Editor's note: Joe has a lot of valuable knowledge of this subject that is definitely worth sharing, so this has been edited for presentation and promoted to the front page. -Tanya
After a week of threats and saber-rattling, Commissioner Bud Selig chose discretion over valor today by foregoing his extensive integrity-of-the-game powers under the CBA and exercising his lesser powers under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program to suspend Alex Rodriguez for 211 games. In doing so, Selig made a wise choice. By foregoing the instant gratification of hammering Rodriguez to the limits of his powers, Selig chose a course that will better serve the long-term interests of baseball.
Under Art. XI(A)(1)(b) of the CBA, the Commissioner can take a disciplinary matter outside of the normal grievance process if it affects the integrity of the game or public confidence in the game. The upshot is that the player cannot play while he litigates his grievance. That would have ended Rodriguez’s return to the Yankees tonight in Chicago. This provision would also have arguably permitted the Commissioner to impose a lifetime ban on Rodriguez. If upheld, that would have relieved the Yankees of the obligation to pay the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract. His contract runs through the 2017, with $90 million due and owing.
Selig arguably had a basis to invoke the CBA because Rodriguez’s alleged offenses went beyond PED use. According to Selig, Rodriguez engaged "in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate" an investigation by MLB. Instead, Selig chose to invoke the Drug Program, not the CBA, impose a 211-game suspension, not a lifetime ban, and to permit Rodriguez to play while any grievance is pending. The suspension begins on Thursday.
Why did Selig do what he did? The main reason is probably the Players’ Association. MLB enjoys a good working relationship with the Association and its executive director, Michael Weiner. This is a far cry from how things were when Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr and Gene Orza were calling the shots. Selig undoubtedly wants to nurture this relationship because labor peace is good for baseball. Invocation of the Commissioner’s integrity-of-the-game powers in a PED case could have seriously damaged this relationship.
These powers concern the Association. Attached to the CBA is an undated letter from Selig to Weiner that reads as follows:
I understand that the Players Association has expressed concern that the Commissioner might take some action pursuant to Article XI(A)(1)(b) of the Basic Agreement which could negate rights of Players under the new Basic Agreement. While I have difficulty seeing that this is a real problem, I am quite willing to assure the Association that the Commissioner will take no such action.
We don’t know what sparked this letter. However, it is safe to assume that the Association feared the Commissioner would use his integrity-of-the-game powers in situations beyond which those powers had previously been used. Most prior cases have involved gambling or fixed games. It is possible, perhaps likely, that the Association was concerned that Selig would invoke these powers in PED cases. Given this letter, the Association could have seen any use of his integrity-of-the-game powers here as reneging on a promise. That is hardly something that promotes labor peace.
When the Commissioner uses his integrity-of-the-game powers, the Association is permitted to reopen the CBA. The Association cannot reopen the CBA on this basis unless Selig actually uses these powers. The current CBA runs through December 1, 2016, ensuring labor peace for this season and the next three seasons. Selig would be understandably reluctant to start a skirmish.
Politics cannot be overlooked. Weiner is experiencing health issues. If he must step down as executive director during a time of labor strife, it is probably more likely that a militant would be chosen as his successor. Selig could easily believe that would not serve the best interests of baseball. MLB will undoubtedly seek the Association’s help again to strengthen and fine-tune the drug program.
Selig deserves credit for doing what he feels is best for the game, instead of exacting revenge. Rodriguez has done everything possible to annoy Selig. He has allegedly continued to use PEDs after his 2009 confession and earlier PED use. He has suggested that MLB and the Yankees have a personal vendetta against him. He has made transparently self-serving remarks about his desire to rid baseball of PEDs. These statements must irritate even Rodriguez’s staunchest supporters. Any of us in Selig’s shoes would be tempted to hammer Rodriguez to the limits of our power.
Choosing the less drastic course is not without its risks for Selig. First, it will probably gall him to no end to see Rodriguez on the field in Chicago tonight. As the other 12 players suspended in the Biogenesis scandal begin to serve their suspensions, the player who has been characterized as the worst offender of the lot will play for the first time this year. Fans and the public may see something very wrong with this picture. Second, after last week’s saber-rattling, some may perceive Selig as having blinked in a stare-down with Rodriguez. Third, as for his legacy, his actions here will probably end any perception of him being to PEDs what Kenesaw Mountain Landis was to crooked games. Landis took no prisoners.
The irony is that the tough talk and bravado that preceded these suspensions may not have been Selig’s doing. The leaks could easily have come from hawks within the MLB offices trying to stir up public support for a lifetime ban. They could have come from Team A-Rod in its never-ending quest to portray Rodriguez as an innocent victim running one step ahead of a lynch mob. They could have come from the Association in an attempt to garner public opposition to a lifetime ban. Whatever the source of these leaks, the spillover will hit Selig to some degree.