Hear that sound? It’s a million Phillies fans quietly whimpering from the news that the Mets have signed two-time Cy Young winner and All-Star Johan Santana, ending MLB’s biggest off-season drama since A-Rod negotiated his own salary. Or wait, maybe it was the Bonds retirement debate? Or could it have been the Joe Torre – George Steinbrenner feud? Or maybe – just maybe – it’s that pesky steroid thing.
Off-season buzz might be louder than ever, and even though the MLB’s coming off of one of the most watched regular seasons in recent history, 2007 highlights and player trades shouldn’t be the focus of the league’s PR push this winter.
It’s been almost two months since Senator George Mitchell dropped a bomb in baseball’s lap, but the league has done little to undo do the damage the Mitchell report has done so far. (The Roger Clemens’ PR disaster alone will have fans debating “was he or wasn’t he?” for the at least the next decade…)
As commissioner, Bud Selig should be the face and voice of America’s pastime, yet he’s done nothing more this off-season than give a few vague quotes or release a statement here and there. Even upon release of the Report, Selig was weak and noncommittal in his news conference, stating, “If we were naïve or missed some signals,” Selig said to a handful of writers, “I accept that responsibility.” I guess a 20-month investigation and a 409-page report naming 89 major league players might have turned up a few of those “signals.”
(He’s not on steroids – he’s just big boned…)
Regardless, Selig’s had plenty of opportunities to prove to the public that the league stands behind the integrity of the game. And even though he hasn’t taken them, there’s no time like the present. Having recently been awarded a three-year contract extension, Selig needs to use the next 61 days for a pre-season warm-up centered on strong leadership initiatives that reassure fans he’s the right guy to get baseball on track.
Now, it’s true that certain legal aspects of the steroid allegations prevent him from offering opinions on guilt or innocence of certain players, but legislation and legalese mean little to doubting fans.
As a wise, old PR guy once told me, “Validate concern. Show action.” That’s what the public wants to see. By admitting there’s a problem and instituting a few ways to correct it, Selig will go a long way to soften the doubt he’s helped prolong and reinstitute faith in the game and its players.
And in the meantime, the rest of us here in Philly will cross our fingers and hope Cole Hamels wins 20 games this year.