Pitchers and catchers turned up in Florida and in Arizona this week, allegedly signifying the baseball solstice and all of its accompanying orthodoxy, particularly the worn gospels of hope and renewal and how every team may, henceforth, dare to dream again.
Except the Pirates, obviously.
Pitchers and catchers might have shown up, but hope and renewal are conspicuously absent, and not because they've got visa problems, the ancient explanation for early springtime absenteeism among players from various island nations.
Hope and renewal have no access to Major League Baseball in its continuing configuration, mostly because the people who backed it up to the loading dock at Roid World are not only still in charge, but continue to be spectacularly compensated by their spectacularly compensated constituencies, still self-indulgent and resplendently ignorant as can be.
Commissioner Bud Selig's income was more than $17.4 million last year, a figure that makes legendary Bucco slacker Derek Bell seem to have been reasonably compensated. Selig went to Capitol Hill in March 2008 and affirmed that he was lax at best (more like criminally malfeasant) in protecting the game from an approaching pharmaceutical tsunami that was throbbing all over the radar. The next day, baseball's owners gave him a new contract that will keep him in place through 2012 with total compensation to approach $100 million.
Here's what Bud said this week in the wake of the Alex Rodriguez outing by Sports Illustrated. Read it slowly, as I couldn't believe it either:
"Eradicating performance enhancing substances from the game has been my first priority over the past decade and it is important to remember that these recent revelations relate to pre-program activity."
That first independent clause is a dilly, isn't it?
You mean since 1999, Bud's Job 1 was eradicating the juice?
What was Job 2, limiting the Yankees' payroll?
So while it was so painfully obvious that Barry Bonds was using a newly acquired pro wrestling physique to smash hallowed cultural mileposts erected by Roger Maris and Hank Aaron, whom Selig so richly admires, the commissioner was utterly catatonic in spite of his "first priority?"
Selig should be fired, which has a zero probability, or have the decency to resign, which has a less-than-zero probability.
The players -- not one of whom cooperated with the Mitchell Report at the urging of their union -- get no sympathy here, but it's interesting how only the players end up taking any punishment for the Steroid Error. They get outted, suspended, humiliated, ostracized, and even heckled into isolation, but Selig and players' union boss Donald Fehr and the various executives who helped torch the game's integrity get nothing but an occasional scold from a Congressional committee.
Hope and renewal can find no entry point to baseball so long as Selig and Fehr are the two ends of the game's power axis. Fehr has tipped the axis in the union's favor for so long that it no longer matters to him that the wind beneath his wings is choked with Dianabol. The owners now suspect, and the Mitchell Report indicates, that union officials alerted members to upcoming drug tests.
Fehr should resign, and the union should replace him not from the ranks of his frothing toadies, but from outside the MLPA, which has a less-than-less-than-zero probability.
Hope and renewal are going to show up at some point this season only if Bud acts "in the bests interests of baseball," which is within his powers, and suspends Alex Rodriguez for the 2009 season. It is not in the best interest of baseball to have A-Fraud around for at least that long. He is the face of baseball, and baseball needs a new face, some face that hasn't squinted at a syringe. Spare me all "they weren't illegal when he used them" arguments. Yes, they were. It's against the law to take steroids without a prescription. They have been effectively prohibited in Major League Baseball since 1971 and expressly prohibited since 1991. The fact that the were no penalties associated with their use until 2004 is evidence only of incompetent leadership.
But Bud will not act in the game's bests interests and never has. When you can't deliver so much as a final score in the All-Star Game, and you then try to compensate for it by having the All Stars rig the slope of every subsequent World Series, you're just not up to the job, $17 million annually notwithstanding.
Eradication can still be baseball's top priority. If only it knew where to start.
Gene Collier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .