Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and Donald Fehr, the head of the players' union, got a lesson last week on what can happen when they hope that serious problems will go away on their own.
Thanks solely to congressional pressure, Selig and Fehr got a tougher policy on drug abuse, particularly steroids, than they wanted or perhaps ever thought possible.
The good news is that the tough new rules, assuming they're honestly enforced, should go a long way to clean up a stain on the integrity of the game.
It's a three-strikes-and-you're-out approach. A player found in violation of the steroids policy gets a 50-game suspension for the first offense, a 100-game suspension for the second and a lifetime ban for the third.
It's understandable, in a perverse sort of way, why Selig and Fehr tried to ignore the steroid issue.
Players bulked up on steroids hit home runs on a record-setting pace, creating lots of excitement that draws lots of fans. It was good business, and Selig and his owners had a financial incentive not to find out too much about what was going on.
As for Fehr, many of his union members were using steroids and not interested in being unmasked or penalized for doing so. Despite the health risks of steroid abuse, Fehr obviously rationalized his stance against testing as protecting the players.
But their positions slowly changed when members of Congress got into the act, and the major-domos of the game surely cringed when the some of the game's biggest offensive stars – Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Conseco – were called to testify before Congress.
With the handwriting on the wall, Selig figured out that he had to get tough and persuaded Fehr that they both had no choice. In announcing the new penalties, Selig said baseball cannot allow a "scintilla of suspicion."
He and Fehr may have come to that correct conclusion late, but with some gentle nudging and a couple of sharp blows to the head, they got there.