Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A PR Dilemma: Should the Commissioner Attend the Game?

Everyone who follows baseball knows that Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants superstar, is on the verge of breaking one of baseball's most sacred records: the 755 home runs hit by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, formerly of the Atlanta Braves, who retired in 1976.

There has been a lot of publicity and discussion about whether Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball, should attend the game in which Bond's record-breaking hit will occur. Why? Because Bonds has been indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for his admitted — but he says "unknowing" — ingestion of steroids supplied by his trainer. Steroids artificially inflate one's physical power and speed up recovery. It is currently illegal under baseball regulations to take them. The Grand Jury investigation is still under way, while Bond's personal trainer, Greg Anderson, refusing to testify, sits in jail.

So this so-called record, many contend, is really not a record at all; Bonds might never be in a leadership position had he not taken drugs which enhanced his physical prowess. In fact, to add to the skepticism, Bond’s statistics have gotten better as he has gotten older, when most players' performances tend to decline.

And that’s the issue: by attending this "historic" game, will the Commissioner be recognizing this new record as legitimate, thereby endorsing what Bonds and other superstars allegedly did (cheat)? If he attends, will this create a long-term public relations problem for the game?

It is my position that the Commissioner should attend the game, largely because he and the rest of the leadership of Major League Baseball are the reason baseball is in this pickle. While the integrity of any professional sport requires that performance-enhancing drugs not be used, it is not until the past couple years that baseball had a drug policy. Integrity alone is not enough of a deterrent in a sport where players' livelihoods are dependent on performance.

Major League Baseball has left all records -- and statistics -- standing among those who admittedly took steroids. Thus, Bonds alone should not be any more culpable than Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire or others whose use of steroids has been alleged or admitted. There is no investigation that can ever go broadly enough to discover all baseball players in history -- and most likely many in the Hall of Fame -- who took steroids, influencing their records, either long before there was a drug policy or since the policy was established.

The reality is that it is Major League Baseball itself that is culpable, and it is time for the leadership to admit that and start afresh. There should be an "amnesty" applicable to the past, through a designated date in the future, regarding all statistics and records, so the questioning stops. Before doing this, MLB needs to make sure that they have an adequate testing program in place; without that, any policy is a sham. Thereafter, anyone caught taking steroids should be punished via established MLB policies (which should includes specific punishments for first, second and third offenses), and their "records," if any, should not be recognized.

Years ago, when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in one season and broke Babe Ruth's record of 60, Maris did it during a season of 162 games, while Ruth created his record in a season of 154 games. Legend has it that for years the Maris record had an asterisk (*), footnoting the fact that Maris played eight more games than Ruth. It took over 40 years of pressure for MLB to remove this famous asterisk which according to The New York Times, May 27, never really existed except in the minds of fans. Nevertheless, it gained such notoriety (the idea was ignited by a sportswriter), a committee was set up to officially “remove” it.

Since the drug makers are ahead of the testers, it is time for MLB to fix what has been broken and fix it well. In other words, it is time to “remove the asterisk" and move baseball forward.

Technorati Tags: baseball, Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, Baseball Hall of Fame, Hank Aaron, Atlanta Braves, Bud Selig, steroids, Greg Anderson, Major League Baseball, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, MLB, Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, New York Times, business, public relations, communications


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