First the news came that commissioner Bud Selig earned more than $14 million last season.
The next day Barry Bonds moved
within 20 homers of tying Hank Aaron by smacking his 735th
career home run.
That left us to ponder these two highly-paid men, their impact the game and how they will be forever linked.
Bonds will, in all likelihood, break Aaron's career home run record later this season. It will be an odd, actually downright uncomfortable, moment for baseball because Bonds' name has been mentioned predominantly in major steroid-related cases in the last several years, including his alleged connection to the BALCO scandal.
Aaron's record of 755 home runs is probably the greatest record in sports. He has held the mark since passing the immortal Babe Ruth 33 years ago. It wasn't pretty back then, either, because so many people in this country weren't happy to see an African American break Ruth's record. Aaron later spoke of the numerous death threats he received before hitting his record-breaking blast.
We've come a long way since then, but baseball once again has a public relations problem. The time you can't blame society. It's self-inflicted. And you have to look no further than the commissioner's office for the culprit . . . you know, the guy "earning" $14 million per.
Selig has handled the Bonds mess in the worst way imaginable. He has helped contribute to the cloud of doubt that hangs over Bonds by insisting that MLB won't make a big fuss when Bonds breaks the record. Selig has seemingly gone out of his way in recent months to authenticate Bonds' sullied reputation.
Now, that would be all fine and dandy if Selig was going to parlay that attitude with disciplining Bonds in some way for his connection to the steroid scandal. But Selig has done nothing. He has apparently done nothing for a good reason: The Players Association would fight any suspension because Bonds has never tested positive or been proven guilty in any way.
And that's where the commish has, well, shall we say, failed to earn his money.
Selig either should have suspended Bonds in some way, or have tried dilligently to tout him to save the game for what promises to be one ugly moment, especially if Bonds breaks the record on the road.
By suspending Bonds, or at least disciplining him in some way, baseball would have at least been consistent with popular opinion. Selig could have attempted to invoke the "Best Interests of Baseball" clause to do this. Then, when Bonds hits No. 756 to a chorus of boos, baseball could have somewhat avoided a major embarrassment and the head honcho could have said, "Well, at least I did everything I could do."
But if Selig wasn't going to hand out any disciplinary action against Bonds, he should have gone the opposite route and promoted the Giants' slugger. He should have spent the last year imploring us every day to accept that Bonds has never failed a drug test and that there isn't a shred of evidence proving Bonds' guilt in any steroid scandal.
Perhaps if the highly-paid commissioner had handled it in such a manner, the public reaction would be somewhat improved now and the game would not be on the verge of suffering a terrible black eye when Aaron's record falls.
Remember how the Yankees deftly handled the cases of Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, who certainly appeared guilty, but never tested positive or were proven guilty? Everyone seemed to get past those cases quickly and now Giambi and Sheffield are as popoular as ever. The same could have happened with Bonds had Selig handled it better.
But the way Selig dealt with it -Êno punishment, but also no show of support -Êwas the worst thing that could have happened.
For $14 million, baseball and its fans deserve one of the following from their fearless leader: Either a no-doubt-about-it asterisk next to Bonds' name after he breaks Aaron's record, or a no-doubt-about-it new record-holder who is accepted by all. Selig could have given us the former with a suspension or some sort of severe punishment, or the latter by providing the kind of pat on the back the Yankees gave Giambi and Sheffield.
Instead we are left with a worst case scenario: Bonds -Êfree of punishment, but full of suspicion -Êbreaks the game's most cherished record and gets booed mightily in the process, and the sport becomes a laughingstock.
For $14 million, baseball deserves better.
Emery Filmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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