On Tuesday in New York commissioner Bud Selig and players’ union head Michael Weiner are to meet with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and amid reports of looming Biogenesis-related suspensions, the sessions should offer a good bit of insight into where the doping program is headed.
The latest in the ongoing saga, an ESPN report saying Major League Baseball is preparing bans for Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and perhaps 20 other players after all the all-star break, promises to be a focal point for Selig and Weiner while overshadowing the Midsummer Classic.
Depending on one’s point of view, this is either a good thing, using one of the game’s showcase events to demonstrate the game’s determination to chase down potential violators, or a bad thing, as it will once again expose an ugly underbelly the sport is unable to eradicate.
There’s merit to both perspectives, but more important than perception is the precedent baseball officials hope to set by using a lawsuit to coerce Tony Bosch, founder of the disgraced Biogenesis clinic accused of supplying players with performance-enhancing substances, into co-operating with MLB doping investigators, and punishing players as a result.
Done right, this could be an effective two-way deterrent.
The evidence Bosch has provided to escape legal action is being used to develop cases against players connected to Biogenesis, with baseball officials reportedly considering 100-game suspensions – the punishment for a second offence – for Braun and Rodriguez based on the argument that they have committed two violations by using banned substances and lying about it.
This is especially noteworthy for the Toronto Blue Jays and left-fielder Melky Cabrera, who served a 50-game suspension for using testosterone last summer and was believed to be largely out of the woods, since Biogenesis documents leaked thus far tie him to PEDs only for the period he was punished for.
But suddenly complicating things is the unknown of what Bosch may have given baseball on Cabrera, and whether there’s enough evidence to prove a second violation.
For instance, if his ban was related to a June 2012 infraction but records showed the purchase of PEDs from the previous January and March, or if Cabrera continued to buy or use banned substances during the period of his appeal, or if there was firm evidence of violations in 2011, he could very well face a 100-game ban as a second-time offender.
For Cabrera and perhaps Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal – two other Biogenesis clients suspended last year also surely being checked – that would mean a total of 150 games served compared to the other players, who would skip the 50-game first-time offence penalty and go right into the repeat violator category.
While that doesn’t seem entirely fair, it’s just one of many contentious points the union must be grappling with.
Back in the spring when asked about the concept of retroactively punishing a player, Weiner told reporters at Blue Jays spring camp that going back in time to issue further suspensions was “a tough and complicated legal question” that might be challenged by the union.
He also added “more and more players are vocal about their desire to have a clean game.”
In that, the union must balance the needs of members with divergent interests – those looking to avoid discipline for alleged PED use versus those who want dopers punished – while also defending the universal rights of players.
As Weiner put it back in the spring, “if there is evidence that a player who has tested positive has committed another infraction connected with the program, the union has an interest – yes, we have to defend that player – but the union has an interest in saying, if somebody committed another infraction, there should also be consequences. Again, the other players want to make sure that we have a clean game.”
Still, to some, baseball’s determination to nail down Braun and Rodriguez after they previously manipulated the system could be viewed as a vendetta, and leave players in search of some additional protection.
“The commissioner’s office could take the position that if they had evidence of a separate violation, conceivably they could seek additional discipline,” Weiner said that same February day.
“We might challenge that. It’s a hard question to answer. I will say this: The players’ association has an obligation to represent any player who’s subject to discipline. The players’ association is also a signatory to a joint drug agreement, and the players’ association also has an obligation, not only to the players who are subject to discipline, but the vast majority of players who want a clean game.
“Right now, we and the commissioner’s office are trying to get to the bottom of a whole series of issues, including whether there’s anything to get to the bottom of in Miami. And I would hope that we could work those kinds of issues out rather than have disputes over it.”
The comments Weiner and Selig make Tuesday will probably offer some insight into whether the two sides are moving forward in this process as partners or adversaries, and what the implications are for the doping program moving forward.