(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstriped Bible)
For years, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association resisted a comprehensive drug policy out of fear that their constituents’ rights and privacy would be violated. Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr have been vilified by some for their refusal to budge on this issue, with some accusing the two union leaders of aiding and abetting the sport’s steroid culture. However, recent events have proven these concerns to be well founded.
Over the past decade, baseball has enjoyed relative labor peace. The players, led by new union chief Michael Weiner, and the owners, represented by Commissioner Bud Selig, have managed to not only avoid acrimony, but also collaborate on many issues, from economics to rule changes to drug testing. Because of this period of détente, baseball has enjoyed exponential growth and increasing popularity, both worldwide and in the United States. Considering the fruits of this harmonious relationship, it would stand to reason that both sides would be extremely careful about violating the other’s trust. Unfortunately, when it comes to performance enhancing drugs, Selig and his owners have seen fit to abandon reason, opting instead to overzealously pursue even the slightest hint of abuse regardless of the collateral damage. If every action deserves an equal and opposite response, baseball’s current posture regarding the use of steroids seems designed to cancel out the depraved indifference of its past.
Since baseball’s drug testing agreement was implemented, there have been several privacy violations. The highest profile case belongs to Ryan Braun, whom, despite having his failed drug test vacated on appeal, is still regarded by many as being a cheat. Those who believe Braun was guilty anyway probably consider this to be justice. To them, improper testing procedures are only a mere formality. However, regardless of where you stand on his guilt, the validity of Braun’s appeal is really a secondary issue. The most egregious violation occurred when the results of the test were revealed, despite a policy calling for confidentiality until the process had run its course. The leak that thrust his name into the headlines effectively robbed Braun of his due process. Although his camp has stated it doesn’t believe the MLB hierarchy purposely revealed the results, the league is still responsible for the confidentiality of the process. After all, if baseball can’t ensure privacy, then none exists, which means Fehr and Miller were right all along.
Braun’s case is relevant again because of recent news suggesting that Major League Baseball is specifically targeting the former MVP in its investigation of the infamous Biogenesis notebooks. According to reports by Yahoo!and USAToday, baseball has effectively made Braun “public enemy number one” in its crusade to suspend players associated with the Florida clinic (so he doesn’t feel left out, Alex Rodriguez is also reportedly another high profile target). In response to the allegations, baseball’s executive vice president Rob Manfred has denied a disproportionate interest in Braun, but actions speak louder than words.
The most damning revelation from the two news accounts was MLB’s plan to grant immunity to players in exchange for testimony. Unless the same offer is made to every player, the implication is clear. Baseball isn’t interested in punishing all PED users, just the players they deem significant. That’s not only an unfair application of justice, but it also has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the entire system, which is exactly the position taken by MLB when asked by the MLBPA to consider mitigation to punishment based on intent.
Aside from being high profile players, the Yahoo! report stated that Braun and Arod have become prime targets because baseball investigators believe the two players were dishonest in previous dealings. In other words, MLB isn’t looking to prosecute violations of the Drug Policy, but is instead seeking revenge for being fooled in the past. That’s particularly the case with Braun, whose victorious appeal has never sat well with baseball’s higher powers. By taking this tact, MLB has not only cast a prejudicial cloud over its investigation, but also violated the spirit of trust it has forged with the union and its players.
If baseball continues to trample over its agreement with the players, you can bet the MLBPA’s willingness to cooperate with the league will diminish. Not only will that have a chilling effect on future modifications to the Drug Policy, but it will likely extend to other issues as well. Trust between labor and management is a very difficult bond to form, but an easy one to break. Selig and company have done their best to give the MLBPA doubts about maintaining a future relationship…and provided the union’s past leadership with an opportunity to say “I told you so”.