Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Let The Players Association Do The Drug Testing

Being a union member myself (Screen Actors Guild), it is always a little hard for me to trust management, even though as a lawyer, I often represent management, and find their problems compelling.

The history of baseball labor relations is one of well-documented deception by the owners, first against the players (in the early years)and once the players got organized, by the owners against each other.

In recent labor negotiations, the owners pressed the players to give them relief against the fact that the owners had no idea how to value the players, and therefore kept overpaying mediocrities. This winter, when baseball is flush with money again, will make instant millionaires of a lot of players who are only marginally better than you and me.

In some measure, because the players could not trust the owners, the players union, Fehr and Orza, would not allow the implementation of a real drug policy. The players believe that the owners are only interested in drug testing as a way of getting out of a bad contract -- the Jason Giambi scenario. Otherwise, the owners would prefer that there be more good players -- the more supply, the lower the cost of labor. Of course, that has now blown up in the Players Association's face, and Fehr and Orza have needed to admit that a drug policy should be in order.

But I am sure that the players distrust of the owners remains -- and is still well-placed.

Ethics issue -- September 1, 2005, Yankees 2 games behind the Red Sox. Gary Superstar's drug result -- positive. Joe Benchwarmer's drug result -- positive. Will the Yankees really risk the wrath of their fans and suspend both Gary and Joe? Fuhgedabotit! Will the YES Network willingly concede the opportunity to broadcast the Yankees post-game during the World Series. Fuhgedabotit! Will the fans care that Senator John McCain goes on the floor of the Senate and thanks the Yankees for putting the interest of fair play above the interst of winning? Fuhgedabotit! Will the fans appreciate that the integrity of the game prevailed, and that the team with the best 26-29 year old players that you never heard of(which is probably a team like the Florida Marlins) won the World Series again! Fuhgedobot it! What if it turns out that the Pittsburgh Pirates have only one good player, and that player tests positive? Do the Pirates suspend their one player and default on their mortgage payments? ---fuhgedabotit! Do the owners care whether the players are on steroids or not, other than the week or two a year that it causes bad p.r.? --- fuhgedabotit!

Is there a chance, that rather than go through the whole scenario, the owners will try to tamper with the timing of Superstar's drug test, so that even if he tests positive, he will not be suspended during an important part of the season -- Now perhaps we're talking!

Do the players, who don't want to have to juice their bodies, but increasingly feel that they have to juice their bodies, not to hit like Barry Bonds, but just to hit enough to stay in the big leagues -- do the players care about what the other players do? Finally -- we're really talking!

The Players Association should do the drug testing, and handle the discipline and suspensions themselves. The coming negotiations ought to be solely on the subject of how the Players Association keeps the Commissioners Office involved in the drug testing in a way that the Commissioner feels comfortable supporting. The Commissioner should have a way of holding the union accountable if it fails to follow its own drug testing rules. The club owners should not be involved at all. This way the so-called point of the exercise -- cleaning the sport up from drugs -- can be accomplished. This way the group of people most interested in the integrity of the game, the players, will be the ones doing the enforcing.

There is also a huge win for the Players Association, for those of us labor-loving lefties, and the sports reporters who cover them. A union-controlled drug testing policy tightens the notion of a closed union shop. Instead of the owners certifying who is eligible to play, the union certifies. If the owners are truly interested in stopping the flow of illegal steroids, they will give a proposal like this, if not an unqualified "thumbs up," at least a serious listen. If, as I suspect, the owners don't care about steroid abuse (except as a PR issue), and are more concerned with looking for reasons to break contracts with overpaid athletes, are more concerned with busting the union, the proposal will be a non-starter, and will poison the well for another ten years.