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Where Has The MLB Players' Association Gone?

posted Jun 25, 2009, 7:09 PM by Steven Seagal   [ updated Jun 26, 2009, 7:20 PM ]
The Major League Baseball Players' Association is by all accounts an incredibly strong union, a fact that is clearly apparent if one looks at the dollar values (hundreds of millions) and terms and conditions (no trade clauses) of the contracts that these guys are able to win from ownership.  The Players' Association has also historically kept a watchful eye on trades, contract negotiations, etc, that could set unfavorable precedents to their members - Think A-rod's albatross of a contract in Texas, which the Yankees were only willing to take on after Texas agreed to pay significant portions of Mr. Rod's salary.  The Players' Association watched that negotiation very closely to make sure Alex didn't agree to givebacks of anything to which he was contractually entitled, for fear that such high profile concessions would erode the negotiating power of players in future negotiations.
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that the spectre of MLBPA interference loomed large over any interactions between ownership and their membership.  The MLBPA was the muscle in the room standing behind Scott Boras and his clients during any negotiations with ownership - as if Mr. Boras' clients needed any more muscle.
So how is it that such a powerful and proactive union could allow the results of the "anonymous" steroid screening test to be made public?  Yeah, I know this is old news, but the lack of any strong response on the part of the MLBPA in the days since these results were leaked speaks volumes about the competency with which the MLBPA handled this situation - we'll get to that.
As both a lawyer and a scientist, I would like to dissect the circumstances of this situation and give an in depth analysis of the events as I see them.
Let's begin by recapping the events leading up to the test itself.  Congress was pushing MLB to conduct an investigation to determine the prevelence of steroids in the game.  There was talk of Congress hijacking the process and conducting it's own investigation, which we ultimately know came to pass and resulted in the Mitchell Report.  Under such threats, MLB reluctantly agreed to press the MLBPA to agree to a survey test of players in an effort to determine the order of magnitude of the percentage of players juicing - was it 5% or 50%?
I admit the timing of the above events are a bit fuzzy for me.  As you are all well aware of my aversion to doing actual research, you'll agree to let any minor inaccuracies in the above recap go unchallenged, considering they fall outside the scope of my actual analysis.
What I'm concerned with is what happened next.  The MLBPA sees the train coming down the tracks and knows that Congress has thrown it's weight behind the steroid issue.  They (correctly) realize it would be prudent to not stand directly in the way of this train.  They agree to an anonymous survey test of players to determine the scope and prevelance of steroid use in MLB.  This concession had the benefits of showing to Congress a willingness to help in the investigation and not be an obstacle to the truth, while also protecting the identities and reputations of the players being tested.
This is where the details get hazy.  From a scientific standpoint, the process for conducting blind and anonymous testing is well-defined and easily executed.  The Union would certainly insist on the most stringent guarantees of anonymity.  Those performing the actual tests just get samples - and the results they report are something along the lines of "104 of 1200 samples contained substances defined as "steroids.""  Obviously, this is simplifying the results - I'm sure they were broken out by type of steroid, etc, etc, but the point is that in an anonymous survey test, you're only concerned with the percentage of positive results, and you never see nor concern yourself with the origin of the sample - it is simply outside the scope of your research.
At least, that's the way it should be.  So what happened?  Did the MLBPA not review the methodolgy of the tests stringently enough?  My assumption would be that before agreeing to anything, they would have had experts pore over each detail of the methodology and determine where the anonymity could break down.  Only upon being satsified that the samples, and therefore the results, would be decidedly severed from the subject who provided them would they agree to allow their membership to participate in this testing.
Now if we assume that the MLBPA was as diligent as I've described above - and why wouldn't they be? - we must assume that the breakdown in anonymity is a result of the independent testing lab deviating from the testing methodolgy approved in the agreement.  Imagine, now, the MLBPA's response to such an outcome.  They reluctantly agree to subject their membership to testing, only under the terms of strictest anonymity, and go to great lengths to assure that this anonymity is delivered.  The testing lab deviates from the approved methodology and the goose that laid the golden egg, Alex Rodriguez, has his name forever sullied and irrevocably tied to steroids.
The lawsuit should be filed the following day.  The MLBPA should sue MLB as well as the independent testing lab for breach of contract.  When the MLBPA told its membership to comply with the testing and submit samples, they gave the players every assurance that the tests would be absolutely anonymous.  The rights of their membership are trod upon in blatant fashion and an agreement that the Union helped broker is breached, causing irreconcilable damage to the reputation of its members.  Where is the lawsuit?
If tomorrow the Yankees decided that they were no longer going to pay A-rod, how long would it take for the MLBPA to file suit for breach of contract?
I can only conclude that the MLBPA has blood on its hands.  Perhaps they didn't do their due dilligence in reviewing the testing methodology?  It's just inconceivable to me, though, that a union as powerful and proactive as the MLBPA has historically been would drop the ball in such a fashion.  Maybe they feel pressure from Congress to not come out in defense of an admitted steroid user?  I just can't buy that - it would be a much too blatant and flagrant violation of the faithful representation of his interests that they, as his union, owe him.
In the meantime, with the MLBPA sleeping at the switch and/or afraid to pursue the matter because they know they dropped the ball, where is Alex's own attorney?  He can sure as shit afford one.  He should sue the MLBPA, the independent testing lab, and MLB all together, and let the courts figure out how the anonymous test he agreed to turned into front page news.
If all this sounds like I sympathize with A-rod - it's because I do.  The guy made a mistake and maybe he deserves to get caught and have his reputation destroyed as a result.  That is not for me to judge.  But what I do know is that it's a travesty that he got caught the way he did - submitting to the request of his own union who made all assurances that his identity would be protected only to wake up to find "A-roid" plastered all over the NY Post.  And it's another travesty that a scumbag like Selena Roberts gets to reap the benefits of his downfall, but that's a whole different story.