MLB Presumes Labor Peace in Approaching Off-Season

By Diane M. Grassi
Updated: August 31, 2011

NEW YORK, NY (BASN)—As we enter the final weeks of the 2011 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, unlike other impending off seasons in recent years, this will be of the collective bargaining kind.

But unique to this collective bargaining campaign for MLB and its counterpart, the Major League Baseball Players Association, (MLBPA), are the unprecedented back-to-back lockouts of both the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the same calendar year and in the same calendar year requiring collective bargaining for MLB.

So therefore, MLB fans and sports fans alike, will more than likely tune out such a topic between the end of the of the 2011 MLB season and December 11, 2011 when the Basic Agreement expires.

There have been rumors that next to the NFL, which is now unlocked, and the NBA which is still in lock-down mode, that the MLB collective bargaining negotiations will be a cake walk in comparison.

But most MLB fans probably are not aware of the issues which will require bargaining. Particularly frustrating to fans is that they have had but a bellyful of the machinations that encompass the billionaire-millionaire kabuki dances, that professional sports leagues shamelessly perform for their fans, allowing for the rich getting richer.

So, just to give fans a heads-up, there are quite a few matters which could be of concern to the power-that-be, and how each party will stand to benefit from a new MLB/MLBPA Basic Agreement.

And before it is all said and done, depending on how smoothly the negotiations go, a few fans will be lost along the way, and most likely more will be less able to afford those peanuts and Crackerjack in 2012 going forward, in this lingering Great Double Dip Recession of the 21st century.

MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig, will have his game face on as he hopes to enter negotiations with MLBPA Executive Director, Michael Weiner. Weiner takes over for former MLBPA Executive Director, Donald Fehr, the new Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA).

But it will be very interesting to see how MLB bobs and weaves with its new opponent. And although both sides are cordial and have their Cheshire cat grins on now, the many new issues on the agenda and the prizes to be had may turn out to be only the kind found in a box of Crackerjack.

The last five years of “labor peace” in MLB is not quite as peaceful as MLB would have you believe. For performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) are still very much in the rear view mirror. For example, Barry Bonds struck out in his first bid to overturn his federal obstruction of justice conviction on August 26, 2011. Bonds was convicted on April 13, 2011, of lying about the use of PED’s to a federal Grand Jury during the 2003 BALCO case investigation.

Meanwhile, that same day of August 26, 2011, Roger Clemens filed arguments to have his federal obstruction of Congress indictment dismissed and to pre-empt a retrial of his mistrial of July 14, 2011.

Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will hold a hearing on September 2, 2011 on that case’s fate. The mistrial, decided by Judge Walton, occurred as the result of the prosecution having shown the jury inadmissible video evidence.

But we should not be fooled into surmising that remnants of Messrs. Bonds’ and Clemens’ use of PED’s are not in any way relevant to the upcoming collective bargaining agreement (CBA). And even though Bud Selig was awarded a wing dedicated in his honor at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and dedicated as the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Center for the Archives of Major League Baseball Commissioners in August 2011, an overwhelming part of his legacy could very well constitute his handling of the steroid era, which occurred on his watch.

There are more than a few propositions which are expected to land on the bargaining table in this fall’s negotiations, such as penalties for driving under the influence (DUI), violating local laws and “off the field infractions.” It would require owners stepping into the fray and could get dicey.

Supposedly MLB’s owners want a league-wide mandate to penalize a player not only for breaking the law but one who “hurts the community or the “community’s feelings”. Criminal prosecution followed by team and league fines or penalties are one thing. But a league-wide mandate that requires an interpretation of an offense to the community is perhaps a job for the morality police rather than MLB and its designees or its owners.

We have seen how well that is working in the NFL, for example, whereby the NFL cherry picks who and how much a player gets fined, suspended or kicked out of the league, based upon an unempirical formula. There also is a blur between criminal and moral behaviors regarding the NFL’s thresholds for its penalties and exactly how they are doled out.

Should you think that drug testing in MLB is a resolved issue and rests with those offenders from the prior era, think again. For if MLB gets its way, it hopes to push its present minor leagues’ system of required human growth hormone (HGH) testing through blood testing, right on through to the major leagues. MLB mandatorily dictates to minor leaguers as they are non-unionized and have no representation or recourse for such invasive testing.

Additionally, as there is no reliable present urine-based test for HGH use, there remain question marks throughout the international sports community concerning whether the blood test is even ready for primetime. Such testing is still being worked out by the NFL, even though its players agreed to it in their recently ratified CBA.

And along with bumping up drug testing in MLB comes Bud Selig’s long-held desire to prevent MLB players from using chewing tobacco at all. MLB would at least probably settle for elimination of its presence on the field of play during games.

Again, MLB limited chew from the minor leagues a few seasons back and hopes to transfer the same policy to the major leagues. But one thing that most likely will have to change is the unusual arrangement of tobacco chewing oversight in the minor leagues, which has been relegated to the minor league umpires. Frankly, we need potential major league umps learning how to call balls and strikes and seeing bang-bang plays correctly, rather than monitoring how much players spit.

And without the one-way street in minor league baseball which follows order from MLB, perhaps MLB would not have the kind of precedent-setting leverage they enjoy when they enter these talks with the MLBPA.

Other topics expected to be broached during the CBA process will include: expanding the playoffs; realignment of the major leagues; expanding instant replay; changes to the current draft system concerning rookie bonuses and setting up an international draft; changes to the luxury tax system with owners looking for reductions; a guarantee fund to avoid future bankrupt organizations; changes in the current free agent system with A and B free agents stat thresholds modified.

Let us hope that MLB does not forget the fan, as it does not enjoy as rabid a fan base as it once did and which the NFL has now captured. While the NFL weathered its lockout seemingly unmarked, any prolonged negotiations after December 11, 2011 will certainly challenge the goodwill of MLB fans.

And MLB is not in an envious position as even the NBA, as with each year that passes the fan base of MLB faces more and more erosion.

Bud Selig’s legacy will be comprised of numerous factors, including how this last labor agreement of his career is structured, as he retires in November of 2012. To be determined is whether the new CBA will be of the “not in best interests of baseball” variety and but another stain on an otherwise unremarkable career of one Allan H. “Bud” Selig.

Copyright ©2011 Diane M. Grassi

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