Can MLB's Steroid Panel Clean Up Baseball?

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Major League Baseball has set up a new commission to probe steroid use by its players. The move comes amid renewed accusations that star slugger Barry Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs regularly during his record-breaking career. Madeleine Brand speaks with Buster Olney, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, about the credibility of the league's anti-steroid efforts.


This is DAY TO DAY. Major League Baseball is going to investigate charges of steroid use by Barry Bonds and other players. Senator George Mitchell will be in charge. Back in 1999, he was on a blue ribbon panel looking at baseball's finances. Joining us to talk about this story is Buster Olney. He's a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. And Buster Olney, welcome to the program.

Mr. BUSTER OLNEY (Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine): Thanks for having me.

BRAND: And just in the interest of full disclosure, ESPN is a division of the Disney Company, and Senator Mitchell is Disney's chairman of the board. Now, this announcement comes a week after a new book has been published, a book that details steroid use by Barry Bonds, that he denies, and others, by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters. Is there a coincidence there? Or is that the reason for this commission?

Mr. OLNEY: That certainly is the spur which has moved this thing along. The fact that Barry Bonds is pursuing the most cherished record in baseball, the all-time homerun record by Henry Aaron, that's moving it along as well.

BRAND: Now, professional baseball has been criticized in the past for looking the other way when it comes to steroid use. Is this a turnaround?

Mr. OLNEY: Well, yes and no. The fact that they're investigating it is a turnaround, but the bottom line is the horse is out the barn door, and they ignored, without a doubt, they ignored evidence for years and years and years, and you know, now they seem to be focusing on Bonds and a few other players, and it does smack of scapegoating that they are trying to identify a few players when, in fact, hundreds and perhaps thousands of major and minor leaguers failed steroid tests over the last five years.

And, you know, at no point during that time did Major League Baseball launch an investigation. You had a prominent player, Ken Caminiti, a former MVP, who died after admitting that he used steroids. They didn't launch an investigation then. They've had many times when it would have made sense to launch and investigation.

BRAND: Well, when you say scapegoating, do you know that they investigation will only focus on the players? Or will it be a wide-ranging investigation?

Mr. OLNEY: I don't think it's going to be completely wide-ranging. I don't think they would have the resources to do that, and I guess we'll wait and see. But I don't believe that they're going to ask some of the core questions, which are what did Major League Baseball officials know, and when did they know it? There's a lot of evidence to suggest that they knew as far back as the early ‘90s that there were players taking steroids.

And I guess the natural follow-up question would be, you know, why was there action not taken at that time? And I don't think that this investigation will reach that far.

BRAND: If Senator George Mitchell finds extensive use of steroids, what would be the outcome?

Mr. OLNEY: That's a great question, too. The fact is, is if they were to, baseball were to announce a suspension of Barry Bonds, the player's union would probably get it overturned very quickly. It would have no practical impact, and if he were to--if Commissioner Selig were to start striking records from the record book, you know, this is a problem. It's like pulling on a thread.

You know, they had so many players using this stuff, apparently, that you know, for example, Barry Bonds, it may be that four out of every 10 homeruns he hit the last six years were against pitchers who used steroids. So, it's a really, it's a very difficult precedent to set once you start investigating, you know, one or handful of players for suspected steroid use.

BRAND: Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. OLNEY: Thanks for having me this morning.

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