BUD SELIG must bespending more time than usual with lawyers. The commissioner had already begunan investigation by appointing former senator George Mitchell to head up a teamof lawyers with a broad mandate to find out whether Barry Bonds and otherplayers used performance-enhancing drugs. Now come news reports that a grandjury is looking into whether Bonds lied to a federal grand jury in the 2003BALCO investigation.
Some people wantmore dramatic action from the commissioner on these matters--a suspension, say,or a redaction of the steroids-tainted record book. But like it or not, there'slittle more that Selig can do. The commissioner may have a special vantagepoint, but he is virtually powerless to act.
There are tworeasons. The first is that if Bonds is indicted on perjury charges, he will beafforded the same procedural rights as any criminal defendant in a federalcase. But Bonds is also protected by baseball's collective bargainingagreement, which insulates him from arbitrary action by his employer. Since aperjury charge would have nothing to do with the game on the field, it is notclear that baseball could sanction Bonds even if he is indicted. It has been myexperience that the players' union, which is run by talented lawyers, is verysuccessful at convincing arbitrators to overturn decisions by commissioners inthese kinds of cases.
So, despite theimpression that a commissioner has mythological powers, Selig for now is merelyan observer of a forum beyond his reach. His hands are also tied on the matterof steroid use before baseball banned the drugs in 2003. Even if Mitchell'sinvestigation shows that Bonds or anyone else used steroids (Bonds has deniedknowingly taking them), the union would surely contest any punishments metedout. As for the record book, the commissioner has few options there as well,even though he can make statistical rulings without the union's consent.Assuming Mitchell's investigation concludes that steroid use was widespread--bypitchers as well as hitters--it would be impossible to determine whichstatistics are tainted. For now, I suspect the commissioner is being told byhis lawyers to stay warm but remain in the bullpen.
April 23, 2006
Vincent is theauthor of The Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s TalkAbout the Game They Loved