Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement is mostly very specific in its delegation of power, but there is a broad clause that grants the commissioner authority to mete out justice that he, alone, believes is in the best interest of the game. Since Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis first used those powers in the wake of the Black Sox scandal, several commissioners have invoked the privilege, but the target has usually been an owner, manager, or team. In this instance, however, media reports suggest Selig is considering asserting his “best interests” authority to not only slap Arod with a disproportionate suspension, but also deny him access to the appeals process afforded by the CBA.
Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of Baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law.” – Article XII (B) of MLB Basic Agreement
Bud Selig is no stranger to the “best interests” clause. In 1992, he was intimately involved in a legal challenge of the same authority he is now on the verge of wielding. At the time, Commissioner Fay Vincent sought to force the realignment of the National League against the wishes of the Chicago Cubs, who sued to stop the measure. A Federal Court granted the Cubs an injunction, but before Commissioner Vincent could follow through on his appeal (thereby letting stand the Judge’s ruling that he exceeded his authority), a coalition headed by Selig forced his resignation. “We can move forward,” Selig said after the issue was decided in his favor, “to resolve the realignment issue through consensus rather than confrontation, which is the approach that I would like to take to each and every problem confronting the game today.”
In the aftermath of Vincent’s resignation, Selig, as chairman of the executive council, became the de facto commissioner. Initially, he and his fellow owners took several steps to neuter the role of commissioner, including removing the authority to make business decisions based upon “best interests” discretion. Although Selig vehemently defended those actions, arguing that the clause, which had become all-encompassing, was intended to be narrow in scope, others saw it differently. During a Congressional hearing on baseball’s anti-trust exemption, Senator Howard Metzenbaum berated Selig for turning the commissioner into a “lackey”.
After Bud Selig officially accepted the role of commissioner, his interpretation of the “best interests” clause began to change. Now that the hammer belonged to him, he wasn’t as interested in limiting its use. Over his tenure, Selig used a heavy handed approach to influence several ownership-related issues, including the sale of the Red Sox, relocation of the Expos, as well as various financial wranglings having to do with the Rangers, Dodgers, and Mets. Far from lackey, the commissioner under Selig’s reign had evolved into a very powerful figure with broad jurisdiction.
Bud Selig can point to several accomplishments as commissioner, but his legacy bears a scarlet letter…three in fact: PED. As the game’s chief during the steroid era, Selig either turned a blind eye to the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs or was incredibly ignorant about what was taking place on his watch. Neither alternative is very flattering, and Selig knows it. As a result, he has seemingly embraced the role of vigilante, perhaps hoping that, and not his complicity, will be his lasting memory.
Instead of being the commissioner who embarrassed himself and the sport before Congress, Selig could end up being the man who got Arod. The only thing standing in his way is the potential for broad opposition, but, considering Rodriguez’ pariah status, that probably isn’t forthcoming. If Selig banned Arod for life, the majority of fans would applaud. Hall of Famers would be relieved. The Yankees would be laughing all the way to the bank, and other teams with PED-linked players would be trailing right behind. Considering the seemingly wide-spread appeal for such an action, it’s easy to see why Selig would be tempted to invoke the “best interests” clause to mete out justice to Rodriguez.
Even if Alex Rodriguez is guilty of every allegation related to the Biogenesis case, the rumored discipline hanging over his head is patently unfair. Not only is a lifetime ban for a first offense disproportionate compared to other suspensions, but denying Arod the right to have his appeal heard by a third-party also robs him of promised due process. The abuse of power is so extreme, even contemplating such actions would draw ire, but because Rodriguez is the target, so many seem willing to turn the other way. However, the only opposition that really counts is the union, and so far, its leaders have been strangely quiet.
According to some reports, Rodriguez doesn’t have much support among his peers, but would the union really hang him out to dry? Because the MLBPA could conceivably re-open the current CBA if Selig uses the “best interests” clause to trump the joint drug agreement, it stands to reason he wouldn’t be so bold without some indication that the union would not unilaterally oppose his action. Of course, even if the union decides against defending Arod, that doesn’t mean Selig’s heavy handed approach will be forgotten, especially when it comes time to negotiate in the future. The MLBPA may hold its nose this time because it believes the stink from Arod is greater, but you can bet a general sentiment of mistrust will linger.
If Bud Selig really cares about the best interests of baseball, circumventing the CBA and risking discord with the MLBPA isn’t the way to achieve it. No one is asking him to temper justice with mercy, but he does need to balance zeal with restraint. That’s the same approach Selig advocated when he was on the other end of the “best interests” clause, and it’s in his and the game’s best interest that he remember it now.