Friday, June 15, 2007

The Giambi and Selig Tango

The inquisition of Jason Giambi is quickly becoming a litmus test for where people stand on the steroid issue, and who they most blame. A cadre of sportswriters have used Bud Selig's threat of suspension unless Giambi cooperates with the Mitchell investigation as an excuse to rock the pulpit hard.

The Jon Heymans of the world argue that Giambi has some sort of responsibility to cooperate with the investigation, for the good of the game, and perhaps as some sort of self-flagellating cleansing ritual. They couldn't be more wrong.

Giambi is no saint, and his body is likely paying the price now for his past (or current) sins, but his semi-apologies are considerably further than any other current player has gone in accepting responsibility for the steroid era. And he has absolutely no obligation, legal, moral or otherwise, to help out Bud Selig's gang of torch-bearing yokels.

The Mitchell investigation is about one thing and one thing only: Bud Selig attempting to cover his ass with the fans and the media. It's a naked public relations gambit with no real power, and no interest in finding the truth. George Mitchell is the head of a Selig-empowered lynch mob looking for a few scapegoats...three or four current or former players that can bear the brunt of the blame, allowing Selig to come out clean and put the issue to bed once and for all.

The commissioner pretends that the investigation is some multi-tentacled, all-encompassing beast endeavoring to explore every nook and cranny of a vast steroid conspiracy perpetrated on his beloved game by the evil players and their back-alley doctors. In reality, the truth is utterly inconsequential. Pinning Barry Bonds and a few others to the wall will suffice.

Much has been written about who's to blame for the rampant steroid and HGH use in baseball, and there's much culpability to spread around: players, managers, owners, writers and fans all looked the other way happily while Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa walked around looking like G.I. Joe figures and destroyed the record books. But the person most to blame is the one who held the most power at the time - Bud Selig. Recently, Selig has been caught in lies about how much he knew about steroids and when, and we can only hope that a Woodward and Bernstein are somewhere out there looking for their Watergate.

Selig rode the tide of public opinion in the late '90s, happily benefiting from the effects of the pills, powders and needles. Then, when the fans turned, mainly because of Bonds, and Congress grumbled, the commissioner put on a show of acting like an angry, shocked, betrayed parent. "I can't believe you kids were taking drugs this whole time! And after all these talks we had! How could you do this to me?"

Anybody with a conscience or sense of propriety will refuse to cooperate with the Mitchell investigation. Bud Selig deserves to deal with the problem he helped foster by looking the other way for far too long. Moreover, the investigation is primarily dealing with events from three, five and ten years ago. It's too late to ban certain players from the record books, and baseball has too little power to suspend players retroactively, especially considering that a steroid policy wasn't even in place at the time.

Jason Giambi is no hero. I don't even really like the guy. But if he stays on his present course and shuns the investigators, he will have done the right thing. Caving in to Selig's bullying (but impotent) strong-arm tactics will send the wrong kind of message to other players. The only correct way for the Mitchell investigation to end is with the inquisitors throwing their hands in the air and giving up.