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
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
What’s needed is a negotiation to resolve, or at least delay, some
of the potentially catastrophic “head-on collision” issues that
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
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
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
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.
Posted: June 04, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 6 comment(s)
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