given up to his investigators by a pair of indicted plea bargainers, one a former New York Mets clubhouse man. The other was a strength coach brought into the Yankees clubhouse by workout fanatic Roger Clemens, the biggest name in the Mitchell Report.
There is a mushroom cloud over baseball now and the fallout soon will envelop everybody in and around the sport. It will compromise every general manager, field manager and coach, anybody in contact with the sport on a daily basis. Beat writers who lacked evidence to report on what they suspected was happening in the off-limits clubhouse sanctums but lacked legal evidence or sources to put it on the record will be under mounting pressure to report what they suspect. If George Mitchell can do it, why not them? A long appendix in the report references many newspaper accounts' suspicions raised by suddenly bigger and stronger players doing suddenly amazing things, often while many years past their normal baseball primes.