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02/22/09 8:06 PM EST

Selig: MLB tried to curtail steroids

Commissioner says efforts to address use date back to 1995

As early as 1995, Major League Baseball pushed for changes in the sport to avoid the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs, Commissioner Bud Selig said Monday.

"I don't want to hear the Commissioner turned a blind eye to this or he didn't care about it,'' Selig said in a telephone interview with Wallace Matthews of Newsday. "That annoys the you-know-what out of me. You bet I'm sensitive to the criticism. The reason I'm so frustrated is, if you look at our whole body of work, I think we've come farther than anyone ever dreamed possible.''

Selig added in an interview with the Arizona Republic that any suggestion that he wasn't accepting responsibility was untrue.

Drug Policy in Baseball

"The idea that I said this wasn't my fault is nonsense," Selig said. "I'm the Commissioner, and I accept everything that's happened. But every decade and every Commissioner has had to face problems that affected the record book."

Selig told the Arizona Republic that he received supportive phone calls from veteran managers Bob Melvin of the Diamondbacks and Joe Torre of the Dodgers.

"Bob Melvin called me a week ago," Selig said. "And he said, 'Look, I know you're getting a lot of heat. But I've been in this sport for 28 years, and I didn't know. I never saw anybody take anything, and frankly, no one talked about it.'

Selig also told Newsday that baseball's current drug policy, instituted with harsher penalties in 2005, is working. He pointed to the reduction in the number of positive steroid tests among Major League and Minor League players during the past three years as evidence. Testing for amphetamines also began in 2006.

"I've had Joe Torre tell me the same thing. So if they're in the clubhouses and I'm on the 31st floor in New York or the 30th floor in Milwaukee, what am I supposed to see? I'll accept all the criticism, if someone can explain how and why."

The Commissioner said he wanted to create a more stringent policy three years earlier, pushing for it during basic agreement negotiations with the players union in 2002, but could not get it included out of concern that the players association would force a work stoppage.

MLB experienced eight work stoppages from 1972-1995, the last of which resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

"Starting in 1995, I tried to institute a steroid policy,'' Selig said. "Needless to say, it was met with strong resistance. We were fought by the union every step of the way."

As home run totals rose sharply in the late 1990s, Selig told Newsday he consulted with Melvin (then a coach with the Brewers), Braves president John Schuerholz and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, among others, to gauge the extent of the problem.

"They all told me none of them ever saw it in the clubhouses and that their players never spoke about it,'' Selig said. "[Padres CEO] Sandy Alderson, as good a baseball man as you'll find, was convinced it was the bat. Others were convinced it was the ball. So a lot of people didn't know.''

In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged a home run race in which both surpassed Roger Maris' single-season record of 61. McGwire finished with 70 and Sosa with 66. Both former players have been subject to suspicion of steroid use.

"I'm not sure I would have done anything differently,'' Selig said. "A lot of people say we should have done this or that, and I understand that. They ask me, 'How could you not know?' and I guess in the retrospect of history, that's not an unfair question. But we learned and we've done something about it. When I look back at where we were in '98 and where we are today, I'm proud of the progress we've made.''

Selig said that he continues to be concerned about the possible use of human growth hormone, for which there is no approved test.

"On HGH, I'm as frustrated as anyone,'' he said. "Right now, we're funding a program at UCLA with Dr. Don Catlin to come up with a test, any test, that's reliable.''

Selig originally said that he "would have to think" about suspending Alex Rodriguez after the Yankees third baseman was revealed to have been one of the 104 Major Leaguers who tested positive for steroids in what was supposed to be a confidential survey test in 2003. On Monday, he declined to comment on whether he is considering punishment for Rodriguez.

"Let's just say I'm going to monitor that situation closely,'' he said. "I honestly don't know how anyone could have done more than we've already done."

Selig stepped away from a remark he made when he said that he was considering restoring Hank Aaron as the career home run leader.

Aaron's record of 755 was passed in 2007 by Barry Bonds, who finished that season with 762 and is now awaiting a perjury trial for allegedly lying to a grand jury about his use of performance-enhancing substances.

"I'm not going to comment on changing the records except to say that I never flatly deny anything,'' Selig said. "I've always said I'd consider everything. But the record situation, if you go back to what Ford Frick did [with Maris in 1961], is a very slippery slope. Changing records is a very difficult process.''

Bobbie Dittmeier is an editor/producer for MLB.com. Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.