As much as I've disliked him over the years--and even though I disagree with Andrew Zimbalist's assertion that he's the best baseball commissioner ever--I'll say that Bud Selig came into Thursday in a tight spot.
On one front, he faced reports from a new book, about the steroid abuses of Barry Bonds. Game of Shadows (awful, awful title!) is the culmination of intense investigation by two respected San Franscisco reporters (Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams). Excerpts of the book are in this week's Sports Illustrated, and they've ignited a firestorm around Bonds, and around Selig, as more and more people demand that the Commissioner's office investigate the allegations from this book.
Now, I haven't read the book, or picked up SI to get the full excerpts, yet. What I've read are the teases and summaries available online, but it doesn't seem like there's much new material in this book, just more details on previously-published reports about the BALCO grand jury testimony, Bonds' ex-girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, and the various statements the BALCO defendants gave to federal investigators. This is about as close as I ever expect to come to "proof" that Bonds used performance enhancing drugs, from 1998--after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the nation by belting the ball out of the park at a rate not seen since the 60's, and ultimately, not seen ever before--until this BALCO story broke, in 2003 or 2004.
Selig's dilemma is twofold. First of all, this Bonds situation stands to cast an ugly shadow over the 2006 season, a time when Bonds is almost certain to pass Babe Ruth on the career home run list, if he can play. The second problem Selig faces about Bonds, is that while seemingly the whole world--including former Commissioner Fay Vincent--is demanding that a John Dowd-style investigator be appointed to dig into Bonds's past, Selig would probably have a hard time justifying an investigation of conduct which wasn't against Major League Baseball's rules at the time that Bonds is alleged to have done it.
Again, I tend to blame Selig for everything under the sun, but I can't blame MLB's lack of a steroid policy pre-2003 on Selig alone. Vincent, his predecessor, made the same mistake. So the question I would love to ask Fay Vincent is: for what purpose should Selig investigate Bonds? Does Vincent think that Selig has the authority to discipline Bonds for steroid-related things prior to the MLB policy coming into effect in 2003? If so, how?
On another front, Selig's pet project, the World Baseball Classic, was under dire threat on Thursday. You see, on Wednesday the Canadian team (yep, the same Canadian team that almost lost to South Africa the other day shocked the world, besting team USA. For reasons Bud can't have appreciated at the time, baseball knocked the NBA and College Basketball off the back pages for a day.
That left the WBC's premier team at a small but substantial chance of being eliminated prior to their Friday game against South Africa: a low-scoring win by Mexico (2-1 or less) would have eliminated the U.S. under the WBC's twisted sense of tiebreakers.
Luckily, those scenarios were out the window in the first inning of the Canada/Mexico tilt, as Mexico scored four times in the opening frame, and went on the beat the Canuckers, 9-1. Since it's pretty well certain that the U.S. will beat South Africa, America's place in the Tourney is safe.
Now, if we could only say that about the Commissioner.