NEW YORK – Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera and other players tied to Biogenesis face a range of potential punishments ranging beyond the 50-100-life scale stipulated in baseball’s drug program, a new twist to the doping scandal Major League Baseball is pursuing aggressively.
Michael Weiner, the head of the players union currently fighting brain cancer, made the revelation during a meeting with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday, and cautioned that the association retained the right to appeal such a decision.
But given recent reports suggesting the commissioner’s office was seeking punishments of 150 games for both Rodriguez and Braun as multiple offenders, some light was shed on the process. The union expects notice on baseball’s discipline plans in the next month.
“The players in Biogenesis are not bound by the penalties in the Basic Agreement,” Weiner explained. “The penalties in the Basic Agreement are for what we call an analytical positive (positive drug tests). The players in Biogenesis are what we call non-analytical positives, which are positives based on evidence other than tests.
“In theory, they could be suspended for five games, or for 500 games. We can then choose to challenge or not. Plus, the commissioner’s office is not bound by the 50-100-life scale we have in the Basic Agreement.”
What that means for Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal — players linked to Biogenesis who have already served suspensions for positive tests last year — is now murkier than ever. Should baseball investigators find new evidence of doping infractions committed by the trio, officials would have all kinds of leeway in handing down additional discipline.
The onus still remains on baseball to provide enough hard evidence of violations not covered by the previous bans, but it’s clear that Cabrera isn’t quite as out of the woods as the Toronto Blue Jays believed him to be back in spring training.
Their background work on the left-fielder is about to be tested.
Weiner’s discussion with the BBWAA followed on the heels of a 45-minute conversation with Bud Selig, during which the commissioner repeatedly stated that baseball has the toughest testing program in American sports, and added “the enforcement of that program must be just as tough.”
“The only thing I can say to you about the (Biogenesis) investigation is it’s thorough, comprehensive and it’s aggressive,” said Selig. “I’m proud of that and it’s a tribute to what we’re trying to do.”
How hand in hand that is with the union, which is trying to balance the rights of affected players and the desire of its members to see offenders justly punished, isn’t totally clear.
Asked how much of its evidence MLB investigators are sharing, Weiner replied: “Sometimes they’ve been forthcoming, sometimes I wish they would be more forthcoming. Their legal theories, sometimes they’ve been forthcoming, sometimes they haven’t. In terms of what we’ve learned during the negotiation, we’ve had to fight them every step of the way. So, it’s been a struggle.
“My guess is there’ll probably be some more struggles along the way.”
There are several key issues along the fault line, and perhaps the most important one is baseball’s intent to announce any suspensions once its investigation is complete, while the union believes they should be kept private until any grievances are heard by an arbitrator.
That raises the potential for a glut of cases filed at once, preventing suspensions from taking effect this season. Depending on the number of appeals and how quickly they can be expedited, it’s possible players may not start serving any punishments until next season.
Hearings aren’t likely to begin before September, which means the Biogenesis mess could drag on for months, unless discipline is negotiated between the two sides.
“We have been closely working with the commissioner’s office, it wouldn’t be wrong to say daily, on this matter,” said Weiner. “When all interviews are done, we will meet with the commissioner’s office and we will try to work something out. Players that deserve the suspensions, we’ll try to cope with their suspensions. Players that don’t deserve suspensions, we will argue that they don’t deserve a suspension. And I hope we have success. We won’t have success on every single player, but I hope we have a fair amount of success.”
One by-product of the Biogenesis scandal is that baseball plans to pursue increased penalties in the drug program, with Selig saying “I feel very, very strongly … that we have to look at that in the next collective bargaining agreement.”
Several players have pushed for it, too, in their desire to help provide a more significant deterrent and help keep the game clean, and change could come sooner than that.
“We’ve heard from a lot of players that increased penalties are called for. We’ve heard from a lot of other players that don’t think increased penalties are called for,” said Weiner. “And I imagine we will work it out at or near in early December and then have a negotiation with them over that very subject.”
EXPANDED REPLAY: Joe Torre, executive vice-president for Major League Baseball, is aiming to have additional instant replay ready for the 2014 season, with the scope of the expansion extending beyond fair/foul calls down the lines and trapped balls.
A subcommittee of Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz is working through the details, many of which remain fluid, and details were in short supply Tuesday.
“We’ve moved quite a bit,” said Torre. “I’m not really prepared to give you chapter and verse yet because we’re still in the tweaking phase.”
At issue, according to Torre, is deciding “how much replay we want, because if we start doing it from the first inning to the ninth inning you may have to time the game with a calendar, you certainly don’t want to stop the game. … We’re pretty confident we’ll have it in place for 2014 and we just have to make sure that once we do make this commitment, we want to be able to go forward, not backward, we don’t want to throw something out there and then have to draw it back. If we have to throw something out there and maybe tweak it, fine, because this is going to be something new for us. We’re going to decide on what’s going to trigger the replay, after that how much replay are we going to do, and that’s basically where we are.”
Debate at this point seems to be centred around how long the process takes, and how a replay is initiated. Employing manager challenges are part of the considerations, and any changes will need the approval of the players union and umpires union.
“I’m very pleased with what they’ve done,” said commissioner Bud Selig. “I’m a traditionalist at heart with all the changes. We have to be careful not to affect the pace of the game, they hear that from me all the time. People can make light of that but I don’t care if they make light of that, it’s true. On the other hand, if we can make some changes, that are constructive and fit in – look, life isn’t perfect, sport isn’t perfect, but we’ve never and it’s been great. We have to be careful to improve things not to affect the game as we’ve all known it.”
UNION SUCCESSION: Michael Weiner remains a picture of courage and strength even though his symptoms from brain cancer have spiked in recent weeks, leaving the union head confined to a wheelchair unable to walk or move his entire right side.
But given the rapid deterioration of his health — he’s using a drug approved for melanoma but not brain cancer right now — succession planning at the union has picked up, with plans to name a deputy executive director within the next couple of weeks.
Gene Orza, the union’s former chief operating officer, said he won’t be returning to the association while Donald Fehr, now head of the NHL Players’ Association, is also unlikely to come back.
“Don is a little more complicated, he always was, but I do not expect that Don Fehr will work again for the players association,” said Weiner. “And I don’t think Don expects to work there either.”
As for his own outlook, Weiner remains determined to continue his work despite failing health, remaining sharp, analytical and quick-witted.
“I don’t know if I look at things differently,” he said. “There are things that became more important to me, more conscious to me. As corny as it sounds, I get up in the morning and I feel I’m going to live each day as it comes. Not taking a day for granted, not taking the next morning for granted. What I look for each day is beauty and joy. If I can find beauty, meaning and joy, that’s a good day. It’s not that much different, believe it or not, than I did beforehand.
“For those of you who have not been in a grievance arbitration with (Chicago White Sox owner) Jerry Reinsdorf, he’s the meaning of joy,” Weiner added in a quip. “I shouldn’t say that about Jerry, he’s been very helpful in the last round of bargaining. I live each day and I wake up each day looking for good things, because I don’t know how much time I have. Maybe I’ve just become more aware of things. So I look at my life in a different way.”
TAMPA TROUBLES: The Tampa Bay Rays, still unable to gain traction for a new stadium to replace the derided Tropicana Field, are 29th in the majors with an average attendance of 17,791, a figure commissioner Bud Selig described as unacceptable for a team that’s 55-41.
“It’s very disappointing and very worrisome,” he said. “The Tampa club is 2 ½ games out and of the course the first thing I do every morning is look at the attendance at every game, it’s beyond disappointing. They have been so competitive, they’ve done a marvellous job in a situation that economically is not tolerable. Stu (Sternberg, the Rays owner) and I have had a lot of conversations and my patience is running as thin as his if not more so.
“You look at a club in the major-leagues that’s competitive and is averaging 18,000 people a game, that may have been OK in 1956, that’s not OK today. Your fans want you to be competitive, they ought to have the economic tools or economic mechanisms to be competitive. … I have a very high level of frustration. … There is no question there’s a stadium problem, there’s no debate about that. The question is what to do about it.”