Monday, June 11, 2007

Bud Selig heading to the edge of the abyss

Try as he may, Bud Selig can only watch and wonder when (not if) Barry Bonds is going to hit home run number 756 establishing a new Major League Baseball career home run record, surpassing Hank Aaron’s current record of 755 home runs. After hitting a flurry of home runs early in the season, Barry’s bat has been quiet over the last four weeks. However just as time marches on, Barry’s inevitable date with destiny will likely arrive before the end of the 2007 season. And as Barry edges closer to one of sports more cherished records, MLB commissioner Bud Selig continues to paint himself into a corner. For a sports executive who has become an effective communicator and executive in the last five to seven years, Bud is heading back to his old traits – a man seemingly lost and in search of what to do next before he embarrasses himself and MLB.

The endless speculation regarding whether or not Selig will attend the game(s) when Barry attempts to set a new career mark continues unabated. Given that Bonds has hit one home run in the last month, Selig should simply suggest he’ll attend whatever ceremonies the San Francisco Giants organize to honor Barry’s achievement, but as commissioner he simply can’t (and shouldn’t) change his schedule to follow Barry pursuit. Selig and MLB have already suggested they’ll honor Barry setting a new career home run record when and if it happens. There is so much confusion concerning Bud’s position visa-vie Barry Bonds many baseball fans believe when Barry Bonds sets a new career record MLB and Bud Selig will choose to ignore the achievement all together. While anything is possible, if Bud Selig and Major League Baseball decide it is in baseball’s best interest to ignore Barry Bonds breaking one of baseball’s more respected records, they’d be opening themselves up to a tremendous amount of criticism. The biggest challenge baseball faces, there is going to be a tremendous amount of negative publicity when Barry sets a new record – bottom line it’s a battle Selig and MLB can’t win. However how MLB handles the situation will in the long run impact Selig’s lasting legacy.

If Selig is having a tough time communicating how he feels about Bonds inching closer to Hank Aaron’s record, his handling of recent assertions by New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi who will be on the disabled list for the balance of the 2007 season, is somewhat disturbing to say the least. That along with serious allegations former Senator George Mitchell investigation into the use of performance-enhancement drugs by MLB has taken on the specter of racial profiling is even more troubling. As Senator Mitchell’s review heads towards its end, good intentions aside, and the report appears on the verge of ripping the fabric of Major League Baseball and baseball’s relationship with the MLB Players Association apart.

A little less than three weeks ago USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale, interviewed Giambi who offered a telling testament on the impact the use of steroids is having on some MLB players.

"I was wrong for doing that stuff," Giambi told USA TODAY on May 16 before playing the Chicago White Sox. "What we should have done a long time ago was stand up — players, ownership, everybody — and said: 'We made a mistake.'

"We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. … Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it."

"Unfortunately, (the rumors) are going to be a part of it. But that's OK. I'm probably tested more than anybody else. I'm not hiding anything," said Giambi, who has been tested more than most MLB in the USA Today report. "That stuff didn't help me hit home runs. I don't care what people say, nothing is going to give you that gift of hitting a baseball."

When asked, "So why did you take steroids?" Giambi said: "Maybe one day I'll talk about it, but not now."

Giambi’s admission in USA Today was followed a week later by a New York Daily News report that alleges Giambi had failed a Major League Baseball-administered amphetamines test within the last year. The results of all drug testing is supposed to be kept confidential (a similar report linked to Barry Bonds was also first reported by the Daily News last year). MLB wasn’t able to plug the leak in their front office the first time and given that it happened again this year it’s a pretty safe bet MLB either isn’t interested or is unable to put a stop to whomever is feeding the Daily News information. The Daily News is doing what a good newspaper does, report the news. MLB are the ones at fault unable to protect their players.

Late last week in what was an “interesting” public relations decision, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig requested Giambi meet with Senator Mitchell and discuss his use of steroids. What made it unusual, not necessarily the request but Selig’s decision to make the demand public, issuing a press release and in making his appeal to Giambi a not so veiled threat Selig is looking at suspending Giambi.

After carefully reviewing information from the meeting between Major League Baseball officials and Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees and all other relevant information, Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced today (on June 6) that he has asked Giambi to meet with Senator George Mitchell within the next two weeks and to cooperate fully in Senator Mitchell's investigation into the use of illegal performance-enhancing substances in baseball.
Discipline will be determined after Giambi has completed activities with Senator Mitchell. Commissioner Selig will then take into account Giambi's level of cooperation with the investigation.

"Any admission regarding the use of illegal performance-enhancing substances, no matter how casual, must be taken seriously," said Commissioner Selig. "It is in the best interests of baseball for everyone, including players, to cooperate with Senator Mitchell in his investigation so that Senator Mitchell can provide me with a complete, thorough report. Discipline for wrongdoing is important, but it is also important to create an environment so players can feel free to honestly and completely cooperate with this important investigation."

Giambi who was at Yankee Stadium Sunday for “Jason Giambi bat day” not surprisingly quiet refusing to say very much on Selig’s call for Giambi to meet with Selig. That however hasn’t stopped the MLBPA from stepping up to the plate.

“I’ll just deal with what I can deal with,” Giambi did offer when first learning of Selig’s request. “Like I said, I’ve been in contact. There’s really not much to talk about until then. I’ll definitely let you guys know. I have no problem with that.”

“I don’t want to get into anything further until I release a comment on what’s going on,” Giambi said. “Like I said, when we talk, then I’ll be more than happy. I’ve always talked to you guys, so I’ll be more than happy.”

PA counsel Michael Weiner offered this to the New York Post: "Such decisions are for the individual player to make, after receiving appropriate legal advice," he said. "We do not believe that grounds exist for disciplining Jason Giambi based upon the newspaper article, anything which sprang from it or his decision whether he will meet with Senator Mitchell."

Rumors have emerged from the New York media in the past few days that suggest Selig is going to tell Giambi he either meet his demand to meet with Mitchell or face being suspended. Selig according to the various reports is prepared to suspend Giambi and then deal with the fallout which will include Giambi and the MLBPA appealing Selig’s decision. Selig and MLB would be forced to deal with whatever decision MLB’s independent arbitrator might make.

Given that Selig can’t suspend Giambi for the use of banned drugs, since the admission Giambi made pre-dates MLB’s current penalties, Selig would have to evoke the Commissioner’s ‘powers of what’s in the best interest of baseball’. Regardless of what the arbitrator’s decision would be, Selig’s decision to suspend Giambi forcing the MLBPA to appeal the suspension could set the relationship between MLB and the MLBPA back to where it was a decade ago. It’s very likely, even probable Donald Fehr isn’t going to take this well. And let’s remember it’s taken nearly three decades for MLB and the MLBPA to reach an understanding whereby the two groups could work together. If Selig isn’t careful he could undo all the good he has managed to accomplish in a matter of weeks.

"Such decisions are for the individual player to make, after receiving appropriate legal advice," said Weiner, general counsel for the players association in a USA Today report. "We do not believe that grounds exist for disciplining Jason Giambi based upon the newspaper article, anything which sprang from it or his decision whether he will meet with senator Mitchell."

The belief that MLB is heading to a very dangerous place in regard to Senator Mitchell’s investigation continued last week after Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen insinuated Senator Mitchell’s investigation is closely looking at Latin players – raising the ugly specter of racial profiling being linked to Senator Mitchell’s work.

"I meet with, like, five people," Guillen said in an Associated Press report. "The only thing that made me upset was they tried to mention too many Latino players. I think they try to put the Latinos to be the bad cloud in this thing. This thing was bugging me because everything they asked me (was), 'Do you ever see this in Venezuela?"'

“They were like, 'You never see any of the players bring this thing to the States?"' Guillen said. "I said, 'Wait a second, BALCO is not (in) Venezuela, is not (in) Puerto Rico, is not Dominican, is not (in) Mexico. BALCO is in California. Then why do you keep blaming players from Latin America for the problem that we have in the States?"'

An Associated Press review in 2005 determined that half of the players suspended that year were born in Latin America.

"In accordance with our policy, we do not comment on the details of any interviews," former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell said in a statement Thursday. "However, I want to make it clear that the investigation is not focused on any one player or on any group or category of players. We are following our mandate from commissioner Selig, which is to investigate and report to him on the alleged illegal use of steroids and other performance enhancing substances by players in Major League Baseball."

The uneasiness Guillen’s comments created were made that much more awkward after Gary Sheffield offered similar comments to The New York Times.

“Baseball has a choice of which black faces it wants representing baseball,” Sheffield said Thursday during a telephone interview. “They’re choosing Latinos. What I was saying is that they’re choosing them because they can sign them for $2,000 and if they don’t take it, what do they have to do? They got to go back to where they’re from and they got to eat hot dogs for dinner.”

While most of Sheffield’s comments concerned the drop in African-Americans playing baseball, coupled with Guillen’s comments last week wasn’t a good week for MLB and the sports link to the Hispanic community. Sheffield’s comments follow MLB’s recent opening of two baseball academies in the United States — one in Compton, Calif., and the other in Atlanta. The academies, which are run by Major League Baseball, are geared toward inner-city youths.

“The reason that the academies were put there is basically economic,” Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president for baseball operations said in a New York Times report. When a major league team develops a player in Latin America, that player is not subject to baseball’s draft. Unlike the NBA and the NHL, MLB does not have a universal draft “When a club builds an academy in the Dominican Republic and signs a bunch of players, those players belong to that club and they can sign all those players,” Solomon said.

“We have choices,” Sheffield said, referring to African-American players. “We’re in the draft where you have to pay us, you don’t have to pay them — why do you think they sign them underage? It’s like, I’m going to find the cheapest worker.”

Again, Solomon doesn’t disagree, as he told The New York Times. “When you go to Latin America, you can sign kids usually for a lot less, because they didn’t go through the draft process,” he said.

The problem MLB continues to face is the terrible optics of what is taking place. Suggestions Selig is going to suspend Giambi (which clearly would be a terrible mistake) if he doesn’t become an informant. As the Soprano’s ended Sunday night, Selig is playing the role of the Federal Government and Giambi the role of Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero who died at the end of season two, going swimming with the fishes.

One message Selig and MLB needs to deliver to their players, we’re not looking for the rat squad, and offer assurances whatever is said will be held confidentially. Clearly with the New York Daily News reporting that Bonds and Giambi have tested positive for the use of amphetamines suggests in no uncertain terms baseball is failing miserably at keeping things quiet.

When it came to naming names (something clearly no MLB player is going to do to another MLB player) a report in Sunday’s New York Daily News left more questions than answers as to what Selig and Mitchell are really after.

When a major league general manager sat down with Sen. George Mitchell's investigators last season, they offered him a choice. "They said I could name names if I wanted to," the GM says, "but I didn't have to."

According to The Daily News report, one issue is clear – while Mitchell’s isn’t looking for names, he’ll be more than happy to take down any names offered.

"That isn't how it worked, at least with me, anyway," another baseball executive says. "They ask you about names that have been in the news or that everybody knew about, whether you knew anything about them, had heard anything, that sort of thing. They didn't press me to name names."

Bud Selig is nearing the end of his tenure as MLB commissioner. From being seemingly ‘Lost in Space’ during the first seven or eight years he has served as commissioner, Selig deserves a great deal of the credit for baseball’s resurgence. The National Football League still leads the way in generating more than $6 million annually, but baseball as a business is much stronger now than it’s ever been. Selig deserves his fair share of the credit, but the catalyst for much of baseball’s economic success has been the labor peace that has existed since 2001. If Selig continues on the path he’s on and decides to make Jason Giambi his personal poster boy for what’s went wrong with baseball in how the sport handled the use of steroids and other performance-enhancement drugs Selig could be reopening Pandora’s Box with the MLBPA. Tread lightly Bud; look before you decide to leap.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The New York Times, New York Daily News and New York Post

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,