2/17/2009 11:37:00 AM

Selig Denies Steroid Cover-Up

Posted by Mark McCray |

Wallace Matthews/Newsday:

In a lengthy telephone interview Monday, the commissioner of baseball strongly disputed the widely held perception that he was in any way complicit in the proliferation of steroids in major-league baseball during the past 15 years.

"I don't want to hear the commissioner turned a blind eye to this or he didn't care about it,'' Selig said. "That annoys the you-know-what out of me. You bet I'm sensitive to the criticism. The reason I'm so frustrated is, if you look at our whole body of work, I think we've come farther than anyone ever dreamed possible.'

He also defended his efforts to stop the use of performance-enhancing drugs as far back as 1999, the year after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, two now-suspected steroid cheats, staged a seasonlong home run derby that helped pull baseball out of the tailspin it went into after the work stoppage of 1994.

"I'm not sure I would have done anything differently,'' Selig said. "A lot of people say we should have done this or that, and I understand that. They ask me, 'How could you not know?' and I guess in the retrospect of history, that's not an unfair question. But we learned and we've done something about it. When I look back at where we were in '98 and where we are today, I'm proud of the progress we've made.''

Selig said he pushed for a more stringent drug policy during the labor negotiations of 2002 but ultimately settled for a watered-down version out of fear that the players association would force another work stoppage.

"Starting in 1995, I tried to institute a steroid policy,'' Selig said. "Needless to say, it was met with strong resistance. We were fought by the union every step of the way."

As bodies expanded and home run totals ballooned in the late 1990s, Selig said he consulted with baseball men he knew and trusted, such as Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin (then a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers), Braves president John Schuerholz and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to gauge the extent of the problem.

"They all told me none of them ever saw it in the clubhouses and that their players never spoke about it,'' Selig said. (Padres CEO) Sandy Alderson, as good a baseball man as you'll find, was convinced it was the bat. Others were convinced it was the ball. So a lot of people didn't know.''

Selig said that although only eight major-leaguers have tested positive for steroids in the past three years, he continues to be concerned about the possible use of human growth hormone, for which baseball has no approved test.

"On HGH, I'm as frustrated as anyone,'' he said. "Right now, we're funding a program at UCLA with Dr. Don Catlin to come up with a test, any test, that's reliable.''

Selig also downplayed a story last week in which it was suggested he was considering suspending Alex Rodriguez - whose name was revealed to be on a confidential list of 104 major-leaguers who tested positive for steroids and other PEDs during the 2003 survey testing upon which baseball's current drug policy is based - and returning Hank Aaron to his former position as the all-time major-league home run leader.

"I'm not going to comment on changing the records except to say that I never flatly deny anything,'' Selig said. "I've always said I'd consider everything. But the record situation, if you go back to what Ford Frick did [with Roger Maris in 1961], is a very slippery slope. Changing records is a very difficult process.''

Selig refused to comment on whether he is considering punishment for Rodriguez, who will hold a news conference Tuesday in Tampa to address questions concerning his positive test result.

"Let's just say I'm going to monitor that situation closely,'' he said. "I honestly don't know how anyone could have done more than we've already done."

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