If Bud Selig isn't careful -- and at this point, it feels safe to say he sure isn't -- he is going to accomplish a thing previously thought implausible: get people swinging back over to Barry Bonds' side of the whole deal.
Selig's unofficial, rumored future prosecution of Jason Giambi (It was leaked! The threatened punishment was leaked!) is the latest turn in Major League Baseball's bipolar approach to a problem it never showed a sincere interest in solving when it was at its height. And the unintended side effect is that, with each new catfight, it is Selig himself who looks smaller amid the hissing.
Frankly, that's the bad news. Whatever you make of Selig, the diminution of the commissioner's office is ultimately defeating to everyone, even the long-suffering ticket buyers. The sport is not served. The search for the real killers -- whoops, that's the drive to rid the sport of cheaters -- goes nowhere.
Giambi? He couldn't be less urgent in this story, which is what makes Selig's determination to force him to speak with former Sen. George Mitchell so baffling. It's completely unnecessary at this point, first of all; Giambi already has said enough for the public record to indicate that, yes, he buffed up a few years back with the aid of steroids and that, yes, he was by no means alone.
Giambi also was using at a time when steroids weren't specifically banned by MLB, which wasn't for a moment interested in taking down the renaissance of the industry as fueled by massive homers delivered by hulking superstars. Otherwise, Jose Canseco's claims -- made what seems like eons ago, now -- of far-reaching steroid use wouldn't have been summarily dismissed as the egocentric rantings of the class clown.
Canseco may not have been completely right, but, upon further review, he looks to have landed close enough to the truth. The 1998 home run chase of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa portended it; the reporting surrounding Bonds bold-faced it. Giambi has, at this point, done little more than semi-confirm the obvious. Yet Selig and his cronies hold out, waiting for Mitchell to deliver to them "official" substantiation of what they already know, and basically threatening Giambi for his reluctance at being the guy who supplies it.
Anyone who could spend time with Selig would have no trouble coming away convinced of Selig's genuine love for the game and of his desire to put things right -- all of which makes it sadder still, the way this thing is going. It's as if the commissioner either deliberately avoids solid advice or indulges his naivete at all the worst moments. Going after Giambi, one of the only people involved in the entire scandal who has even hinted at genuine remorse, is self-serving in the extreme, and in the end it'll backfire like nobody's business. You don't have to support Giambi, or even particularly like him, to understand the hypocrisy at work against him.
Listen to Selig not long ago: "Discipline for wrongdoing is important. But it is also important to create an environment so players can feel free to honestly and completely cooperate with this important investigation."
Whoa. That's some kind of environment being created at MLB right now.
Whatever Giambi did, he did most of it before 2002, when the first anti-doping policy in the sport was cobbled together. Before that, the only real performance-enhancement edict was a 1991 statement by then-commissioner Fay Vincent that steroids were not allowed in the game. But Vincent never negotiated terms of a doping policy with the players union, the "rule" thus was deliberately never tested, life went on, and pretty soon baseballs started flying out of ballparks at alarming rates, with fan-invigorating results.
You know the rest.
And what has all this to do with Bonds? Nothing, and of course everything. If Selig tries to suspend Giambi for not speaking with Mitchell (and Giambi's agent hasn't ruled out the player talking, but rather is working for a compromise), then what's to stop the commish from going after Bonds on the same grounds? And under what circumstances would Bonds find himself open to speaking with Mitchell as part of a non-federal, not-legally-binding investigation?
The feds themselves are pursuing Bonds not on simple substance-use charges but rather for perjury and tax evasion -- and, for the record, at this point they've still delivered nothing in the way of an indictment. Bonds, meanwhile, is free to broodingly stalk Hank Aaron's home run record the way he took down Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, Sosa and McGwire in 2001.
That was before MLB had a doping policy, for those keeping score. Good luck getting anyone to talk about it now.
Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland", published by HarperCollins, is in its third printing. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, Kreidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.