Jul 23

Has The Players Association Lost Its Teeth?

Is the Baseball Players Association, usually regarded as professional sports’ most powerful union, no more? Perhaps not as toothless as the impotent unions representing players in football, basketball and hockey, but in light of the Biogenesis disgrace that’s the impression.

Director Michael Weiner’s recent comments the MLBPA would not stand in the way of Biogenesis suspensions – with Ryan Braun’s for the remainder of the 2013 season the first – is not representative of a vibrant union.

The union’s rap was it would defend an ax murderer, but there is a minimum understanding in the reasoning for such a reputation. The union’s job is to not only enhance its members’ financial position, but also defend them against often overzealous owners.

While it is understandable and admirable of Commissioner Bud Selig for wanting to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the sport, the terms of Major League Baseball’s drug policy was defined by collective bargaining.

Selig’s heart is in the right place in wanting to clean his sport, despite that he and the owners initially looked the other way during the height of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa steroid-fueled home run chase in 1998, and subsequent shameful acceptance of Barry Bonds’ assault on Hank Aaron’s true home run record.

The policy has checks and balances and an appeals process, one Braun utilized and skated on a technicality. Braun beat the suspension because a MLB handler made a mistake. The process was in place to enable Braun to walk.

It is a process designed to avoid a witch-hunt and unfair prosecution of a player. I have no sympathy for a cheater and as a Hall of Fame voter will not vote for player linked to steroids. I want steroids gone from the sport, but want them eliminated the right way.

The Biogenesis case has been ugly from the start, with the evidence more than circumstantial against Braun, Alex Rodriguez and others. However, MLB did not have subpoena powers to obtain records from Biogenesis owner Tony Bosch, who for a price, since went to bed with Selig against the players.

That’s distasteful and creates the impression of Selig being vindictive against Braun for beating the first suspension. It was undoubtedly embarrassing for Selig and MLB to lose that case, but it was a sign the drug policy was working.

For MLB’s drug policy to continue to work it must have an appeals process and the players can’t be denied due process. Weiner should not accept MLB’s case against the Biogenesis players without question and simply taking Selig’s word, especially with him having to purchase the evidence against players from Bosch, whose reputation is certainly not above reproach.

There have been eight work stoppages in baseball, the last one the 1994 strike forced on the players by the owners for their refusal to bargain in good faith on the issues of revenue sharing and a salary cap. This one bled into two seasons and forced Selig to sack the World Series. After that, it was hoped the two sides learned something as to never have another stoppage, and after a near miss in 2002, that turned out to be the case.

However, did peace come at the price of the MLBPA selling out to Selig and the owners? For all practical purposes, Selig has his salary cap. And, if the MLBPA gives in without a hint of due process, in what other areas will the union capitulate?

And, how healthy is that to baseball’s growth?

ON DECK: About Last Night: Not liking Bobby Parnell’s response.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 27

Shouldn’t Players Association Assume Some Responsibility In Cause Of Niese Injury?

Jon Niese is in the second season of a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the New York Mets. He can thank the MLB Players Association.

Regardless of how this shoulder injury plays out, Niese will collect every penny, again thanks to the MLBPA.

However, MLBPA should also bear some responsibility for the injury in the first place.

NIESE: Cold conditions led to injury.

NIESE: Cold conditions led to injury.

For years, the MLBPA’s priority in dealing with the owners in labor talks centered around money and protecting players in disciplinary and PED cases. Unfortunately, such things as interleague play, which contributed to issues as scheduling and playing conditions has been ignored.

The norm in MLB these days is the absurdity of teams playing in frigid conditions in April, traveling cross-country for one-game make-ups and waiting out four-hour rain delays. The owners are making huge financial commitments to these players, yet have them play in conditions that contribute to injuries.

It’s like owning a high-end sports car, yet leaving it out in the rain and snow. Makes little sense.

Because the MLBPA hasn’t emphasized these areas in collective bargaining, management has rammed through such things as the circumstances of having the Mets playing back-to-back series in snowy and frigid Minneapolis and Denver.

“I think it beat up his body,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters today in Denver. “ I think he had to work extra hard. It’s freezing cold. … He’s the only guy who is really starting to get warm when he’s on the mound.

“Everyone else is standing out there. He and the catcher are really the only two guys with continual movement. When he’d come in, he’d get so chilled between innings, it was tough to go back out there and get loose. So now he had to work even harder to keep himself warm. I just think it took a beating on him.’’

Niese struggled in his subsequent starts and missed one after complaining of back stiffness and soreness. With every pitch Niese placed more stress on his body. As a pitcher, the brunt of it lands on the shoulder.

Sure, it is possible his rotator cuff tear has been an accumulation of all the pitches he’s thrown, but it also is likely pitching in the cold exasperated the stress and contributed to the injury.

Somebody has to play in those games, but the Mets, with reasonable, limited-greed scheduling, shouldn’t have been there.

Major League Baseball is trying to squeeze too much into the schedule and too much out of its players, and has been given carte blanche by the Players Association, which is content to bypass playing conditions for a bigger piece of the pie.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 06

Major League Baseball’s Case Against Rodriguez And Braun Not Ironclad

What I want to see is the Mets play as compelling and emotional game as the Boston Bruins played last night. However, as it is with the Mets’ luck, it isn’t surprising that the Major League Baseball war against PED users in the Biogenesis case is set to explode at the All-Star Game.

It will be interesting to see how Major League Baseball spins off the Home Run Derby as its lawyers are running to court and back.

It is admirable Bud Selig wants to clean up the sport he allowed to get sullied by looking at steroid usage in the first place; how he tried to buy back the good will of the fans he alienated by killing off the 1994 World Series in the owner-initiated work stoppage with the chemically-enhanced Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase.

Caving under the pressure of attendance drops coupled by the criticism from the not-knowing that the game is too boring, Selig sold out for the quick fix of the home run.

That decision, along with the interleague play gimmick – also in the wake of the work stoppage – will forever be Selig’s legacy as commissioner.

Now, add the Biogenesis case.

Major League Baseball is seeking to suspend 20 players for connection to Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch, but its primary guns are aimed at Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, who have made a mockery of the sport’s drug policy.

Rodriguez, who admitted using steroids for only a three-year period while with Texas and not with the Yankees, has repeatedly denied using again. Braun tested positive after his MVP season, but escaped punishment on a technicality.

Major League Baseball has been fuming since and this is coming off as the vendetta it is rather than a simple cleansing act.

While the picture looks bleak for Rodriguez and Braun, Major League Baseball shouldn’t celebrate too soon, as a sharp lawyer will attempt to turn this around.

Bosch initially refuted MLB’s request to turn over his records – he had no legal obligation to do so – and only is cooperating with Selig dropping the lawsuit against him. It was a lawsuit Bosch arguably could have won if he was able to afford to go against Major League Baseball’s deep pockets.

Bosch’s decision to go to bed with MLB came after Rodriguez refused to give him financial support, one of the few smart things the troubled Yankees’ third baseman has done in recent years.

It looks as if Bosch is turning on Rodriguez because he is, and that appearance doesn’t look good for Major League Baseball, which, when it comes to PEDs, has looked bad before Congress, and couldn’t put away Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds.

The technicality in which Braun escaped might be valid, but the sport comes off as a sore loser in not winning in arbitration.

If Selig wants to play hardball against PED users, that’s great, but there are other ways, and he will need the backing of the Players Association, which can’t be happy about this case. Instead, Major League Baseball is putting all its eggs in the Bosch basket, and he hasn’t been reputable from the start.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 02

MLB Chooses Non-Confrontational Route In Discipline Of Umpire Tom Hallion

Not surprisingly, Major League Baseball took the path of least resistance in its decision to fine all the parties involved in the Tom Hallion-David Price incident last Sunday.

Long story short, according to Price on Twitter, Hallion told him: “Throw the [expletive] ball over the plate.’’ Later, Hallion called Price “a liar.’’

MLB fined Price, and Rays pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore – caught in the cross fire – $1,000 apiece, claiming Price violated baseball’s social media policy. Fair enough, as MLB has a policy in place on social media.

Hallion was fined an undisclosed amount, and one could only hope it was more because MLB feels the umpire provoked and escalated the issue. MLB isn’t saying, and of course, neither is the umpire’s union.

Joe Torre, who oversees MLB disciplinary cases, was dealing with an untenable situation. For years MLB placated the umpires to the point where they’ve become overcome with self-importance and arrogance. He knows there are fine limitations set by collective bargaining with the players, but the umpire’s union plays hardball on every issue, big or small. The Players Association won’t go to war with a fine or limited suspension; the umpires will cross swords if Torre raised his eyebrows to them.

Umpiring is a tough job and these guys, for all the static they receive, do it better than anybody. That’s not to say they can’t do better and improvement can’t be made.

I still say the only way to avoid these “he said, he said’’ confrontations is to have the umpires wired to microphones they can’t control.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 29

David Price-Tom Hallion Solution: Put A Mike On The Umpires

Call it a hunch, but I believe David Price on this one with his beef with umpire Tom Hallion, which again leads us to the issue of the “umpire problem,’’ in Major League Baseball.

As he walked off the mound to end the seventh inning yesterday, Price and Hallion exchanged words, and the pitcher said the umpire told him “to throw the ball over the f—– plate.’’

HALLION: Has to walk away.

HALLION: Has to walk away.

Hallion denied it and called Price a liar.

Later, as all athletes do these days, Price took to Twitter: “1. I am not a liar 2. I would not make that stuff up 3. My own dad doesn’t speak to me that way 4. Again I am not a liar. #accountability.’’

The quality of umpiring has long been an issue, and along with it the umpire’s sensitivity to criticism. The rub is they are too confrontational and have rabbit years, meaning they don’t let things slide and seek out an argument. It is as if they are looking for a fight.

The umpire is supposed to be the one who is objective and calm, so why was it necessary for Hallion to yell at Price from a distance? Walk up to him calmly and say your piece. Or, better yet, ignore it and realize that with players there’s going to be emotional displays of frustration, with not all of it directed at the umpires.

Major League Baseball is enjoying unmatched financial revenues so it can afford to make improvements in his area that should reduce the tensions between the players and umpires, and more importantly, get it right. There’s ways to make this a less adversarial relationship, at least on the surface.

Let’s start with instant replay. I concede they’ll never have replay on balls-and-strikes, but there’s no reason not to use it for more than just home run calls. Unlike football, the baseball action is primarily focused on fixed locations like the foul lines, outfield wall and bases.

It is absurd not to take advantage of the high-definition technology. Have a representative from MLB in the pressbox, or have the video examined in a central location like the NHL does for its replays or the networks have for their “instant replay’’ expert on the NFL telecasts.

Finally, all umpires should be have microphones they can’t control so exchanges like the one Price and Hallion had can be properly evaluated and eliminate the “he said, he said,’’ issue.

A miked-up Hallion would tell us instantly who is telling the truth, and perhaps more importantly, prove a deterrent to umpires compelled to interject themselves into the emotions of the game.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

ON DECK: Harvey goes for Mets in Miami.