Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun has been suspended 65 games by Major League Baseball for alleged ties to performance enhancing drugs distributed by the now defunct Biogenesis clinic. Alex Rodriguez and more than twenty other current MLB players are under investigation by MLB for their alleged ties to the same clinic.
Luckily for Braun, Alex Rodriguez, and the rest of these players they are represented by the MLB Players Association. Or is it? MLBPA executive director, Michael Weiner, has publicly stated that the current MLBPA is “not interested” in protecting players where overwhelming evidence exists that they have used PEDs.
Mr. Weiner emphasized that the current Players Association prioritizes a clean system and stated that the PA will attempt to “make a deal” for players where MLB has significant PED evidence against them.
“I can tell you, if we have a case where there really is overwhelming evidence that a player committed a violation of the program, our fight is going to be that they make a deal,” Weiner stated. “We’re not interested in having players with overwhelming evidence that they violated the [drug] program out there. Most of the players aren’t interested in that. We’d like to have a clean program.”
Not long ago the MLBPA would have gone toe-to-toe with MLB and its intentions in the Biogenesis investigation and fought relentlessly for the rights of its collective membership.
Just over 10 years ago, in June 2002, then-union executive director, Donald Fehr, was against random drug tests and maintained that it was in the best interest of the MLBPA to protect the privacy of the players. Fehr stated, ”We believe that any program can be successful on steroids, or anything else, only if stringent safeguards are in place to protect the privacy of the employees, particularly so in baseball in which the lives of the players are so much in the public eye.”
That being said, because of pressures placed upon the PA by MLB – since it threatened not to enter into a new CBA unless the PA agreed that drug protocols were included – the PA agreed to limited drug testing of its players. However, the initial protocols put in place did not have an accompanying system of penalties. The testing protocols agreed to, in effect, would not lead to suspensions or get a player in trouble in anyway.
By 2005, the drug-testing slope got slipperier and a system of penalties was initialed. By the 2006 season the penalties for players who violated the drug protocols were set to the current 50-100-life format.
These penalties, however, were not enforced unilaterally by MLB. Any enforcement and subsequent suspension had to go before an independent arbitrator and the MLBPA defended its players at these hearing, fighting for the player and the rights of its memberships. Specifically, only last year the PA backed Braun when he won his appeal of a positive testosterone test following the 2011 season. Additionally, there have been 10 to 15 unreported cases of the PA convincing MLB to forgo enforcing suspensions.
Now, however, the MLBPA has done an about-face and is willing to cut deals and work with MLB rather than go toe-to-toe with it over Biogenesis.
The PA’s position now is that there will be arbitration only if agreements can’t be reached with the Commissioner’s office when suspensions are announced. Specifically, the PA is willing to concede that player suspensions as outlined in the Joint Drug Agreement may not apply to player involved with the Biogenesis Clinic. These players can be suspended under the Commissioner’s “just cause” discretion in the Joint Drug Agreement.
Per Section 7.G of the Joint Drug Agreement, a player may be subjected to disciplinary action for “just cause” by the Commissioner. Additionally, per Section B under Article XII of the CBA, “Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of Baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state, or local law.”
Apparently, the PA has interest in fighting for the rights of its membership where the PA decides that the player is unworthy of a good fight.
The MLBPA once acted like an association that would do everything and anything within its power to protect its membership. Now it’s acting like an association that will only pick its battles when it is politically correct to do so. A PA that is more concerned with good PR that with the livelihood of its members. This does not seem like the Players Association that Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr and Gene Orza envisioned.