How Latest PED Scandal Will Affect Major League Baseball's Future
Major League Baseball has its own version of the future in mind.
It shouldn't be taken for granted that the league's version of the future will come to fruition, though. And in case the thought crossed your mind, it shouldn't be taken for granted that baseball's future in general is in jeopardy.
As ESPN's Outside the Lines reported on Tuesday, MLB's version of the future involves using Tony Bosch's cooperation to suspend Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and others for having PED ties to Bosch's now defunct anti-aging clinic in South Florida, Biogenesis.
Per the OTL report, MLB is expecting Bosch to name names and to validate the Biogenesis records—which supposedly name close to 20 players—that the league already has in its possession.
But suspensions are not imminent. There's still a long way to go between securing Bosch's help and securing punishments for the players on MLB's list of targets.
Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLB Players Association, issued a statement, via the New York Daily News, essentially saying that the league is still putting a case together. The union has been assured that "no decisions regarding discipline have been made."
The OTL report said that MLB is seeking to suspend up to 20 players. It's imperative that people not overlook the "seeking" part.
The easiest way for MLB to secure PED suspensions is through positive tests, but section 7A of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program states that players can be suspended for using or possessing PEDs. Ideally, Bosch will help MLB prove that the players in the league's crosshairs did indeed have these drugs at their disposal.
But since the league is apparently seeking 100-game suspensions for some players just for having ties to Biogenesis and lying about it to the league, it sounds like the "just cause" (section G2) part of the agreement is also in play.
Whether or not Bosch can help MLB in either respect remains to be seen, but what's clear is that Tuesday's big reveal was basically a warning shot being fired. As Bleacher Report's Dan Levy wrote, MLB has made it clear it means business and that it is ready for a nasty fight.
Weiner said in his statement that the union "has every interest in both defending the rights of players and in defending the integrity of our joint program." That can be taken as confirmation that the union is also ready to go to battle.
And here's where the speculative future talk begins.
If the union wins the war with MLB, there will be no suspensions and Commissioner Bud Selig and his underlings will be forced to retreat and lick their wounds.
The union's next move would probably be to approach MLB about some tweaks to the joint drug agreement that address gray areas. The union would want language that outlines exactly what counts as proof of use/possession, and exactly what sort of things can put a player under the "just cause" umbrella.
To make the league agree to these changes, the union may also have to agree to stricter punishments, such as a full-season suspension for first-time offenders. Since there's already support for stricter penalties among the players, it's not out of the question that this could happen.
If the league wins the fight, though, things could get messy.
There will obviously be suspensions. Maybe not the 100-game suspensions that MLB is looking for, but the league will have finally busted A-Rod and Braun and scored a decisive victory in its ongoing struggle against PED usage.
The Milwaukee Brewers wouldn't be happy, however, as their main draw would be sidelined for a long time and blacklisted for the rest of his career. A dark period in the franchise's history could ensue.
The New York Yankees, meanwhile, would likely find themselves revisiting their attempts to void A-Rod's contract. Futilely, most likely, but that's beside the point.
The Yankees could push for MLB to alter the "Exclusive Discipline" part (Section 7M) of the joint drug agreement, which bars clubs from taking action of their own against players disciplined by MLB. They could lobby for the right to get out of contracts in the event of a PED suspension and might find themselves with some support from other clubs.
That idea wouldn't sit well with the union, and it could add further strife to what would already be a contentious dynamic between the union and the league if the league gets what it wants.
If there are drug suspensions en masse, per the ESPN story, the era of good feeling between owners and union is at risk.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) June 5, 2013
This much will be true, as MLB will have consorted with a shady character just for the sake of throwing players under the bus and proving a point.
But would it come to something as serious as a work stoppage? Would the players be outraged enough by MLB's victory and the potential fallout to strike for the first time in roughly two decades?
That's possible, but short of probable.
Going on strike following the suspensions of A-Rod, Braun and others would require the players to show solidarity with guys who will have been deemed guilty of violating the league's PED policy. The way in which they will have violated it would be in dispute, to be sure, but it's become clear that the majority of players have zero sympathy for any players even linked to PEDs.
Consider this passage from a column Scott Miller of CBSSports.com wrote back in March:
[Michael] Weiner and several union officials are making their annual tour through spring camps, meeting with each of the 30 clubs to discuss assorted issues.
As they do, players are peppering him with more questions regarding PEDs and enforcement than about any other individual issue.
Intelligent players. Caring players.
Innocent players sick and tired of the guilt by association world they live in every time someone turns over a rock at a clinic in, say, Miami and the cockroaches go scurrying away into the dark corners.
How will the latest PED scandal affect your view of MLB?
If the players don't want to be labeled guilty by association, then they'll know better than to stand by those who will have been suspended. For that matter, the bulk of the league's players could actually be just as pleased to see an example being made out of the suspended players as the league would be.
Of course, there's also the financial aspect. Now is not the best time for players to strike, as there's a lot of money to be made these days and more coming thanks to MLB's new national TV deals. Walking away from the game while the money is flowing would be stupid on the part of the players, for it might not be there upon their return.
As for the people who are responsible for keeping that money flowing, many fans have probably already been alienated by the Biogenesis mess. And the longer the mess drags out, the more the league is going to be in danger of losing fans.
But since it's continuing to make a federal case out of the Biogenesis scandal, the league clearly isn't worried about a mass exodus of fans, nor should it be.
For years, fans were being told that titans of the game like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were the ones who were dirty. The message was that the best players were so good and breaking so many records because they were cheating. It was the ultimate gut punch.
The Biogenesis scandal is different. Alex Rodriguez is a big name, but his days as a superstar are over and he hasn't been a fan favorite in a long, long time. Braun is a true superstar, but fans have been suspicious of him ever since it was first reported in 2011 that he had failed a drug test. After him and A-Rod, there aren't any other superstars in danger of being punished (for now, anyway).
MLB would be dealing with a worse crisis if players like Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw were the ones involved in the Biogenesis mess. These guys are all supremely talented players who are fan favorites. If they were to suddenly be cast as cheaters, it would be Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and McGwire all over again.
But even that mess didn't ruin MLB's business. As Maury Brown of BizofBaseball.com reported last December, revenue has been going nowhere but up for almost 20 years. Even while fans were finding out about the league's PED problem in the early 2000s, the money kept flowing in. And as Forbes pointed out, the last nine seasons have seen more people attend baseball games than ever before.
If PEDs couldn't kill baseball's business when the Steroid Era bubble finally burst, they're not going to kill baseball's business now. The league is only going to be in danger if this latest scandal leads to another strike, and the players probably aren't going to be game for something that drastic.
So while there are different directions the league's future could go in depending on which dominoes fall, don't think MLB's future in general is being compromised.
The reality of the Biogenesis scandal is thus a strange one. It could change everything, or nothing at all.
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