Baseball commissioner Bud Selig hoped to ride the momentum of a
riveting 2003 postseason into 2004, keeping the focus on the
field. Instead, even before the first boxes of baseballs were
cracked open for spring training, the game ran smack into a
federal investigation of steroid distribution. As it did with the
1919 Black Sox betting scandal and the 1985 Pittsburgh drug
trials, baseball now must brace itself for the fallout from a
crisis that it cannot control because it has moved into a legal
arena. The case of BALCO figures not only to loom over the coming
season, but also to influence the future of baseball's
drug-testing program and how fans view ballplayers and their
achievements. ¬∂ SI senior writer Tom Verducci interviewed the
69-year-old Selig about the game's steroids problems last
Saturday at the commissioner's home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and
while Selig, true to form, did not exactly stick his neck out,
Verducci found him to be less noncommittal than usual.
SI: Why did you impose a gag order on baseball officials
regarding steroids? Isn't a "sunshine" policy preferable--the
more dialogue, the better?
Selig: What I saw happening, what the clubs saw happening, what
the players saw happening, was that [the steroid issue] became an
every-day distraction, and there wasn't anything new they could
say. It was turning quite ugly and personal, and none of that was
making a contribution to a positive solution to this thing.
SI: Not even people coming out on behalf of a stronger drug
Selig: There have been enough people to say that. I've
articulated that. I just thought this was in everybody's best
interests. Actually, I could make a very compelling case that
with the atmosphere at least toned down a little bit, hopefully
we can figure out ways to solve this problem. It needs to be
solved. There is no one I've talked to who can say it is not a
problem. Now the question is, What can we do about it?
SI: I'm sure you saw where [players' union associate general
counsel] Gene Orza said steroids are "not worse than cigarettes."
Do you believe that's true?
Selig: I do not believe that's true. Frankly, all I can say is,
I'm saddened by it. In my judgment and in the judgment of many,
many medical people, it's incorrect.
SI: And if there is that much of a fundamental difference in
ideology between the owners and the union, how can we be
optimistic that we will see agreement on a tougher drug policy?
Selig: We'll see what happens in the coming weeks and months. I
understand the position of the players' association. But I'm
charged with doing what's in the best interests of the game. I
don't know where that will take us. But there is no question in
my mind, from talking to team doctors, experts in the field,
trainers, professors, that this is a very significant problem
that needs to be dealt with.
SI: Can you promise the fans that come December 2006, when the
current labor agreement expires, a tougher drug policy will be in
Selig: Yes, I can. But I believe this has to be done sooner
rather than later. If you ask me what sooner means, I don't know
sitting here today, but I know this is a problem that is not
going to go away.
SI: Given the union's position against renegotiation, is it even
possible to get a stricter drug policy between now and December
Selig: I'm very hopeful. Very hopeful.
SI: So that's your intention?
Selig: Yes, it is.
SI: And your model would be the policy that's in place now in the
minor leagues [which features year-round random drug testing and
a 15-day suspension for first-time offenders]?
Selig: No question about it. That's a program that has worked
very well. One thing I believe: We are a social institution. We
have enormous social responsibility. And we have a chance to do
so much good. Anything that besmirches the game or has even the
potential to do so I find very sad and unacceptable. One of the
things you never take lightly is the history and the records, the
traditions. An issue like this has enormous social ramifications.
SI: You've spoken about getting to "zero tolerance." Why was that
not talked about before 2002, when the labor agreement was put in
Selig: Well, it was. The most intense discussions at the table
took place between Gene Orza and [Baltimore Orioles owner] Peter
Angelos about this issue. It got quite personal. We had already
put the minor league policy in. So we knew [what we wanted]. In
January 2001 we had this meeting in Milwaukee with at least 10
doctors, and I asked them to articulate the problems. I was so
troubled [about steroids] that I had my personal physician there
who's an internist and quite knowledgeable in this field.
SI: You've talked about implementing a zero-tolerance policy
incrementally, but it's already been mapped out by other sports.
You're not reinventing the wheel.
Selig: And in our own structure in the minor leagues. It came to
this: There was enormous pressure on us from every quarter not to
have a work stoppage. I happened to agree with that. The pain in
'94 and '95 was intense. The problem is whenever you get into a
labor situation the specter of 1972, '73, '76, '80, '81, '85,
'90, '94 always raises its ugly head. And I understand how people
felt. How fans felt. Advertisers. All the people associated with
us, the clubs and players. So after many tense months we were
getting pretty close on all issues. This one [drug testing] was
open. That's when these really intense negotiations were
underway. So you had a judgment to make. We had no policy. Now we
were going to have an incremental policy along with everything
else we were gaining [e.g., increased revenue-sharing and a
luxury tax]. A work stoppage at that point--which many teams
couldn't take and which many players didn't want and which had
many other negative manifestations--I had many things to think
about. That month leading up [to the agreement] was one of the
most tense of my life. I took a lot of long walks trying to think
about what would be best for the game. The question was, Do you
take a work stoppage over this? At least we felt we had a policy
in place. We would start testing immediately and at least--my
father used to say nothing is either good or bad except by
comparison--by comparison we had a policy. I know people called
it toothless, but at least there was a policy. I had to make a
judgment. The clubs and players did, too. And that's why we chose
SI: You had survey testing last year that was supposed to be
anonymous. Now you have the federal government with a subpoena
for those results, and we find out that there are names attached
to samples. Is that the way you understood it to be?
Selig: No, it's supposed to be confidential, no question about
it. And I think that's the one thing we and the players'
association agree on. And we need to be very protective of that.
SI: Forget confidential. I thought there was no attaching a name
to a sample, even if it were kept confidential. Apparently that's
Selig: Apparently it wasn't. I don't think anybody was
disagreeing with the testing procedures. Whatever the labs had to
do, they had to do for practical purposes. The issue is the
confidentiality part. That, I think, will be maintained. Other
than that, [baseball and the union] have to deal with the
subpoena. That's ongoing.
SI: My understanding is you're trying to get them to narrow the
scope of the subpoena so they would obtain samples only from
players linked to BALCO.
Selig: Exactly. [Baseball officials and union representatives and
prosecutors in the case] are still working on that.
SI: Do you have a concern that a segment of your fans, maybe even
a large segment, will look at the records and achievements of
this era and not regard them as totally authentic?
Selig: Well, I hope not. I don't want to deal in
SI: I'm talking about right now, though. As we sit here today a
segment of your fan base looks at the achievements and records
and does not believe them to be authentic.
Selig: Well, I've heard the discussion. I don't know how
widespread it is, and I want to see how this plays out before I
make that judgment. I said before that one of the great things
about our sport is that records are passed from generation to
generation. In all fairness, though, there are a lot of players
who have produced great records who have done nothing wrong.
SI: But they suffer from the fact that 70 to 100 players tested
positive last year. That is a fact, not innuendo.
Selig: Look, as I said, we have a social responsibility. And
nobody is denying that there should be consequences. So the great
majority of players who have taken good care of themselves, done
it honestly, decently, I understand how some of them feel.
SI: Do you see a path to use the "probable cause" provision [of
the sport's basic agreement] in which you can petition baseball's
health committee to invoke repeated random testing for certain
Selig: To be determined. We've had some discussion about it. You
know, this is a changing environment with no road map, but we
have to be sensitive to our responsibilities and to the game.
None of this takes away from the fact that we need a
zero-tolerance policy, so these questions are eliminated.
SI: Going back to gambling in the early 1900s, cocaine in the
'80s and now steroids, it has only been when these issues made it
into a federal courtroom that baseball got really tough. Do you
regret that didn't happen sooner in this case?
Selig: If you're asking me if [we had gotten tough sooner and]
this didn't happen, of course. Of course I don't like it. It is
in no one's best interests. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a
FOUR B/W PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY RONALD C. MODRA
B/W ILLUSTRATION: MIKE LUCKOVICH/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
More of Tom Verducci's interview with Bud Selig, plus links to
SI's coverage of BALCO and steroids in baseball, at