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…. Breaking News

Commissioner Bud Selig has asked the Players Association to re-open the subject of drug testing a second time, (the first time was already completely unprecendented), according to this ESPN report:

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig asked players to agree to a 50-game suspension for first-time steroid offenders and a lifetime ban for a third violation under what he called a “three strikes and you are out approach” to doping.

In a letter sent this week to union head Donald Fehr, Selig proposed a 100-game ban for a second offense. He also asked the union to ban amphetamines, to have more frequent random tests and to appoint an independent person to administer the major league drug-testing program.

“Third offenders should be banned permanently. I recognize the need for progressive discipline, but a third-time offender has no place in the game,” Selig wrote to Fehr. “Steroid users cheat the game. After three offenses, they have no place in it.”

This is obviously directed at preventing Congress from interfering in baseball’s ability to police itself. As such, it is a terrific first-strike. A 50-game penalty for a first offense is even more severe than the NFL’s 4-game suspension, and a three strikes, lifetime ban is perhaps the most significant step towards dealing with the pressure the House Committee has kept baseball under.

That said, it is still up to the Players Association to say yes or no, and I’d bet that even if they are amenable to another renogiation, they will most likely submit to Selig a revision that reduces the first and second failure penalties, I’d guess something lin the 30-40 game for a first offense, and a half season for the second. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Selig and Fehr have already (privately) discussed exactly how this will play out in the media, and are already on board for just this sort of public negotiation.

An end result of a forty-game suspension for a first offense, a half-season for a second, and a lifetime ban for a third would be very, very substantial, and would almost certainly put an end to the BS these House Committe stooges have been spewing left and right. Kudos to Selig and Fehr if this is such a coordinated effort.

But let’s not forget something. I am not alone in questioning whether steroid use is, in fact, cheating. Baseball may be putting public relations ahead of true awareness and possibly shooting itself in the foot here. What’s going to happen if baseball goes ahead with this program, does an in-depth, comprehensive study on the use of steroids for strength training and and an athlete’s ability to withstand the rigors of their sport, and determines that they are benificial under proper medical supervision? Is that so far-fetched? I am certain that it is not. I am certain that a careful study of the benefits of steroidal supplements would reveal that there is a threshold of use that carries very little long-term health risks, and tremendous advantages for the modern athlete.

Which brings us back to the Griffey/Bonds debate I framed earlier this month: If you were an owner or a GM of a team, and you could choose between having the longevity, production and health of your best players be the kind of production the Giants have gotten from Bonds (a bargain as one of the highest paid players in the game for going on ten years now) or like Griffey (an absolute disaster for the finances of his team almost from the minute he signed his contract); there can be no question which choice you would make, barring the question of how these results were obtained. If steroid use can be shown to be no more risky than, say, the kind of treatments already common to the modern athlete, (pain-killers, corti-steroids, cortisone injections, reconstructive surgeries, eye surgeries, etc.), and steroids are legal if obtained by a prescription; this response essentially guarantees baseball will not be able to utilize this information for a very long time.

But of course, this was never possible in today’s hyper-vigilant, anti-drug, right-wing controlled political climate. So, this is what we’ve got. Well, if you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it right.

Update: David Pinto feels that the chance of a false positive makes this first offense penalty too severe. He’s right that there is a chance for false positives, albeit a small one. And under the type of appeal process Olympic athletes have, the burden of proof seems to be on the athlete proving their innocence, rather than the organization proving the validity of the test. Maybe the details of this renegotiation will cover this concern. Maybe not.

That is part of the reasoning behind my belief that there is a real possibility that Fehr and Selig have already discussed this “letter” that the Commissioner sent to the PA, and there is already an understanding that a lesser penalty structure would be part of the union’s willingness to negotiate this subject again. The other part is that in negotiations, each party has to set their positions on the far side of the debate; Selig says 50, Fehr says 20, Selig says 40 and Fehr says, OK, 30. Deal.

I don’t know that this is where they’re headed, I’m just saying, the union almost certainly won’t just agree to this, public relations ploy or political pressure or whatever. The best Selig can hope for here is a counter-offer, and he’s (smartly) set the bar high enough that whatever the union suggests, it’s going to have to be a significant jump from the current 10-game suspension. David Pinto is also worried that, by taking the high road and putting the union in a no-win situation, the Commissioner risks ruining all of the good will that has begun to develop between ownership and the players:

…. Selig is blowing a chance to extend the cooperation between players and management. This is clearly a ploy to make the players look like the bad guys if they refuse the deal. It’s too bad. I thought some trust had been developed between the parties. This has (the) potential to drive a wedge between the two sides once again.

Perhaps, but remember, Selig and Fehr have had meetings on the subject just this past week. Selig would have to be as stupid as I have ever accused him of being and then some to hang Fehr completely out to dry here. I could see him telling Fehr that his political allies have let him know that baseball was gonna get it’s lunch handed to it if things didn’t change. That’s a far cry from I’m gonna ask you to renegotiate again, and I’m gonna make it look like you and your members are committed to drug use and cheating if you don’t.


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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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