Wednesday September 1st, 2010

HASLEMERE, England -- News of the cricket scandal broke early Tuesday morning, and by that evening the sport's governing body sent a message: We refuse to stand for this.

Specifically, in reaction to allegations that as many as 82 Pakistani matches might have been fixed, the International Cricket Council said it would "not tolerate corruption in this game." Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive, then said that he wanted any disciplinary action taken before Thursday, when Pakistan's team was next scheduled to play. Sensing Lorgat's anger, Yousaf Raza, the Pakistani prime minister, ordered a full inquiry of his own. "The latest fixing allegations," he said, "have bowed our heads in shame."

Which leads us to baseball.

Which leads us to what might have been.

Once upon a time, Bud Selig had the chance to be Haroon Lorgat. Donald Fehr had the chance to be Yousaf Raza. When it became clear that our national pastime was being overrun by cheaters and crooks, the sport's two key powerbrokers were presented with a golden opportunity to team together and stomp out evil. Selig, as rugged as a feather duster, could have demanded tougher testing; could have gone on every TV station and radio network and said, "Our sport is being destroyed by dishonest men, and it needs to stop -- now." Fehr, as tone-deaf as my Aunt Ruth, could have urged the members of his union not to use performance-enhancing drugs. "I understand the temptation," he might have said. "But it's wrong and it's illegal, and the potential long-term health risks are probably not worth the temporary gains."

The players -- men identifiable to fans across the country -- refused to call out their peers. Instead, they remained pathetically silent, cowards more interested in self-preservation than saving their profession.

In cricket, meanwhile, the only silence came from the cheats themselves. When asked, one player after another ripped the alleged wrongdoers as selfish, arrogant, sport-ruining fiends. Alastair Cook, England's vice-captain, told London's Metro newspaper that "Corruption had no place in cricket and I'd like to think if anyone was ever found guilty of doing anything to bring our great game into disrepute then they would suffer the toughest punishment possible."

In baseball, Mark McGwire is employed as a hitting coach, and Manny Ramirez, irrefutably guilty, was just picked up by the Chicago White Sox to help their playoff push. And across the majors, other Mitchell Report remainders dot the landscape. In other words, the men who nearly destroyed baseball are still welcomed and embraced with open arms.

Crazy? Yes. Pathetic? Yes. True? Sadly, yes.

When Selig and Fehr first became aware of PED rumors, they recoiled. They stalled. The balked and coughed and pretended something was nothing. When Malcolm Speed, former ICC chief, learned of cricket's problems, he conveyed the opinion of many other involved in the game. "This is an opportunity for sport to take a lead and make sure the message gets through to the players that this behavior is unacceptable, and jail sentences aren't out of the question," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We can use this to make it right."

Twelve years after McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the home run chase that wasn't, baseball is still struggling to cleanse itself.

In two days, cricket already has.

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