The reaction to Bud Selig’s retirement as commissioner of Major League Baseball this week was met with great celebration, not of his tenure, but of his departure. The sports media roundly derided Selig for presiding over a decline in baseball’s relative popularity, particularly in relation to the NFL. Many went so far as to mock him as an old man completely out of touch with the modern world, as evidenced by his own declaration that he has never sent an e-mail in his life and “never will”. Much of this criticism is justified, as the NFL has become far more popular than MLB during Selig’s tenure. What is not fair, though, is criticising him for the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs that lead the shattering of home run records in the late 90s and early 2000s.
It is worth remembering that baseball was grabbing a greater share of the sports headlines than the NFL when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were battling to be the one to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record in 1998. Every morning, the first thing any sports fan wanted to know was if McGuire or Sosa had hit a home run. The battle was made even more perfect when McGuire broke the record while playing against Sosa’s Cubs and the two embraced in a heartwarming display of sportsmanship. If Bud Selig had turned a blind eye to the drug problem, baseball would be far more popular today and we may not have found out that the race to break Maris’ record was fueled by performance enhancing drugs.
But the fact is, for better or worse, Bud Selig did make a concerted effort to eliminate PEDs from major league baseball, even though it resulted in a sharp decline in home runs. Baseball has the more rigorous testing system and harshest penalties for PEDs. Some of the biggest stars in the game, including Alex Rodrigues, Manny Ramirez, and Ryan Braun, have all received lengthy suspensions. Baseball has not merely reacted to positive drug tests, they have actively investigated the suppliers of performance enhancing drugs, as with the case with the recent Biogenesis scandal.
What is odd is that rather than being congratulated for aggressively moving to rid baseball of drugs, Bud Selig is being continuously blamed for baseball players taking drugs. The NFL, by contrast, which doesn’t even test for human growth hormone and is filled with players who are freakishly big and fast, does not seem to take any heat at all, even though players routinely test positive for the PEDs that the league does test for. In baseball, thanks to the leagues aggressive stance against PEDs, a positive test means that the player will likely never get into the Hall of Fame, no matter how impressive their career numbers. In the NFL, you can test positive and get a job working for the NFL network.
I am not going to say that Bud Selig was a great commissioner, but he did the right thing in attempting to rid his sport of performance enhancing drugs. I find it sad that doing the right thing has somehow done so much harm to his legacy.