Saturday, June 16, 2007

Selig Doesn't Get It

If Jason Giambi doesn't cooperate/testify before the George Mitchell steroid investigation, he will almost certainly be suspended by major league baseball.
There are two schools of thought on the Giambi suspension. Many reporters and more morality-minded folks see it as a brave move for Selig to finally bring someone down in the "battle against steroid use." I hate to pick on Buster Olney again, but he is one of the more prominent members of this particular lobby. In his blog, Olney claims that "The finish line for a seeming public relations victory is in sight for commissioner Bud Selig."
There is a second school of thought among the columnists and the more sabermetrically-inclined that such a move would not only be a useless display of confused morality, but would also be counter-productive. Olney doesn't see it as a case of confused morality (at least not that I've seen), but he does address the fact that the commissioner's move may be counter-productive. Viz:

"... some folks, angry with the fact that the Mitchell investigation was even started, and even more angry with how it has proceeded, believe there will be unexpected consequences for Major League Baseball if Selig pursues the suspension. They believe the victory now seen by MLB will turn out to be a mirage that fades because of unintended consequences."
"...those I spoke with who are angered by Selig's actions are confident that suspending Giambi will be a PR victory only in the short term, and that over time -- as the case is presented to the arbitrator and the details generated by the process leak out -- some of the details produced in the process won't reflect well on MLB."

Olney focuses on the fact that if Giambi testifies, it could be damaging to everyone involved -- not just the players, but all of Major League Baseball.

However, there are other problems with suspending Giambi. As I argued in my previous blog, it would not only be a punishment misplaced on the most forthcoming player involved in the scandal but a purely punitive move by Selig to punish anyone who speaks out.
Rob Neyer, who is admittedly a favorite of mine, wonders: "When I read that the commish told Jason Giambi 'that he better cooperate with former Sen. George Mitchell's investigation of steroid use or else,' I wonder why Selig's not listening to any of the smart people who must be working for him."
Neyer wonders what practical basis the suspension would have, since Giambi is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Neyer also wonders if this sort of suspension is really in Selig's power. Olney expressed similar reservations, speculating that any suspension might be overturned, but even if it is overturned, Selig has made his move and absolved himself of significant responsibility in the Giambi matter.
While I do think that the union would oppose such a move, I doubt it would be with 100% effort. The union has already jumped into bed with the MLB on the steroids issue and has been sufficiently cowed by Congress to avoid making any strong moves to support steroid users. My guess is that the union has given in on the steroids issue and sacrificed the rank-and-file for an ephemeral "greater good" for the game and its membership. Sounds like a lot of other good causes gone wrong (see: Marx, Karl). Don Fehr isn't going to put his ass on the line for Jason Giambi.
Neyer finishes with a sensible, practical view of the situation:

"One problem, of course, is that nobody directly involved wants a real truth commission, because when the truth comes out nobody's going to look real good. Not the players, not the front-office guys, not the commissioner. But we know that suspending Giambi -- or threatening to suspend Giambi -- isn't going to lead to anything productive.
Which, come to think of it, might be the exact something the commissioner has in mind."'s Mark Kreidler offers another sensible view of the situation in an article on the website:

"If Bud Selig isn't careful -- and at this point, it feels safe to say he sure isn't -- he is going to accomplish a thing previously thought implausible: get people swinging back over to Barry Bonds' side of the whole deal.
Selig's unofficial, rumored future prosecution of
Jason Giambi (It was leaked! The threatened punishment was leaked!) is the latest turn in Major League Baseball's bipolar approach to a problem it never showed a sincere interest in solving when it was at its height. And the unintended side effect is that, with each new catfight, it is Selig himself who looks smaller amid the hissing."

and my favorite:

"Going after Giambi, one of the only people involved in the entire scandal who has even hinted at genuine remorse, is self-serving in the extreme, and in the end it'll backfire like nobody's business. You don't have to support Giambi, or even particularly like him, to understand the hypocrisy at work against him."

That is the essential truth. The longer the George Mitchell "Investigation" continues, the more it becomes ineffective, and the more it is exposed as a witch-hunt for players -- and players only. Mitchell and Selig have almost zero public interest or support for what they're doing, and it's only becoming more and more irrelevant. The term "counter-productive" doesn't do it justice.

I don't think Bud Selig is a stupid man, but I do think he has one fault common to many people with lots of power: the commitment to go all the way with an idea, even after it's been discredited and become irrelevant. Selig can't backtrack now without losing all of his remaining credibility. Selig, misled by the fiery rhetoric of the baseball establishment and a handful of Congressmen, misjudged the public support for a witch-hunt of steroid users in baseball. He was misled by the level of interest in the BALCO case, which led him to believe that the public wanted to know the truth. Well, their appetite for steroid stories has dampened in the years since, especially since the Mitchell Investigation is unlikely to provide 80% as much raw information as the Game of Shadows expose on Barry Bonds and BALCO. Selig has hitched his wagon to the steroid star, but it's looking more and more like a black hole.
But once you've committed yourself and your reputation publicly to a policy, it's very difficult to backtrack, both on a practical and a personal level. Just ask this guy, or this guy, or this guy ... or this guy, this guy, this guy . . . well, I could go on and on.

I probably shouldn't devote so much time and space to this event, since it will have little practical consequence. But that's partly the point; the public really doesn't care that much about Giambi's suspension and those who do probably support him for speaking his mind and think Bud Selig is just trying to quiet any public criticism.

This isn't what Selig planned, and it's not too late to salvage something effective out of this. But that would require him to admit his mistakes, and as history shows, prominent people with their reputations on the line rarely do that.

-- DETOUR: On an entirely different note, I simply have to say that, as a wrestling fan, I thought I was too jaded for anything to upset me anymore. Having this detestable slime fake his own death out of a morbid sense of egotism and a desperate (and laughably awkward) attempt to revive his festering corpse of a company was actually enough to genuinely upset me. Then to go on your own TV show and give yourself a memorial is beyond execrable; it's wretched. Too many people have died -- really died -- for Vince McMahon to piss on their graves with this faked publicity stunt.
I would be more angry if I weren't already completely jaded to the WWE and wrestling or if I still watched the shows anymore. But I do still care about Owen Hart, Eddie Guerrero, Sherri Martel, Curt Hennig, Mike Awesome, Chris Candido, Bobby Duncum, Jr., Ray Traylor, Miss Elizabeth, Hawk, Kerry Von Erich, Eddie Gilbert, Crash Holly, Bruiser Brody, Louie Spicolli, the Renegade, John Tenta and Andre the Giant, to name just a fraction of those whose lives were ended at a tragically young age due in no small part to the effect the wrestling business has on people. And for Vince McMahon to try and siphon off any of the legitimate respect fans have for those deceased individuals is horrifically disgusting, even by his own standards.
And in a few weeks, Vince will be back (probably at Vengeance to work the main event), and it will all have been for nothing.

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