As the Biogenesis case accelerates, the focus is on the players. Big names sell, so the headlines at the front of the story are targeting those big names. By the time we reach the end of this long, sordid tale, there's one name that might be more in focus than any other: Bud Selig.
The commissioner of baseball has put his fingerprints on every part of the game in 20-plus years on the job. Many teams have new stadiums. Interleague play has gone from an interesting occasional burst to an every day occurrence. League presidents and really all vesitiges of difference between the AL and NL, aside from the DH rule, are gone. Wild cards, not once but twice, have been added to the playoffs.
And then there is the money. While TV ratings have slid on a national level, the game has floated up on the rising tide of local and national television rights. Team valuations have reflected this as well, highlighted by the sale of the bankrupt Dodgers last year for $2.1 billion.
Selig has one other piece of his legacy that is now at stake. The commissioner once thought that the Mitchell Report would be the "turn of the page" that owners so desperately wanted from the so-called "Steroid Era." Instead, it only fueled it further, in large part because of Selig's stony refusal to integrate many of the provisions of the report, such as the amnesty it recommended.
Selig entered the testing era after survey testing showed that PED use in baseball was at just over five percent. But the test results were brutally mishandled by both MLB and the MLBPA. The list of those 104 players still hangs over the game like a dark cloud.
Selig's talent as commissioner has always be to drive consensus. Look back at his record and you will find any change is slow and that the ending vote is unanimous or very near it. Selig seldom takes anything to a vote that will not go better than 29-1.
In the Biogenesis case, he's likely to find opposition. Whether it is Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, Rangers owner Ray Davis, or the Rogers family for Toronto, owners could star attractions taken away, their futures tainted. For every Hal Steinbrenner, who might be glad to see the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez facing a lifetime suspension, there is a Lew Wolff that might have to pay to replace a banished Bartolo Colon for the A's.
Selig's quest to rid the game of the PEDs he once willfully ignored has gone fully to the other peak of the pendulum swing. He faces a bitter battle in appeals. And the players' union could vilify him and carry a grudge into future bargaining sessions.
In what may well be his last major act as commissioner, Selig is going to have to rely on the testimony of a disgraced drug distributor whose word could be the sole basis for the suspensions, reminding observers of how the Roger Clemens case fell apart on the weak word of trainer Brian McNamee.
The Barry Bonds case comes to mind, too—BALCO's Victor Conte in particular. Tony Bosch seems to be setting himself up as much the same kind of mastermind. Theirs are not two images any commissioner would want associated with his era years later.
While cases are made each and every day in court by alleged felons who are now turncloaks, it does not help Selig's legacy to be wrapped in that same garb. His owners will take blows from the sullied sword of a drug peddler's word.
While Selig might seem to be stronger than ever, his exit planned and his legacy in stone, this last episode might end up shaking the very foundation on which his statues is intended to be built. As George R.R. Martin oft reminds us, there are only two outcomes when playing the game of thrones: win or die.
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