By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Mar 22, 2005 at 5:14 AM

{image1} As baseball commissioner, Bud Selig is, at times, as involved in politics as he is in baseball itself. Selig's latest foray into the political realm was a March 17 appearance before a Congressional committee examining steroid use in baseball.

Arizona Senator John McCain and other Congressmen have called baseball's policy on steroids "weak" and have called for consideration of federal government intervention into the controversy. Selig appeared before the committee with other baseball officials and former player Mark McGwire and current players Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and others.

Former player Jose Canseco also appeared before the committee. Canseco's book, "Juiced," has thrown fuel on the steroid fire in recent months. In the book, Canseco admits using steroids and names several other players he claims also used substances.

I met with Selig, the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, during a spring training exhibition game between the Brewers and Cubs in Mesa, Ariz.

In the court of public opinion, how do you think baseball fared in the recent hearings?

Selig: It's hard for me to assess. Just let me say at the outset, nobody worries more about the image of the sport than I do. I'm proud of our players. I said this a couple weeks ago, and some people have picked it up; I'm protective of our players. A couple of the players at the hearing in Washington thanked me for that.

No commissioner before me ever had a drug policy. We finally were able to negotiate something. Some people described it as toothless and weak and pitiful and all the adjectives you could drag out, but we got something in place and have since tightened the program. I put the minor league program into place five years ago, and that's after talking to doctors and trainers and players and general managers.

I believe in zero tolerance, and the percentage of positive tests in the minor league, for example, is 1.7 percent. That's not zero, but it's hardly rampant by any stretch of the imagination.

When I left here on Jan. 14, I was very happy. We had announced a new policy. We had tightened it. The union had voluntarily opened up their agreement, and everybody was sort of patting us on the back. Now nothing has happened in those two months to change that. Now we test year-'round -- random testing. Multiple tests. All the things people had complained about.

So, am I a little surprised the new program wasn't allowed to work? We only started testing on the third of March. I know there was a huge flap the other day about the agreement. That's for the lawyers, and one thing I'm very proud to say is I am not a lawyer. The new program is in force. They've been testing.

What about the penalties for steroid use?

Selig: I'll repeat what I said in Washington: Any player who tests positive is gone (for a 10-day suspension). There are no exceptions. I can say that unequivocally. And, the name becomes public immediately.

Would I like tougher penalties? I would. I said that. Somebody even asked me about federal legislation. That's something baseball would not object to. But, in life you have to deal with what you have. This is a subject for collective bargaining (between MLB and the players' union). This is the policy we have. At least it's working.

It's not like we have ignored the problem. You can't minimize the health risks. I've spent an enormous amount of time with doctors over the last four or five years. I'm going to meet with doctors and trainers. I've done that. Nobody is taking this lightly. This is something to be very concerned about, and we are doing everything we possibly can.

Do you think it's going to take federal intervention?

Selig: No, I don't think so. There is a very significant awareness about things, and I feel very comfortable saying we can solve our own problems.

Do you think, as the congressman said the other day, you can re-open the agreement again and put something else in place?

Selig: I don't really know. I just left there and really haven't thought that much about it. I'm really just trying to assess everything that has happened at this point.

Some would like the Olympic testing system put in place.

Selig: Well, they haven't really talked to me about that.

Some have said owners and players stayed quiet about the problem because baseball benefited from the home runs and records.

Selig: I never had an owner tell me they wanted all the home runs. In fact, Sandy Alderson, standing right there, I sent the poor guy to Costa Rica (where MLB baseballs are made) because they said the ball was juiced up. Then, it was the bats they were worried about.

All these things about "you should have known" or "you could have known," nobody knew. Obviously, I take it very seriously. The programs have kicked in, and we are going to do whatever we can to eradicate steroids from baseball.

What about some of the statements from politicians about complicity between owners and players on covering up the steroids use? Are these false?

Selig: Absolutely. You have to have knowledge, some facts. I can make a lot of claims about a lot of people. I talk to a lot of general managers, and they say "we didn't know." My real concern started on a Sunday in Milwaukee when I first heard about andro (a steroid allegedly used by slugger Mark McGwire). I walked into a drugstore, and the druggist told me, "you can buy it, commissioner. It's right over there." It was a legal drug, but that was when I first began to be concerned.

It's easy to look back and rewrite history, but if some of the great young minds in our sport didn't know. There certainly was no medical evidence. There was no testing at the time. As an old history major, and a guy who wanted to be a history professor, I wish I knew in 1995 and '96 what I know today.

Do you think Congress is going to intervene?

Selig: I have no idea. People tell me they don't really want to intervene.

Do you think it was a rough day at the hearing?

Selig: Remember, as commissioner, I've been there quite a few times. I had the great honor of sitting next to Gov. Ventura when we were talking about contraction. I revealed baseball's figures (on revenue). That was a rough day. Maybe, I've been there too often. At least for me personally, I didn't think it was a rough day. They have concerns. We have concerns.

The parents' stories (about kids hurt by steroids) were heartbreaking. I share all their concerns about steroids. I'm sorry we have to go through this, but we will get it resolved.

What about the language the congressmen were concerned about that a player could pay a $10,000 fine and avoid suspension?

Selig: As far as I was concerned, it was rectified immediately. I didn't know about it. I was shocked (when it was mentioned). When we approved it out here on Jan. 13-14, we approved it with a 10-day suspension. Nobody ever talked about a fine. It's a 10-day suspension and the name immediately becomes public, and that is the end of the discussion. It will be taken out.

Do you feel you succeeded in getting your point across?

Selig: Only time will tell. All I could do was go there, and have the same conversation I am having with you. I know this isn't perfect, but when you are in negotiations you don't always get exactly what you want.

I understand that when you are a commissioner who represents a sport you serve as sort of a lightning rod. A few years ago, this type of thing was a tough experience. I guess I'm getting used to it.

The commissioner is not above the law. These are subjects for collective bargaining. People can say "that's a rationalization," no it's not. That's the fact. As I said, we got kudos on Jan. 14 for the policy. Then Canseco's book came out and that changed the dynamics.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

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Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.