17 March 2005

"Et tu, Bud?"

With the Ides of March still closer than they appear in the rear-view mirror of news days, yet another instance of Major League Baseball stabbing its fans in the back has been revealed.

"We had a problem, and we dealt with the problem. I regarded this as not only a health issue, but certainly you could say it was an integrity issue in this sport. We're acting today to help restore the confidence of our fans."

- Bud Selig, 13 January 2005

"Actually, we talked about it and decided that we don't really care about our fans. Or integrity."

- Bud Selig, yesterday (sort of)

Congress had subpoenaed documents from MLB about the new drug testing policy, then made their findings known a few days later. On the eve of Congressional hearings about steroid use in Major League Baseball, it was learned that the supposedly, newly improved agreement between the MLB Players Association and MLB does not quite have the "teeth" it was alleged to have had upon its initial announcement in January. One major item is the fact that testing positive for any of the 45 substances banned by MLB can result in a suspension OR a fine, and not just for the first offense, but also for the second, third and even fourth positive test. It had been widely reported in January, based on announcements from MLB and the MLBPA, that punishments would take the form of suspensions without pay, with increased length for each subsequent offense. No mention was made of the alternative fines.

Even more astonishing is that these alternate fines do not even amount to the de facto fines a player would pay if he were suspended without pay for the time consummate with the number of the offense. A player making only $500,000/year still earns over $3000/game if he is on the roster all year. Getting suspended for 10 days during a stretch with no off-days would cost him almost $31,000 in forfeit pay at that rate, not a paltry $10K. Heck, even if he got paid evenly throughout the year, missing ten days would still cost almost $14,000, and that's for the 25th man on the roster, a scrub making close to the minimum.

What if Barry Bonds tested positive? A 10-day suspension would cost him between $494,000 and $1.1 million in surrendered pay, depending on how paydays are calculated. Would a player be required to surrender the amount of pay he would have lost if he'd been suspended instead of fined? Ten grand is pocket change for someone like him, but ten games, at some point, might mean the difference between 756 homers and 754.

MLB executive Robert Manfred maintains that there is no intent to use the fines, only to suspend players who test positive:

"All players with positive test results unequivocally will be suspended without pay and their names announced. The players' association was aware of our intention to suspend across the board for positives."

This of course begs the question, "Why bother to include such a clause if there is no intent to use it?" Most old billionaires who marry young trophy wives will tell you that they signed a prenuptial agreement, but "have no intention of using it" as well. But old billionaires don't get to be old billionaires by being stupid, as Jesse Ventura has so kindly pointed out. Whether they're marrying themselves to some bimbo with numbers like 36-26-36, or to some ballplayer with .300-30-100 measurements, they know enough to stack the deck in their favor whenever possible.

Manfred also said,

"In all but the most extraordinary of circumstances the suspension would be automatic."

Hmmm...what might "the most extraordinary of circumstances" be? I can envision several scenarios, most of which involve a star player on a team fighting for a playoff spot randomly testing positive in mid-September. Remember, this agreement supposedly includes random, unannounced, year-round testing, right? So it would not be unfathomable to think that Barry Bonds might pee into a cup, test positive for some banned substance, and thereby piss away his team's playoff hopes by missing the next ten games.

Had this happened on September 24th last year, with the Giants trailing Los Angeles by only 1.5 games, Bonds would have missed the rest of the season, including the team's playoff run. Granted, the Giants missed the playoffs last year anyway, but they certainly had a better shot at catching the Dodgers with him than without him. And you can bet your last nickel that Giants' management would cry foul and probably take legal action if El Bud opted for the ten game suspension instead of the fine in that situation this year, as would any team in such a predicament.

Another issue omitted from the initial announcements about the new drug-testing policy is that testing "shall be suspended immediately upon the parties' learning of a governmental investigation." I don't know about you, but it seems to me that these Congressional hearings probably qualify as a "governmental investigation", which should mean that testing has already ceased, at least for now. The players may not know when testing will happen, but they certainly know at least one time when it won't: Now.

It's possible that I'm wrong about this and that a "governmental investigation" means the FBI looking into allegations that a particular player was using or distributing steroids, because there are reported caveats about suspending testing if a favorable appeal is set aside, as well as essentially scrapping the whole agreement if for some reason testing has to be halted for an entire year.

This part of the information makes the least sense to me at this point, as I understand neither what is meant by a "governmental investigation" nor why MLB would want to halt testing just because they discovered that one was occurring. Isn't the government always investigating something? It's what they do. As far as I know, the Feds don't put a freeze on Mafia arrests just because they're investigating someone else in the Mafia, do they? As I said, I could be wrong about this, but since that's never happened before, it's a pretty remote possibility.

Arizona Senator, war hero and baseball fan John McCain said,

"I can reach no conclusion, but that the league and the players union have misrepresented to me and to the American public the substance of MLB's new steroid policy,"

I'll be one of the first to tell you that generally I don't think investigating what baseball players are injecting into their butts is the best use of Congress' time, but McCain's right about this. Sure, what Congress is doing amounts to little more than grandstanding, a dog-and-pony show by a bunch of overgrown kids who all should have something better to do. But if not for this investigation, we might not have found out about these things until it was too late. Good to know that Congress occasionally does something useful, even if it is only by accident.

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