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Tuesday, June 04, 2002

STEROIDS vs. CONTRACTION:The Negotiation That Will Never Be

Don Malcolm suggests a ### for tat agreement between the owners and players that might make the fans happy.

The recent media frenzy about steroids in baseball has seeped down
into the sub-dermal world of baseball analysis. That is, of course,
inevitable: to rework Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, we are all fans, we
are all pundits. While everyone should have a right to talk about this
issue (and there have been many fine posts on the subject here at
Baseball Primer), I think it’s important that we find a way to look at
this matter in the larger context of baseball’s looming
crisis. Otherwise we are merely moralizing.

First, let’s note that there is ample precedent for drug testing
in sports. Baseball should be no different. We might want to suggest
that players can decide for themselves regarding the use of
performance-enhancing drugs. The reality is that for most other sports
it is clearly prohibited, and with many good reasons.

The other reality, of course—and this is something that few
seemed to have picked up on from Tom Verducci’s article for Sports
Illustrated
—is that drug use will continue no matter what
measures are taken to ban it. Verducci references the fact that
chemists can find ways to mask the identity of these drugs so that
athletes can escape detection. While banning the use of steroids is
clearly the right thing to do, we should have no illusions that such
an act will solve the problem. It will merely revert to a subterranean
level—along the lines of what Jim Bouton documented in Ball
Four
more than thirty years ago.

That said, an official ban on steroids is still worth doing, and
the best way for the Players’ Union to proceed on this matter is not
to stonewall or to drag their feet in addressing it.

What they should do, in this most practical of worlds, is to
simply lay it on the table as a bargaining chip with the owners.

Please resist the impulse to moralize here, in the fashion of
“drugs are wrong-they have no right to do this!” Lying to the public
about the state of your finances, as the owners have done, is equally
wrong. We are not talking about criminal vs. victim here, so let’s try
to look at this matter from the perspective of cold-blooded
pragmatism.

Baseball needs to avoid a work stoppage. They need it
badly. Attendance and ratings are down, and calling off another World
Series could have a worse long-term effect on the game than what
happened in 1994. Surely both sides are at least dimly grasping this
fact.

What’s needed is a negotiation to resolve, or at least delay, some
of the potentially catastrophic “head-on collision” issues that
currently exist.

Instead, of course, both sides will look to the courts to resolve
the matter in a piecemeal way, rather than facing each other down and
addressing the matters directly.

Revenue-sharing is the least of baseball’s problems, in
actuality. The owners and players would be best served to agree to
extend the current CBA for two years and submit to binding arbitration
on that matter.

The hot issues—the ones that push the biggest buttons with
fans—are contraction and drug use. (You might argue that money is
more important, but money is always more important-yet there’s nothing
that can be done about that in one fell swoop.)

Don Fehr should, in my opinion, simply tell his players that they
should agree to random drug testing in exchange for the owners
dropping their contraction plans. The owners would have to agree that
contraction can occur only via the consultation and consent of the
players, and that they waive all claims of unilateral imposition.

Taking these two onerous issues out of play would be a tremendous
lift for baseball, and I suspect that fans would respond to such a
gesture of labor compromise by returning to a game they’ve been
pulling away from in 2002 because they sense that a work stoppage is
inevitable.

Such a gesture would be a rare acknowledgement on both sides that
the game exists because of the fans and their willingness to sustain
it. It would be the kind of “good will” gesture that has been so
sorely lacking over the past two decades.

It would be the right thing to do, at exactly the right time.

Which is why the subtitle of this essay, of course, is what is it
is. I am clearly, obviously, delirious when I suggest that this course
of action can take place. In my opinion, Don Fehr has the vision to
try this, but he knows that if he does, Budzilla and his spinmeisters
will try to crucify him on the “moral” issue.

Therefore, Fehr will probably have to remain in the watching and
waiting mode, which is not quite akin to being Nero while Rome engulfs
itself in flames, but it’s close enough for someone writing on a short
deadline.

Selig, of course, is determined to be the John Foster Dulles of
baseball, but without even a scintilla of sense to know the difference
between “brinksmanship” and the brink.

As I look down the road with respect to all these issues, I can’t
help but think of those famous lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow
Men:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper

 

We’re getting dangerously close to whimpering time, I’m afraid.

Don Malcolm Posted: June 04, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 6 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Elvis Posted: June 05, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605264)
While MLB attendance is down, ratings are most definitely going up. USA Today reports ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball's ratings are up 25%. The Toronto Star reports ESPN2's ratings are up 53%. The St. Petersburg Times reports the D'Rays are up 56%. The Arizona Republic reports The D'Backs were up 94% through their first 16 games and they drew a FSN-AZ record best 13.4 Nielsen rating. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports the Brewers are up 5% (Hope and Faith, Baby!). The N.Y. Times reports the Mariners local ratings (15.7) are the best for their time spot and they outdraw "Survivor." The N.Y. Post reports the Mets are up 51%. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the Pirates posted their highest April numbers in eight years. NESN got its highest rating ever for a Red Sox-Orioles game. And so on, and so on...

It's bad enough when MLB engages in anti-marketing, we don't need columnists who love the game mis-report the facts to show baseball in a bad light.
   2. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: June 08, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605276)
With all due respect, Chris, a "one day fans strike" is one of the dumbest ideas ever proposed. They're going to sit up and "take notice" of what? Strikes are not messages. They're attempts to provide *leverage.* A fans strike that started now and continued until a new labor agreement was signed would make sense. I doubt it's possible, but it would make sense. MLB's finances would suffer, and would keep suffering until they reached a settlement. That would provide motivation to settle.

A one day strike is what Barbara Mikkelson calls "slacktivism." It's a way for people to make themselves feel good about themselves by pretending they're doing something, without actually putting forth any effort at all. It's "Look, we're mad as hell and we're willing to take more."
   3. Kurt Posted: June 13, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605291)
The lowest Payroll (Opening day salaries) in 1992 was $8,111,166 belonging to the Indians, and the highest Payroll at the time was $44,464,002, belonging to the Mets.

Let us jump to 2002.

The lowest Payroll for this year is $34,380,000, which is Tampa Bay's, and the highest Payroll is $125,928,583, belonging to the Yankees.


The first thing that jumps out at me here is that the disparity was bigger in 1991, when the Mets' payroll was over 5 times the size of Cleveland's, than this year, the Yankees' payroll being less than 4 times the size of Tampa's.

You also are mixing up cause and effect. Two years ago Tampa had a top 10 payroll, now they don't because all there players stink (their players stunk two years ago too, but that's neither here nor there). You can see the same effect with the Orioles - a few years ago their payroll was very high, now it's not because their players stink. Their ability to pay players hasn't changed; their talent level has.

The highest payroll at the current rate would be $162,929,162, and the lowest payroll at the current rate would be $52,537,668.

Does this seem viable to anyone as being in the best interests of the Game?


It doesn't seem inherently bad to me, since it means that teams' revenues would have increased accordingly, along with fans' ability/willingness to pay.

That "Fan Index" would be $204.67 cents. How many of you will care to pay that price for a single game with a family of four based on the fan index?

I wouldn't pay that. That's because I don't buy programs, beers, hot dogs etc. at games. Nobody is compelled to buy these things at games.

If I were so inclined, I'd dig up some statistics on the NBA's Payrolls and the NFL's payrolls and I think we could easily see that the Pace of Payroll increases is at a higher rate for MLB than it is for the other two sports.

This isn't true. The average NBA salary for the 1990-1991 season was about $11 million. For the 2001-2002 season, it was over $53 million. The NFL average salary was 422,000 in 1991; $1.1 million in 2001.
   4. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: June 14, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605297)
The "Fan Index" thing is garbage, for the reason that have been explained many times -- that it includes all sorts of things besides ticket prices. But another problem with it is this: people don't buy "average" tickets. They buy the tickets that fit their pocketbooks. So a family of four doesn't get field level seats; it gets bleachers, or general admission, or upper box, or whatever the cheaper seats are.

One other point for Jeremy: Congress already altered the Supreme Court's decision.
   5. Kurt Posted: June 14, 2002 at 12:31 AM (#605306)
Whoops. The average NBA *payroll* has gone from 11 million to 53 million since 1991, not the average salary.
   6. Ron Johnson Posted: June 18, 2002 at 12:32 AM (#605323)
Don Malcolm wrote:

Don Fehr should, in my opinion, simply tell his players that
they should agree to random drug testing in exchange for the
owners dropping their contraction plans. The owners would have
to agree that contraction can occur only via the consultation
and consent of the players, and that they waive all claims of
unilateral imposition.

Actually Don according to the MLBPA drug testing has always been
on the table. The devil has been in the details.

Who does the testing?
Who pays for the testing?
Who gets to see the results?
What happens when "something else" pops up in the testing?
What measures are taken to ensure the results stay confidential?
What is the appeal process? (steroid testing is supposedly
particularly innacurate)
Are you going to test for masking agents? If so, how far do
you go? Players aren't going to accept a setup where they
can't take popular cold medications for instance. (As has happened
to Olymic athletes)

And most important, what are the consequences to failing a drug
test? Are the consequences different if all the player tests
positive to a masking agent.

For exactly one year MLB and the MLBPA had a partial agreement
on a drug policy. (Pretty similar to the NBA's. Nothing too severe
initially with increasing penalties and a mechanism for a player
to get back in eventually) But the committee negotiating this
left the tough questions for later. Bowie Kuhn attempted to
impose rules for everything not already covered and the MLBPA
walked away from the agreement.

Then Uberroth attempted to impose a drug policy and the MLBPA
(mostly successfully) fought them. The most significant thing
the MLBPA got was that there can be no testing (even if a player
signs a contract with a drug testing clause. The contract is
valid but the drug testing clause is removed) in a non-guaranteed
contract. And the player's association won't give that up lightly.

At the same time, MLB did get the rights to probable cause testing.
MLB can require Tim Raines (or any other player whose past drug
problems are a matter of public record) to undergo testing.

As for why the MLBPA has (at least according to Jeff Kent) agreed
to conced contraction, I'm pretty sure they see it as a bluff.

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