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Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on January 15, 2008
Just a few hours from now the two biggest names in the business of baseball will be called to task before a congressional committee and be asked some difficult questions about steroids and how to put them behind the game once and for all.Â Â And while ex-senator George Mitchell will be called forward to explain details and methodology used in compiling the Mitchell report on the use of performance enhancing drugs, today wonâ€™t be about the past so much as it will be about the future.
Of all the players in this little drama and I donâ€™t mean on field players, the one whoâ€™s likely to face the most severe line test is MLBPA President Donald Fehr.Â Fehr is the man who issued the gag order, telling the players not to comply with requests for interviews with Senator Mitchell and to disassociate themselves from any part of the creation of the report.Â Â Basically he told them not to talk, and now heâ€™s upset that the public perception of the report is that it is accurate because it was issued.
So essentially he had the chance to let the players put their stamp on it and he told them not to.Â And now he feels theyâ€™ve been wronged.Â Â Maybe Fehr doesnâ€™t look in the mirror often enough when assessing blame.Â Â Congress isnâ€™t going to have that problem.Â Â They will hear all about how little cooperation Senator Mitchell got from the Union, the players, and the gag order that kept so many players from defending their name.
And unless Fehr flexes a fair bit and agrees to reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement before the start of the 2008 season the session could get downright brutal.Â This isnâ€™t being looked at as a labor dispute or a point for discussion any more.
â€śThe playerâ€™s union needs to be very careful and keep in mind weâ€™re talking about the integrity of the game.Â If they do not act now, I donâ€™t know when theyâ€™re going to act.Â Â We have now been provided with information that says we do have a problem, some of it systemic.â€ť -Representative Elijah Cummings
The systemic problems have largely been the Unionâ€™s unwillingness to act in the interest of the game rather than what Fehr perceives to be the interest of the players.Â Theyâ€™ve stonewalled investigations, delayed the implementation of drug testing, fought against types of testing, and against severe penalties for positive tests.Â And the problem isnâ€™t a recent one, its one that has existed for well over a decade.
The Mitchell report is likely to be put over the coals as well, especially since $20 million and 20 months went into a report that basically came across about as effectively as South Parkâ€™s Mr. Mackey in his â€śDrugs are badâ€ť speech.Â Â Aside from the sensationalism of the 80 or so names in the report, what Mitchell came up with was a handful of commonsense suggestions, that should and would have been in place a long time ago if management and the MLBPA hadnâ€™t been dancing around the issue for years.
Many of these suggestions have been implemented unilaterally (and with great fanfare) on the management side since the release of the report last month but several of the suggestions will require the Unionâ€™s agreement to reopen and modify the Collective Bargaining Agreement.Â And unless Donald Fehr decides to unwisely dig in his heels, heâ€™ll wisely agree this is for the betterment of the game.
If he doesnâ€™t heâ€™s likely to lose a lot more than a little face tomorrow but to lose any say in the creation and modification of baseballâ€™s drug policy and open the door to testing not just to performance enhancing drugs and amphetamines, but possibly to recreational drugs as well.Â Â
The shame of today is that Fehr will be the bad guy - and a very agreeable and contrite commissioner Bud Selig will be representing management who didnâ€™t know their own rules and turned a blind eye to steroids for more than a decade while reaping record profits.Â Management will get off lightly, although Iâ€™d expect to see their wrists getting slapped a bit.
But the pain for ownership is coming.Â As I predicted several years ago the deluge has started - at least one fan has already filed a lawsuit against a major league team in small claims court and demanding their money back for tickets and cable television going back several years claiming fraud and deception on the part of the team.Â And itâ€™s just the beginning - many more suits are bound to follow.
Of course todayâ€™s hearing wonâ€™t be so much about the past, but about the future and itâ€™s not impossible that some history will be made.