03/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Baseball's Pattern of Denial

The issue before baseball is not Alex Rodriguez. It is the other 103 names on the list of players who for reasons that boggle the mind were assured of confidentiality if testing revealed that they had used performance-enhancing drugs.

The issue cuts to the heart of what has ailed baseball for much of its history: an inability to see beyond the moment. It is as if baseball, like the men who play the game, measures life a pitch at a time.

Baseball's enduring lack of foresight has undermined the great game, time and again. It kept the sport from drawing upon the vast source of remarkable athletes it consigned to the Negro Leagues because it could not see beyond the shameful limitations of its racism. It allowed the sport to be overtaken by professional football as the nation's most popular sport because it insisted that an alignment fashioned in 1903 still worked for a changing America. It could not accept that its players might have claim to the wealth that the owners kept to themselves -- and as a result created a tradition of profound mistrust with the players' union.

Most recently the game was woefully slow to appreciate the damage done by the use of performance enhancing drugs -- a blight for which the players and their union share responsibilities with the owners.

There is history to this pattern of denial. For years baseball operated as a legally-sanctioned monopoly: in 1922 the Supreme Court, in a decision by the other-wise revered Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, ruled that because baseball did not represent interstate commerce it was exempt from anti-trust laws. That ruling, baffling its reasoning, allowed the owners who ran the game to slip into an enduring state of lassitude and smugness. Yet even with its fall in popularity, with scandal, and strikes, the men who run the game seem incapable of seeing beyond the moment.

The wise course today, tomorrow at the latest, would be to make a full accounting of what happened before, to show what had gone wrong and what, in good measure, has been made right.

That, however, would mean a decision that would stand in marked contrast to what has come before. If baseball has a collective character it is expedience, and an eye to the short-term bottom line. To show boldness now would be the act of a different breed.

Alex Rodriguez has looked to the past and seen the impact it might have upon his own, damaged future. He has seen the public humiliation of Mark McGwire, the perjury case against Barry Bonds, the shame of Roger Clemens but also the redemption of Andy Pettitte, a pious man who may have cheated but who would not lie about it.

Baseball would be wise to follow that lead. But wisdom is a quality that the men who have run the game have struggled to exhibit.

Perhaps this, at long last, might be a good time to start.

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