The revelation that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 and the public reaction to it suggest that baseball is not yet done with its cleansing process. A-Rod has now come clean and admitted to using steroids for his three years with the Rangers. A-Rod has shown us the way we should deal with the lingering scandal: "The more honest we can all be, the quicker we can get baseball [back] to where it needs to be."
The federal government has the list of the 104 players who tested positive as part of the screening process agreed to in the August 2002 negotiations between the owners and the Players Association. The Commissioner's Office promised those results would be confidential and would be destroyed immediately. Now you know why the union worries so much about confidentiality. It was the feds who abused a court-ordered subpoena targeted at ten players and threw everything they found into their briefcases. It was not the worst abuse of civil liberties by the recently-departed Bush administration, but don't tell that to Mr. Rodriguez.
I was gearing up for the Barry Bonds trial when the Rodriguez bombshell hit. Using steroids may not be a major criminal offense, but lying to a grand jury is, except apparently if you are Scooter Libby. If convicted, Bonds deserves punishment and will suffer even more public opprobrium than he has already received. This is all old news, however. It is time to think about how baseball can declare an official end to the steroid era.
Unless the Commissioner's Office and the MLB Players Association develop a way to clean the stable, the public will be treated to steroid waterboarding, as the names drip out one by one. (Obviously, A-Rod was the big fish and the leakers must be delighted with the public's reaction to their sniping at the premier player of our time.) Every player at every turn at bat will be a suspect, and it is impossible to prove a negative -- that you never took the stuff.
Baseball should create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Unlike George Mitchell's investigation -- which the players, for the most part, stonewalled -- this would be a joint effort of the owners and the players union. Each side would have representatives on the commission, and they would select a neutral chair. The federal government should supply the Commission with the list of those who tested positive so the Commission can accomplish its goal -- to end once and for all baseball's latest infamy.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be patterned after the governmental body created in South Africa after the end of apartheid to wipe the slate clean for those who had committed offenses during the previous regime. Those who came forward were granted amnesty, and the country could get on with its business of developing that great land. People might say that steroid use is not in the same category as killings and torture, but there is no reason to believe the process cannot be adopted for our purposes.
Say, for example, that someone like A-Rod were to come before the Commission and admit to steroid use, much as A-Rod has now done in his ESPN interview with Peter Gammons. If the player tells the whole truth, the sporting public should accept his confession and contrition and move on. As I have written before, the actual use of steroids has now been reduced almost to zero, and anyone who uses the stuff has a short career ahead. We have to clean up the past, however. The Commission can do that.
So why won't this work? The owners and the players have a better relationship now than at any time since the late 1960s. Rob Manfred for the owners and Donald Fehr for the Union are responsible players in the business of the game, and this is a pure business issue. Would the players come forward and tell all? Some may not know if they are on the remaining list of players, but they should know whether they used performance-enhancing substances. If they did, they should say so and apologize for doing so, even if that use was not banned at the time under the Basic Agreement.
As a result, players who come forward should receive "amnesty" for their confessed transgressions as far as baseball is concerned. For that select group of superstars of Hall of Fame caliber, like A-Rod, they should not be blackballed from Cooperstown like Mark McGwire has been and Barry Bonds will be. The Hall selects the finest players of each era of baseball, and that includes the last decade.
How would the public react to this mea culpa? I think that American sports fans would be amazed at the players' candid confessions and would be understanding. We have a great ability to forgive in our society. Many players from 2003 are no longer in the game, and they might be excused from the confessional. Others may not want to participate until their names are called out in the newspaper. Still others will hope the whole issue will go away in a time of economic disaster in the country. (The last idea is fanciful. Baseball was a very popular pastime during our last depression.)
We have to move on, and the Baseball Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a way to do that. There may be some criminal issues that linger on, for example with Bonds' perjury trial and Roger Clemens' alleged contempt of Congress, and so the strategy will not take steroids off the front pages, but it would be a critical step. Alex Rodriguez has shown the way. We could even have George Mitchell come back from the Middle East (after he solves the Israeli-Palestinian dispute) to bless the Commission for completing the work he started.