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    Stickball: How More Changes to MLB’s Drug Policy are About Keeping it In the Family

    27th March 2008

    Maury Brown

    With MLB’s Opening Day on U.S. soil taking place this Sunday at the new Nationals Ballpark, lawyers for the owners and union have been working overtime in an effort to make changes to baseball’s drug policy that will further strengthen the program in the wake of former Senator George Mitchell’s report and recommendations before the first pitch.

    In terms of labor relations, the changes that have come before — and look to transpire — are nothing short of staggering.

    Matters between the players and union are dealt with through collective bargaining, not arbitrarily. Over the course of the last basic agreement the seal has been broken on it to address the drug policy and changed not once, but twice. And now, we now seem on the verge of a third change to the current CBA – an incredible bit of politics given the tenuous relationship that management and union have had in Major League Baseball in the past.

    The changes that are nearly at hand will reportedly include year-round testing for performance-enhancing substances (at this time, I have not heard or read whether stimulants will be included), more tests being conducted on the players, and changes in how testing is administered. On the latter, currently there is a Health Policy Advisory Committee (HPAC) that is responsible for overseeing the testing program. It is assumed that recommendations from the Mitchell Report for an independent body, that most likely would be selected by both MLB and the MLBPA, would take place.

    And, once again, the changes are taking place less than a year after reaching agreement on what is now the current CBA.

    If this all seems like changes that are being done because Donald Fehr and the players suddenly see the light after reading Mitchell’s report and hearing Commissioner Selig espouse the need for change to eradicate PEDs from MLB on a near religious scale, the answer is maybe, but certainly not without some poking in the ribs from behind by Big Brother.

    As the old proverb goes, blood is thicker than water. The possible changes being made (again) to the policy have as much to do with baseball working to keep its house in order while being prodded by those carrying the big stick: Congress.

    Lost almost entirely in conversation is the old Millerian stance of “player rights” and standing shoulder-to-shoulder in defense of privacy, in this case, one’s urine, the test results from it, and how protected those records are.

    This isn’t to say that the MLBPA isn’t extremely concerned about those rights, especially as we’re still witnessing the fallout of the BALCO investigation and the “survey test” records from 2003 when the levels of steroid use in baseball was being measured to see if mandatory testing would be instituted (for more see United States v Comprehensive Testing on The Biz of Baseball). Instead, it’s become a “lesser of two evils” world for the Players’ Association.

    Nothing is less appealing than having someone else tell you how to run your household.

    It’s even worse when it isn’t family.

    The changes about to unfold are less about Bud Selig and more about making changes to the drug policy before Congress does it for them. It’s been like that for the changes made prior, and if there is talk that enough still isn’t enough in the future, it will be Congress standing over baseball with a threatening glare.

    History will most assuredly look back at this point in time and say that the union was weak, and Bud Selig and the owners strong-armed the players into the testing policy changes that have been made. Congress is the one that should be viewed as muscling the policy into place, playing a new version of stickball where the players are shoved into their positions. The players, their representatives, and for that matter, the owners, surely know anything that any laws Congress would enact for drug testing in professional sports would be far more rigorous and intrusive. Having that happened would be embarrassing for a $6.1 billion industry called Major League Baseball.

    Don and Bud know it’s far better to keep their problems in the family, and the players are bending over backwards to keep it that way. It will be interesting to see how members of Congress react after the changes. It will be more interesting to see what happens if/when the next star player tests positive, or is outed in some other investigation. What happens then will be a case of reading the signals, and seeing whether, yet again, the once sacred seal of the CBA is broken and “the family” addresses its inner problems.

    For more background on this column, here are some suggested articles, all on The Biz of Baseball:


    Maury Brown

    Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

    Brown’s full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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