The evidence was mounting like curbside garbage. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was trapped, caught between the history he once tried so hard to ignore and the present he was forced to address. Opening day was fast approaching. Barry Bonds, the subject of the new book “Game of Shadows,” which chronicles his involvement with steroids, was taking aim on the home-run totals of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, and the insistent issue of steroid abuse had to be formally addressed again.
Selig was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore.
Or at least that is what he wanted us to believe Thursday when he announced that former Senate majority leader George Mitchell would be leading an investigation into steroid use in baseball.
OK, let’s all say it together now. One, two, three: “What took him so long?”
Why didn’t he begin this investigation 10 years ago?
Why didn’t the suddenly swollen home-run numbers put up by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Bonds and their swollen physiques tweak Selig’s curiosity in the 1990s?
If he was so intent on finding evidence, why didn’t he react swiftly in 2002 when Ken Caminiti admitted his steroid issue?
Why did he choose this day so close to the start of the 2006 season to give Mitchell, a director of the Boston Red Sox, permission to “follow the evidence wherever it may lead”?
It seemingly took Selig forever to get interested in the steroid debate. And it took an inject-and-tell book from Jose Canseco, a Senate hearing and “Game of Shadows” to force him into this investigation.
But today it doesn’t help to complain about the commissioner’s tardiness.
What’s done is done. Baseball can’t go back and fix its public-relations problems. It can’t erase the videotapes of Bonds’ 73 home runs, or McGwire’s 70, or Sosa’s seasons of 60 or more.
Selig can’t suspend McGwire or Sosa. They’re done. They’ve slipped into a restless retirement. And their names always will be tarnished by baseball’s steroid era.
History can’t be rewritten; but at the very least, history can be amended.
This investigation is another warning to any of today’s players that baseball will deal with its cheaters. And it is another promise to the fans that steroids won’t be tolerated and the game will be played by the rules.
And, even though he wasn’t mentioned by name Thursday, this investigation mostly is about Bonds. It’s about the allegations in “Game of Shadows.” It’s about finding the truth and punishing Bonds before he overtakes Aaron and becomes the all-time home-run leader.
Bonds had become the symbol of everything that is and was wrong with baseball. He is the perceived cheater_the surviving cheater_whose cavalier attitude is mocking the accomplishments of Ruth and Aaron.
Bonds is chasing the most cherished record in the game. Maybe the most cherished record in sports. And, even if the investigation takes all season_which almost certainly it will_it appears Selig wants Bonds exposed.
Who knows how much Mitchell will uncover? He has no subpoena power. He will have to rely on the kindness of strangers. And what player, ex-player or owner will come forward to admit prior knowledge of steroid use?
Still, the fans that were duped by the cheaters have the right to know as much as Mitchell can discover. They have the right to know who the con men were.
If Mitchell can come up with any names or answers, if he can verify the information in “Game of Shadows” and give the game’s stamp of approval on the book, he can help level the field in the future. He can put an end to Bonds’ “my life is in shambles” pity party.
All of us now know that baseball was infested with steroid abuse. We know that the real home-run hitters were Ruth and Aaron, Roger Maris and Frank Robinson.
We can be pretty certain that the McGwire-Sosa home-run race was as phony as a WWE championship bout. And who doesn’t think Bonds is guilty?
But most of us want to hear it from Selig.
George Mitchell has a difficult task ahead of him. Let’s hope he gets answers and the public, which has been conned for so long, discovers justice in his findings.