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Probe's needed to rid baseball of suspicion

As far as I'm concerned, Roger Maris still owns baseball's single-season home run record. As far as I'm concerned, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth will remain Nos. 1-2 on the all-time list no matter what Barry Bonds accomplishes from here on out. And that's the way it will remain unless Commissioner Bud Selig orders a thorough independent investigation that concludes steroid use played no part in the ongoing assault on two of the game's most revered records.

It's incumbent upon Selig to get to the bottom of the steroid suspicions, or at least break the surface, which would be a good start. He must order an investigation of Barry Bonds to determine the veracity of allegations published in a pair of books recently released.

But Selig can't stop there. I want to know the truth about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. I want to know the extent to which the public was duped while balls soared out of ballparks like never before and baseball wallowed in a sense of recaptured glory. Someone please separate the fact from the fiction.

Granted, Selig shares in the blame for this sorry mess. He should have demanded a steroid policy from the players' association more than a decade ago, back when the whispers first began making the rounds. At the very least the commissioner should have made it clear that baseball was firmly against steroid use, that harsh punishments would be forthcoming (see Pete Rose) if violators were exposed by other means. He could have spared the sport its current predicament, that being how to remedy the situation if the suspicions are affirmed and it's proved we've been living a steroid-laced illusion.

History will deal with Selig and his widespread shortcomings. As of now he'll go down as baseball's worst commissioner, a spineless leader lacking the temerity of his predecessors. He should have ordered an independent investigation the moment the BALCO scandal came to the fore with some of baseball's biggest names in tow. Instead, he swept away the intriguing evidence and hoped no one would lift the rug in search of more dirt.

The latest allegations against Bonds, substantial in their scope, mandate baseball pull out the microscope and take a hard look at all that's transpired in the long-ball era. Statistics are the heart of the sport, rife with significance, numbers that link one generation of fans to the next. There should be no question as to their legitimacy, the manner in which they were attained. It would be in baseball's long-term interest to satisfy public curiosity and set the record straight.

Never mind that steroid users broke no rules according to former baseball law. Acquiring steroids without a prescription is illegal, so there's violation No. 1. Lying about it before a Senate subcommittee or a federal grand jury is perjury, so there, in some cases, is violation No. 2. Baseball's failure to address the issue never should have been construed by the players as an invitation to indulge.

It's going to take an investigation to resolve the steroid controversy and allow baseball to move toward regaining the public's trust. If Bonds, Sosa or McGwire was a user, we then know they were untruthful in their testimony. And if Sosa or McGwire were lying to the subcommittee or Bonds to the BALCO grand jury, we know it's because using steroids carries a stigma they were desperate to avoid. Which leads to the conclusion that while baseball had no specific rules outlawing steroid use, players recognized that to partake constituted a breach in the code of honor, a violation of publicly acceptable conduct. Simply put, it means they knew they were cheating.

If that's what the investigation concludes, Selig has two choices. He can either strike the tainted records from the books and restore the integrity of the record book. Or he can resign from his post and give his successor the opportunity to do what's fair and necessary.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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