Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Recommended reading...

For those interested in the whole Barry Bonds saga and baseball’s steroid issue, there is a thoughtful piece written by D.K. Wilson for the Chicago Sports Review entitled The Essence of Bonds.

One point the author fails to understand is the importance of collective bargaining as it pertains to the rules of the sport. Wilson writes:

You see, Bud Selig holds a dirty secret: Steroids were banned from the game in 1991. Did you know that John Feinstein? How about you, Howard Bryant? Jeff Pearlman, Joe Strauss, did either of you know? Do any baseball writers know? Buster Olney? Peter Gammons? Any of you? You must know this:

In 1991, Faye Vincent, commissioner of baseball at the time, issued a policy that labeled steroids illegal when taken for the purpose of enhancing performance. However, no major league testing of steroids was established, so players continued to use and reap the benefits.

If not, you couldn't have talked with ESPN.com's Tom Farrey and found this out:

In truth, steroids have been banned in baseball since 1991 -- in a policy baseball officials made little effort to publicize. A source provided a copy of the seven-page document to ESPN The Magazine on the condition of anonymity. Titled "Baseball's Drug Policy and Prevention Program," the memo was sent to all major-league clubs on June 7 of that year by then-commissioner Fay Vincent. He spelled out components of the program, and ordered, "This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids." (bolding and italics by author)

Any rule prohibiting PED usage is a subject for collective bargaining, not unilateral decree. Vincent himself remarked about the 1991 memo:

"I don’t remember much about the circumstances and I don’t remember who really pushed for it. But, I can speculate that it came out of an awareness that for people who were not in the union—not protected by the Union agreement—that steroids might be a problem. I think that we had become to realize that there were a variety of other compounds floating around that were dangerous. We’d heard rumors about Jose Canseco. I think we thought that steroids and the like were basically a “football problem”, but we did think that they were dangerous. And so for at least coaches and managers and everybody else in baseball we thought we ought to go on record and say that this is bad stuff and we don’t want it getting a toe-hold in baseball."

"I think it was really our attempt to be on record, if this was our universe, if we controlled the whole thing, this is what we would do. And we did it, but we did it only for the people that were not covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement." [italics mine]

Simply put, the rule against steroids didn’t apply to the players because the rule had never been formally collectively bargained. This is key; here’s an excerpt from Marvin Miller’s autobiography, A Whole Different Ball Game:

Before 1966, the owners had a unilateral right to do, literally, anything they pleased; they could change the rules in the middle of a player's contract and say, "Here are the rules that now apply to you." The owners routinely tied players to documents-the Major League Rules, the Professional Baseball Rules, the league constitutions and bylaws-without even giving them copies of what they were agreeing to be bound by. The first basic agreement, in 1968, required that players at least be given copies of every document that became a part of their contract. Then we insisted that the owners had to advise us of proposed changes. Later, we insisted and obtained agreement that no rule would apply if it conflicted with a provision of the basic agreement.

We had them put that language in a big box in the major league rule book to make clear to anyone who opens it that any rule which is inconsistent with the conditions of the basic agreement is null and void. But we still weren't home free; we would negotiate something in the basic agreement, and the owners wouldn't change the blue book-the book that encompassed the Major League Rules and the so-called major league agreement. And since the rules weren't brought up to date, you had owners and general managers saying, "How was I to know I couldn't follow this rule? I followed it for thirty years, and it's still here." Over time, the language protecting the players' contracts and the collective bargaining agreement became stronger and stronger until the leagues finally understood that any time they wanted to change a rule affecting the players' rights, they had to negotiate the approval of the Players Association. The same became true of any playing rules that could affect a player's career. [italics mine]

The fact that Selig re-released it is meaningless since it was not collectively bargained. The reason no player was disciplined for steroid use is because there was no basis for doing so. There was no rule that stated in no uncertain terms that PED usage would result in sanction. It is the reason Congress took an interest in MLB’s drug policy. The agreement in 2002 regarding steroids was the focus of the U.S. Government since it was the first time baseball had clear guidelines about PED.

It’s something to bear in mind when you read the article. As I said, it’s a good read otherwise--very thought provoking.

Best Regards



Bill B. said...

Interesting... just another tool my Bonds-debate belt (as if there weren't enough). Thanks. :)

Not sure if you're a football guy or not, but I have an article up on the Patriots' running up the scores if you're interested.

John Brattain said...

No problem ... yup, I enjoy football (49er fan since the 1970's) even though coverage of the sport has become unwatchable due to all the commercial breaks.

I can think of a remark about the Pats. I'll pop on over to CBAlley and take a look-see.

Best Regards