How the Government Influenced A-Rod's Suspension


If you see something, say something. |||

Two good articles this week explain how Major League Baseball's historic suspension of all-time great Alex Rodriguez for issues related to performance enhancing drugs [PEDs] was inextricably linked to heavy-handed intrusion by the federal government.

The first, by ESPN's Howard Bryant, goes into great detail about how the MLB Players Association, once considered the strongest private union in America under the leadership of longtime executive director Marvin Miller, completely flipped its attitude and negotiating strategy toward disallowed substances over the past decade. The article makes clear that a number of incidents and factors went into this shift–not least the brazen lies of accused players such as Ryan Braun and Rafael Palmeiro, who had been defended as honest by their teammates and competitors. But government pressure played a definite role:

Never forget! |||

Miller died in November 2012, but during the final decade of his life, he was adamantly against the union's decision to reopen an existing collective bargaining agreement to appease Congressional concern about the game's drug policies. Miller's position was that an agreement was sacrosanct and should be renegotiated only at its expiration. To do otherwise was to create dangerous precedent. There was no point in having a Basic Agreement, Miller said, if it was vulnerable to renegotiation. But between 2005 and 2009, the owners and the union reopened the Basic Agreement three times to amend PED provisions.

Huh. Didn't remember Freddie Lynn playing in Arlington. |||

Focusing much more on the government side of the equation is Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times, who starts from George W. Bush's 2004 State of the Union address:

Nine years later, analysts say Major League Baseball may never have reached the point this week where it issued the biggest suspensions in 90 years had official Washington not turned the spotlight on performance enhancing drugs

Dinan's piece (I'm quoted in it) reconstructs Washington's role in events like congressional hearings and star show-trials, and includes chest-pounding quotes from participants:

Gawd, the Aughts sucked. |||

"Those hearings basically changed the game," said former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who was chairman for the 2005 hearings and ranking Republican for a second round in 2008. "Without them, it's hard to see how you were going to get any changes." […]

"When we brought it up originally, we were fought tooth-and-nail by the baseball establishment — owners, presidents, unions, everybody," Mr. Davis said. "After the hearings [Commissioner Bud] Selig called up and said thanks a lot. He said this was tough for us, but we got through it. We all wanted it cleaned up."

Davis's ignorance here might be even more breathtaking than his definition of what constitutes "Government Oversight and Reform," which was the name of the subcommittee he so bravely led into urinanalysis. Bud Selig did not fight Congress "tooth and nail," he begged Congress to gin up public outrage so that baseball employees would feel pressure to invite more stringent drug testing and penalties onto themselves. Here is Selig's quote in December 2004 after nanny statist Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) threatened to introduce legislation mandating a much harsher and more intrusive drug testing regime for this private professional sporting league:

Seriously, there's a statue of Bud Selig in Milwaukee. Infinite D-baggery. |||

If we cannot resolve this issue privately, I gladly will accept whatever help is offered by Sen. McCain to achieve our ultimate goal….While I would prefer to resolve this problem directly with the Players Association and jointly implement a much stronger drug-testing policy in Major League Baseball, one modeled after our program in the minor leagues, I understand the need for swift and resolute action.

This was before Davis's hearings, mind you. I'm sure the ex-congressman believes his subsequent bill (thankfully killed) mandating a first-time suspension of two years in all professional sports was opposed by drug-test-loving Selig, too.

I have written about this issue way too much over the past decade, including a column from two months back, "Baseball's Steroid Collusion With the Feds."