Former Phillie Gets Tough On The Game

With all of the "not me" and finger pointing going on during the steroid testimony in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, one figure stood out from the crowd. Call him old-fashioned, but Jim Bunning threw some high, hard heat to all involved in the game's steroid mess. It was inspiring and showed baseball what leadership should be.

Jim Bunning for Commissioner of Baseball.

He may not even be interested, but it would do baseball a world of good. The Hall of Famer was tough on players, the commissioner and anyone using steroids or supporting the use of steroids during his stint with the House Government Reform Committee on Thursday. We can only hope that Bud Selig was paying particular attention to Senator Bunning, because he showed the type of leadership that the game needs.

"If they started in 1992 or 1993 illegally using steroids, wipe all of their records out," Bunning said. "Take them away. They don't deserve them. Go ask Henry Aaron. Go ask the family of Roger Maris. Go ask all of the people that played without enhanced drugs if they would like their records compared with the current records."

It was pure magic. It was what many fans have said, but nobody in the spotlight wanted to voice publicly.

Bunning went on to hit baseball where it lives; antitrust. Pennsylvania Representative Charlie Dent (Republican) asked Bunning if Congress should consider revoking baseball's antitrust exemption if things don't change. "If you are going to grant an exemption and they don't honor the exemption that they have and respect the fact that they have it, where major league football doesn't, and major league basketball doesn't have it and major league hockey never had it, then they should be held accountable for that exemption. Of course it should be one of the things on the table if you are going to look at not reacting to this crisis that is before them," argued Bunning.

If Congress was looking for someone to lay down the gauntlet, Bunning did just that. He pulled no punches. He talked of the game that he and others love so much. He was a player, a fan and a political official all roled into one strong and needed voice. Bunning talked about the new steroid policy, calling it "puny" and laying out what standards he believes the policy should include. A first offense should bring a one month suspension, a second a year suspension and a third a lifetime ban. Plain, simple and tough.

Sure, Bunning comes from the old school. When players believed in simple, raw talent to survive. He believed that the best succeeded and the others fell by the wayside. He still believes that. "What is happening in baseball now isn't natural and it isn't right," said Bunning.

As a baseball fan, I love Mark McGwire. His devotion to children's charities was overwhelming. He was the stuff that heroes - legends - are made of. It wasn't just his power, it was his seeming love for the game. It was how he carried himself. By contrast to Bunning, McGwire came up like Mario Mendoza at the hearings. "I'm not here to talk about the past," McGwire repeatedly said. That's his right, but it doesn't help his cause. My Dad always said "the cover up is worse than the crime." He was right. Had McGwire and others come out and said 'I did it. It was wrong. I'm sorry,' they could have reclaimed some of their hero status. Instead, they pointed fingers and ducked questions. Bunning talked about the past and all of the players on hand should have been listening. His thoughts should be required reading for all major league and minor league players. Maybe they would take just a small part of his pure love for the game from the things that he said.

The steroid controversy is far from over. There are more battles to be fought and likely many of those battles will turn into wars. Not the smallest of which will be the war between Congress and Major League Baseball.

As a Phillies fan and a fan of Jim Bunning, I'm proud. He stood tall, just as he always did on the mound. He didn't shy away from batters as a major leaguer and he didn't shy away from a tough spot in his testimony on Capitol Hill. All in all, it was a good day to be a Phillies fan. At least if you pride yourself on what character means to the game.

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