By now you’ve heard about Major League Baseball‘s prospective settlement with Biogenisis, whose director, Tony Bosch, is apparently naming at least 20 players who knowingly took steroids provided by his company. Included among those allegedly named in the suit are New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun.
The MLB is reportedly seeking the suspension of at least those two stars and perhaps several others, though the identity of the rest of those named in the settlement is still unknown.
However the MLB decides to proceed, suspensions would be fraught with legal difficulties based on several factors, both in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the players and the league and the contract that each player signs with his respective team. Defamation suits, even if they do not succeed, may be brought by players as a defensive measure to complicate the MLB’s disciplinary efforts. Expect much legal wrangling over certain clauses of the CBA, particularly the detrimental conduct clause (XII-B) and the Joint Agreement Drug Prevention and Treatment Program (-7H).
Interpretation of these two clauses by a panel of arbiters will be the key to deciding how successful the suspensions of Rodriguez, Braun or any other star will be.
Apart from the legal struggle, however, the Players Association may find it extremely difficult to develop a unified response to the allegations implied by the settlement.
Typically, no union in any industry will take a side in a labor dispute unless all — or at least the vast majority of — members in the union are on the same side.
This may not be the case here for a very simple reason: the clean players want the cheaters to be publicly named and punished, both to discourage others from taking unfair advantages in the future (and thus the limited number of large contracts typically bestowed to sluggers), and to clear their own names and validate past, untainted performance.
Though this makes a great deal of sense for players who have nothing to hide, they should take pause before allowing the MLB to have its way.
For one thing, there is always the potential of a false positive in any drug test, particularly for those players taking medications that could be construed as “masking agents” (such as a diuretic) for banned substances. Clean players would loathe to lose their own contracts to a false positive.
Additionally, border-line cases of banned substance consumption would require a lot of discretion on the part of the arbiter, the commissioner, or whoever is in charge of ordering punishments for dirty players. There are over 130 banned substances listed in the Joint Agreement, but the list is not exhaustive, nor is there a list of every product in which these substances might appear.
For example, many anesthesiologists are routinely tested for all illegal substances multiple times per week. Accordingly, they avoid eating poppy-seed bagels, as these contain trace amounts of opium that might show up during these frequent drug tests. I highly doubt professional athletes take such precautions, and again discipline would be left up to discretion.
So the Players Association has a lot to sort out before it can form a definitive strategy in response to the Biogenesis settlement. It will have to weigh the concerns of clean players, as well as those who do not want to put their careers in jeopardy over a new drug-test regime that may leave those same players hanging out to dry.
However it turns out, Major League Baseball may be headed for its first major labor dispute in nearly two decades. Let’s hope that play continues uninterrupted and our beloved game continues in an honorable fashion.
Tony Baker is a Los Angeles Angels blogger for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter at @tonloc_baker.