Bud Selig knew this moment would come. From the beginning of the season, any fans of baseball knew that this was the year that Barry Bonds, the infamous standard bearer of the steroid scandal, would pass Hank Aaron as the all-time home run record holder. He had all season to decide what he would do. For fans of baseball, even ones who are loathe to call Barry Bonds the new home run king, the course of action that Selig arrived at was flat out embarrassing.
As Bonds circled the bases after tying the record Saturday night, Selig, the commissioner of baseball, had to be prompted to stand. He did not applaud. He put his hands in his pockets and glared. After the game, he did not meet with Bonds in person. He did not look him in the eye and congratulate him. He did not even have the courtesy of shaking his hand. Instead, he issued this statement:
“Congratulations to Barry Bonds as he ties Major League Baseball's home run record. No matter what anybody thinks of the controversy surrounding this event, Mr. Bonds' achievement is noteworthy and remarkable.
“As I said previously, out of respect for the tradition of the game, the magnitude of the record and the fact that all citizens in this country are innocent until proven guilty, either I or a representative of my office will attend the next few games and make every attempt to observe the breaking of the all-time home run record.”
If there were any more barbs in those words they could use that statement to line the fences at Sing Sing. This thing just wreaks of passive-aggressiveness. This is schoolyard stuff. It's like that catty girl from high school that “supports” her friends by publicly pointing out all the awful things other people have said about them and then saying that she, herself would never say think such things.
I don't think Bonds deserves the record. I think the information, both the circumstantial evidence surrounding him, as well as the BALCO testimony, points to the conclusion that he cheated by using performance enhancing substances. But Selig never caught him. No one did. So what can you do but tip your cap and hope Alex Rodriguez stays healthy enough to break the new record in a few years. (Of course, you also have to hope that A-Rod doesn't become A-Roid when Jose Canseco's new book comes out.)
Bonds may not have attained the record fair and square, but he did it within the guidelines that baseball had laid before him, guidelines that Selig himself presided over for the duration of the so-called steroid era. The time to stop Bonds has come and gone. The commissioner of baseball should be classy enough to either properly acknowledge or explain why he has deemed the achievement to be invalid. This clumsy, two-faced approach Selig is currently employing is more than a little unbecoming.
It's not that Selig is a bad guy or even bad at his job. He understands the integrity of the game, supports its history and idolizes those, like Hank Aaron, who have helped to make baseball great. He wants to protect those things, and those players. That desire, I believe, is the cause for his recent behavior.
But others, like Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, a special assistant to Selig who has watched several of Bonds' games in the commissioner's stead, feel the same and still have the tact to comport themselves in a manner appropriate when dealing with one of the greatest records in all of sports.
In the past, Robinson said baseball should “wipe out” statistics posted by Rafael Palmeiro, after Palmeiro tested positive for steroids. When Robinson attended the Dodgers-Giants game last week, he put those personal views aside. According to the Washington Post, when Robinson was asked what he would do if Bonds broke the record while he was in attendance, Robinson said, “I would congratulate him.” When pressed about how such an act would make him feel, Robinson gestured to the field and responded, “It's not about me. It's about this.”
Robinson has it right. Despite Selig's motivations, he needs to realize that his actions in the past few weeks are completely unbecoming to the office he occupies, as well as the game of baseball. The day may well come when this record is wiped from the books, but until the league reaches that conclusion, Selig ought to have the decency to fulfill the formalities his post demands.