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Selig, Fehr must proceed carefully on steroids issue

by Tracy Ringolsby
March 26, 2004

DENVER--Commissioner Bud Selig needs to take a deep breath, count to 10 and relax.

He has very real concerns about problems caused by steroids. He has every reason to want to institute a drug policy in the big leagues that is as strong as the one baseball has instituted in the minor leagues (see Page 14). He, however, has no business trying to unilaterally impose a strong testing program.

Drug testing is a part of the Basic Agreement, and as weak as the current policy may be, it is an outgrowth of the last negotiations with the players.

What's more, just getting that policy was a major sign that the players are concerned about steroid problems and pressured Don Fehr and the union into making a concession in that regard.

Right or wrong, all Selig would accomplish if he tried to strong-arm the players on drug testing is provide a forum for Fehr to rally the players, turning the focus from the need to deal with steroid problems to owners' attempt to circumvent good-faith negotiations.

Right now, Fehr is being pressured from within to address the need for a strong drug-testing program, but a misstep by Selig would provide him with the leverage he needs to slow that movement.

The bottom line is Selig would lose a legal challenge to his invoking "best interest of baseball" powers on the drug issue because drug testing has been introduced as a part of baseball's bargaining process.

No professional sports labor movement has flexed more muscle and had a bigger impact than baseball's union. First with Marvin Miller in charge, and now with Fehr running the show, the union has taken advantage of arrogance on the part of ownership, which until recent years failed to realize the times had changed and the owners no longer had total control.

There are signs that the players' leadership is now becoming guilty of the arrogance that undermined ownership.

Called to Washington to appear before a U.S. Senate committee looking into the use of steroids in professional sports, Fehr came across to the political types as arrogant and disrespectful.

This wasn't Jerry Reinsdorf or Bud Selig or Carl Pohlad who Fehr dissed.

This was a group of senators, and the concerns about baseball crossed party lines. Fehr has actually created a situation where not only is he being challenged by Republicans such as Sen. John McCain, but also has riled Democrats, including Sen. Joe Biden.

The politicians may be grandstanding. Fehr is right to wonder why the senators have such deep concerns but don't address the steroids issue with legislation. But it's how you say things, not what you say, that so often becomes the focal point.

Rare Misstep

And in the process, Fehr embarrassed the United States Olympic Committee.

Asked by senators why Olympians should be held to more stringent drug-testing programs than baseball players, Fehr responded that he didn't "represent them."

Fehr is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which has been reexamining its desire to have Fehr as a part of its decision-making policy even before the latest incident.

There is no question that Major League Baseball's drug policy is weak. Testing can only happen during the season, and the two tests a player can be requested to take must be held within a one-week time frame. A first-time offender doesn't miss a game. It isn't until a player fails the tests for the fifth time that he faces a one-year suspension.

The NFL, by contrast, has year-round testing, and a first-time offender is suspended for four regular-season games--one fourth of the season--without pay.

The fact that baseball has any testing speaks for the concerns of the players. Fehr and the union had refused to have serious discussions about any testing plan for years, but during the negotiations two years ago, the owners were adamant about some type of testing, even if it was limited, and Fehr was forced by membership to agree.

Two years ago, in fact, a study conducted by USA Today revealed that 79 percent of the players supported testing. And this spring players have begun to go public with the desire, led by Braves veteran John Smoltz.

Duly Noted

One last word on this topic: Rangers assistant general manager Grady Fuson on the fact Athletics general manager Billy Beane was upset when Fuson selected high school pitcher Jeremy Bonderman in the first round in 2001: "Billy didn't want me to take Bobby Crosby (in the first round in 2001), either. I guess he doesn't mind now."

Just four lefthanders figure to be in rotations of teams in the American League East, which traditionally has been heavy on lefties. This year, the divisions' lefties are Toronto's Ted Lilly, Blue Jays expatriate Mark Hendrickson in Tampa Bay, and some combination of Omar Daal, Eric DuBose and Matt Riley in Baltimore.

All four teams in the AL West are changing center fielders. In Oakland, Mark Kotsay has replaced Eric Byrnes, who is battling for the left field job. The Mariners will replace departed free agent Mike Cameron with Randy Winn. In Anaheim, Garrett Anderson has replaced Darin Erstad, who has moved to first base. And Laynce Nix is taking over in Texas, where the Rangers really haven't had a full-time center fielder the last two years. Doug Glanville led the team in starts with only 47 last year, and Ruben Rivera led the team with 56 starts in 2002.

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