Commentary

Taking credit where it isn't due

Updated: January 19, 2014, 7:31 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

Word has it Bud Selig wants to throw himself something of a season-long going-away party, where he can rummage about the cheap seats and commune with the folks who know he's fought the good fight, and fought it good and hard.

This is Selig's final year as commissioner -- cross his heart -- and he can be forgiven for wanting to bestow a certain legacy upon himself. Legacies are the hip new accessory in baseball, from the new Hall of Famers to the Hall of Fame PED outcasts to Selig to Alex Rodriguez. Never before have so many people been so consumed with being remembered, or so fearful of being forgotten.

Selig, clearly, is angling to be remembered as the guy who cleaned up the game, and by "cleaning it up," we mean persuading "60 Minutes" to tell the world that he will go down in history as the guy who presided over the toughest drug-testing program in professional sports.

And by "cleaning it up," we mean making sure Rodriguez never steps foot on a field again, a crusade "60 Minutes" managed to mistakenly conflate with the alleged ferocity of Major League Baseball's drug-testing program.

As Rodriguez embarks on his quest to sue everyone from Selig to that one guy who once mistook a minotaur for a centaur, it's probably worth backtracking a bit to remind everyone that MLB's drug-testing program -- rigorous as it might be -- had nothing to do with Rodriguez finding himself in Selig's crosshairs.

[+] EnlargeBud Selig
AP Photo/Mary AltafferThis will be Bud Selig's final year as MLB commissioner.

The Biogenesis case, like the BALCO case before it, landed in MLB's lap after the media gathered it up and spread it throughout the land. Not one of the 13 Biogenesis cheats who accepted suspensions as a result of the Miami New Times expose received those suspensions for failing an MLB-administered drug test.

In fact, the Rodriguez case emphasizes the relative toothlessness of the testing program. The public testimony of Tony Bosch shows as much, especially if a guy with his intelligence, wit and phony medical background could continuously get away with plying his clients with everything short of testosterone-laced saliva. This bit of information has been glossed over in MLB's version of events, mostly because it's always good to flip the bad guy but not always good to explain how his badness managed to run rampant over the sport's policies until a disgruntled employee named Porter Fischer decided to take his grievances -- and a stack of papers outlining doping schedules and billing information -- to a newspaper. (Papers, it should be added, for which MLB paid 125 large to someone known poetically as "Bobby.")

It's nearly laughable for MLB, which conducted itself like a rogue agency, to expect backslaps for its work on the Biogenesis front. It's even more laughable for it to initiate the slapping.

There is, however, no debating one point: Baseball has the toughest doping penalties of any sport. As any of A-Rod's attorneys will attest, there are plenty of billable hours embedded in that policy. Rodriguez has done a lot of things wrong in his career -- including take PEDs, perhaps serially -- but running afoul of MLB's drug-testing program (first offense: 50 games) is not one of them. The length of his suspension, despite everything we loathe about A-Rod, seems to be the result of some vengeful math.

How about Ryan Braun? He was nabbed by the testing, then he was un-nabbed by a technicality before being renabbed by the Biogenesis documents. His journey, from presumed cheater to presumed liar to cheating liar, is just about the perfect synopsis for the whole sordid episode.

While we're at it, let's acknowledge something that nobody wants to admit: PEDs are, and have been, great business for baseball. That's not to suggest that Selig and the players' union aren't serious -- now, anyway -- about getting them out of the game. But from a sheer publicity standpoint, starting with the home run boom of the late '90s and 2000s to the Mitchell Report to the BALCO investigation to Biogenesis to the enduring gnash-and-rend over the Hall of Fame, PEDs have created interest in baseball that never would have existed otherwise. Just look at this week: The only story to come close to generating as much discussion as the NFL's conference championship games is the A-Rod saga. That's one way to compete with King Football.

If Selig can convince enough people that nailing A-Rod's skin to the wall makes him the conquering hero of PEDs, good on him. At the very least, it will make him feel better as he embarks on his farewell tour through the presumably drug-free ballparks of America. If he needs a touring buddy, Porter Fischer is probably available.

Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

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