Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. V, No. 72
July 30, 2013

"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness."
--Joseph Welch, June 9, 1954

On Monday, both the New York Daily News and the Associated Press reported that Major League Baseball, under Bud Selig, could seek to suspend Alex Rodriguez for years, perhaps even ban him for life, under the "best interests of baseball" clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The rarely-used clause in section XII.B of the CBA reads:

"B. Conduct Detrimental or Prejudicial to Baseball

Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of Baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law."

This is not baseball's first choice. What MLB wants to do is use the threat of XII.B to get Rodriguez to drop his rights to appeal under XI.A(1)(b), which covers the grievance process. As with Ryan Braun, MLB wants to see this case pled out rather than adjudicated, either in baseball's halls of justice or the nation's. When you look at MLB's -- when you look at Bud Selig's -- history, when you look at the specific path that got us to this point, it's clear why. MLB doesn't want to have to explain its process to anyone.

It is ludicrous that Bud Selig would find himself about to invoke XII.B against anyone. In the 1980s, as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and a labor hawk, Selig faithfully executed MLB's plan of colluding to fix the market for baseball players. With his fellow owners under then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth, Selig agreed to not compete for talent, to not look to improve his team, in violation of federal labor law. In the winter prior to the 1987 season, Selig's Brewers declined to pursue stars such as Tim Raines, Jack Morris and Ron Guidry. A team that finished second in the AL in runs scored came up seven games short in the AL East by also finishing tenth in runs allowed, using 12 different starting pitchers including Len Barker (5.36 ERA), Chris Bosio (5.24), Mark Knudson (5.37) and Mike Birkbeck (6.20). By putting self-serving violations of antitrust law ahead of the good of the Brewers, Selig may have cost his team a division title while spearheading an approach that would end up costing MLB owners $280 million across three separate judgments and queering relations with the MLBPA for the next two decades.

Seven years later, Selig would make the costs of collusion look like ashtray money. After participating in the ouster of commissioner Fay Vincent in 1992, Selig became the de facto commissioner in advance of the negotiations for a Collective Bargaining Agreement in 1994. As the head of the Executive Council, Selig pushed a hardline approach that included a payroll cap, the ending of salary arbitration and the gutting of free agency. The walkout forced by this approach would cost the game more than a half-billion in direct lost revenue in 1994, and more than a billion dollars in total when 1995 and slack revenues in post-strike seasons are tallied. The strike ended when the National Labor Relations Board agreed to seek an injunction against the owners for unfair labor practices, and future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor not only granted the injunction, she ruled that the owners would have to come to her to get permission to declare an impasse in the future.

As an owner, as a member of the Player Relations Committee, as head of the Executive Council, as acting commissioner, Bud Selig has done more to violate XII.B than Alex Rodriguez, as a player, ever could. Over a period of ten years, Selig executed strategies that cost the industry more than $1.2 billion, that violated antitrust and labor law, that destroyed any working relationship with the MLBPA and that damaged baseball's standing with American sports fans.

Even if you are a sports-drugs absolutist, even if you believe that Alex Rodriguez did everything MLB seems to be claiming he did, and that he gets graded on a different curve for the same actions (like buying evidence), and that he can be nailed for one, two, even three violations at the same time, it is not possible to believe that Rodriguez did more to harm the game of baseball than the man who repeatedly violated federal law on his way to orchestrating the cancellation of a World Series.

The single most destructive act towards baseball in my lifetime isn't a player cheating, isn't Pete Rose betting, isn't a team snorting coke and it isn't baseball teams colluding. It's 1994, and 1994 happened because Bud Selig called a play that a Supreme Court Justice saw right through. Alex Rodriguez could kidnap the NL Central, the Texas League and the Southeastern Conference, shoot them up with heroin and drop them off a barge and not violate XII.B to the extent that Selig has. $1.2 billion, multiple violations of labor law and a cancelled World Series; materially detrimental to the best interests of baseball in violation of federal law, indeed.

Like Bud Selig, Joseph McCarthy was from Wisconsin. Like Selig, McCarthy was a bully. Today, I find myself thinking of the words of Joseph Welch, the U.S. Army's representative who stood up to McCarthy and ended a dark period in American history.

"Let us not assassinate the lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"