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Just like that, baseball gets tough

Selig's newfound indignation leaves fans wondering

MINNEAPOLIS -- There's nothing worse than encountering someone who has been reformed.

It might be the ex-sinner who now wants to put you on the path to salvation. Or it may be the former boozehound who clicks his tongue when you order a glass of wine. Or maybe it's the ex-smoker who screams for the restaurant manager when someone lights up five booths away.

In any event, it's worth taking a long detour to avoid any of the above.

For years Bud Selig and baseball's owners turned a blind eye to steroid use. Now, in the wake of a couple of major scandals and the resultant congressional hearings, the powers that be suddenly and miraculously have seen the light.

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Amen and Hallelujah, their eyes have been opened! You might say their eyes were pried open by an outraged general public.

No dummies, Selig and the owners quickly repositioned themselves on the side of righteous indignation. As a result, it seems as if the commissioner conjures up visions of newer and harsher penalties every day. Last I heard, he proposes that a first-time offender gets shot at sunrise.

This new get-tough approach is supposed to restore public confidence in the game. After decades of unchallenged abuse, the powers that be apparently now are concerned about public trust. Well, OK.

But I don't think it's working. As a member in good standing of the general public, I'm more confused than reassured. That's because while baseball is quick to announce the name of the offender, it offers no clue as to the nature of the substance that was abused. That's confidential.

That's like saying someone committed a crime, but we aren't going to tell you what he did. He might have injected himself with human growth hormone. Or he may have swallowed "andro," the supplement Mark McGwire guzzled by the gallon when he was hitting all those home runs. It's now banned.

This leaves all sorts of wiggle room for players (and their agents) to portray themselves as unwitting victims.

Juan Rincon has been suspended for 10 days for testing positive for a banned substance. Before Tuesday's game against Cleveland, Rincon read a statement to the assembled media. Before he began, I figured he had two options.

One, he could say he made a mistake and was sorry. That would have gone over well. The people of Minnesota are very forgiving. They never even gave Rincon a hard time for coughing up a big lead to the Yankees in the Twins' final playoff game last season.

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Two, he could say he was innocent of all charges and intended to fight to save his reputation. That would have been OK, too. At least we'd know where he stands.

As it turns out, I was wrong. He chose a third option: no details, no explanation, no declaration of guilt or innocence. Instead, he implied he might have unwittingly had contact with a banned substance.

"What I can share with you today is that I would never knowingly compromise my position within major league baseball . . ." he said.

We don't know what's going on. No one will tell us.

Somehow, my confidence in the game hasn't been completely restored.

Tom Powers is a sports columnist with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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