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A Called-Out-To-The-Woodshed Event
2004-03-10 22:56
by Mike Carminati

They’ll nail anyone who ever scratched his ass during the National Anthem.

—Humphrey Bogart referring to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The union's wrong, here. Baseball is the national pastime, but it's the repository of the values of this country. There's something simply un-American about [resisting stronger testing for steroids]. This is about values, about culture, it's about who we define ourselves to be.

—Joe Biden "My Time"

Quick, change the Cincinnati club's nickname back to he Red Legs lest we think that baseball is riddled with steroid "Pinkos"!

Instead of finding Osama bin Laden or fixing the intelligence problems that led to September 11 and the false claim that there were WMDs in Iraq or stimulating an economy that witnessed about 10% of projected new jobs coming to fruition last month, our government is now tackling the tough problems, like steroid use by professional athletes and what Bono can say in acceptance speeches.

Baseball and football officials, including commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA chief Donald Fehr, were called to a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee to clap erasers, write "I will not let my players take steroids in class" one hundred times, and to, in general, act contrite.

The usually reasonable John McCain opened the hearing with this salvo on the sports' "legitimacy problem": "Sports organizations that allow athletes to cheat through weak drug testing regimes are aiding and abetting cheaters," Next James Nabors, the senior Senator from Tennessee, stood and proclaimed, "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

Bud Selig, the staunch supporter of the un-American activity of labor negotiations, instantly turned to Donald Fehr and said, "Don't blame me. It's his fault." Well, almost:

"I realize that we have work to do," Selig said. "We need more frequent and year-round testing of players. We need immediate penalties for those caught using illegal substances."

In other words, "Please don't take away my antitrust exemption. It's the union's fault after all."

Fehr responded with, "I believe that the program that we instituted has had some effect." Given all the reports of players "shrinking", that appears to be the case. However, McCain was unimpressed:

"Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies. I don't know what [those remedies] are. But I can tell you, and the players you represent, the status quo is not acceptable. And we will have to act in some way unless the major league players union acts in the affirmative and rapid fashion."

To which, Fehr responded, "Ooh, I'm shaking!"

At that point, McCain with one hand dissolved the DH rule in the American League in the form of a mini Edgar Martinez doll rent in two and smote Fehr with a lightning bolt with the other.

To quote Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, "What, are you going to arrest me for smoking?" What law will the government enforce or enact? Make steroids illegal? Already done. Could they make the union liable or culpable in some way when their members use steroids? I guess, but how would that be conducted? I thought that the current administration wanted less government, not Joe Biden and John McCain collecting urine samples in major-league locker rooms.

The only real leverage, other than using the court of public opinion, is to revoke the game's antitrust exemption. But that puts pressure on the owners, not that the players. The players couldn't care less. Actually, the removal of the exemption could be a big plus for the players in many ways.

If you think about it, now is the perfect time for the union to play Congress against the owners. Extract concessions from the owners and then allow them to change the steroid policy to placate the demagogues. The players don't need the overblown PR nightmare that the issue has become, but the owners don't need to know that. Demand that they give up on luxury tax or better yet, implement true revenue sharing. "Sure we'll reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but we need a little something in return."

Unfortunately, someone as shrewd and fearless as Marvin Miller is not running the union. Fehr, you'll recall, is the man who lost to the owners for the first in the last CBA. And with the John Smoltzes of the baseball world openly flaunting their willingness to give up player rights for free, Fehr's power is far from centralized.

How will this play out? Probably just like Selig's last appearance before Congress, to get his wrists slapped over contraction threats, which is to say, that'll be that, at least as far as Congress is concerned. Congress rid themselves of their 'roid rage. However, the players have been served notice. Dean Wermer put them on double-secret probation.

With this issue being such a hyped black eye for the sport, something will be done. However, what and how it affects the players will come down to who blinks first, Selig or Fehr (who by the way, is in the midst of a contract renegotiation to ensure that he's still the union chief come the next labor negotiations).

There's also one wild card in the whole story, the BALCO investigations. The worse the news is there, the more intense the pressure will be on the players to accept more stringent testing and punishment. If Barry Bonds is indicted, it'll be 1961 all over again with asterisks flying left and right, but Billy Crystal won't be making a feel-good movie about this one.

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