MILLER CRITICAL OF UNION

By Murray Chass

November 20, 2011

Marvin Miller, the founding executive director of the baseball players union, was confounded. He had just been told that his union had agreed to blood testing for human growth hormone, and he was bewildered.

“Oh boy,” he exclaimed. “What did they get for it?”Marvin Miller 225

Based on initial information, he was told, the players didn’t seem to get much, if anything, in exchange for agreeing to the controversial testing the players had long resisted. Even the National Football League union has delayed blood tests after agreeing to accept them earlier this year.

Major League Baseball plans to initiate blood tests during spring training in February and may be in position to boast that it is the first major professional sport to test for HGH.

This is a huge victory for Commissioner Bud Selig, better than if he had been able to gain a hard slotting system for amateur draft choices or maybe even a payroll cap for major league teams.

Selig will be able to show the Congressmen who urged baseball to take this step that he delivered for them. They will not have Selig to kick around anymore, as they did at a 2005 hearing, He hated it. He didn’t necessarily say it out loud, but he vowed not to let that happen again.

And somehow he got the union to be an accessory to what Miller sees as a crime.

“I haven’t talked to anyone,” Miller said in a telephone interview Saturday. “I don’t understand the rationale of this. I don’t understand the rationale of a lot of things. It’s an unproven test. We don’t know the basis for this. I haven’t heard any rationale for this and there is no rationale for it.”

Michael Weiner, who was negotiating his first collective bargaining agreement sitting in Miller’s seat, did not return a call seeking comment on the new labor contract, whose completion is expected to be announced early this week, well ahead of the Dec. 11 expiration of the existing agreement.

Rob Manfred, the owners’ top labor executive, did not return calls either. The two sides agreed at the start of these talks to keep them confidential, and they stuck to their agreement. The explanation and answer to Miller’s question – “what did they get for it?” – will have to await more complete information on the new agreement.

Trying to offer some sort of possible explanation, I mentioned to Miller that testing for HGH was something Selig wanted.

“I understand Selig wanting it,” he said. “But I don’t understand why the union would agree to it. If the players don’t get exercised about this, I’m not going to. But it’s a step to the rear. It’s not a step forward.”

Miller, a mentally robust 93 years old, has been critical of the union’s acceptance of testing for performance-enhancing drugs, and he reiterated his view by bringing up the union’s willingness to reopen the collective bargaining agreement twice to change the steroids-testing program and its penalties to placate critics.

“They didn’t get anything when they agreed to reopen testing when there was no reopening in the agreement to test,” Miller said, speaking critically of the union, which he saw as giving too much to the clubs too easily. “I can’t imagine anything appreciable to make you think twice about saying yes.”

Much has been made of how the new agreement will ensure two consecutive decades of baseball labor peace since five strikes and three lockouts filled the first 30 years of the union’s existence. Labor peace may be preferable to labor wars, but such an extended period of labor peace – it’s 16 years now – might have just made the players too soft to resist developments they oppose.

THE TAMPER-PROOF COMMISSIONER

Never has a baseball official provided a clearer or simpler explanation for his position on an issue than Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, delivered on the subject of tampering.

That is virtually an extinct word, not to mention concept, in baseball today. The term is joining such extinct terms as lid lifter and afterpiece and preceding strike and lockout into baseball’s land of lost lexicon.selig4-225

The subject of tampering arose recently when I asked Selig about the tampering that possibly occurred before the Chicago Cubs hired Jed Hoyer as their general manager. Hoyer had been the San Diego Padres’ general manager at the time, and there was widespread talk throughout baseball that the Cubs were set to name Hoyer their general manager as soon as they hired Theo Epstein as their president of baseball operations.

In all of the talk and the reports, there were no ifs, ands or buts. This was as certain as anything ever was. And of course, to the surprise of no one, as soon as Epstein was named to his new job, he named Hoyer to his.

It seemed to me a clear-cut case of tampering. How could this have happened the way it did if Epstein hadn’t talked to Hoyer before he went to work for the Cubs. Long-time friends and colleagues from their time together in Boston, did they do it with sly winks and nods?

I asked the commissioner if he saw the transaction as tampering.

“I have no complaints from the Cubs and Padres,” Selig said. “If they’re happy with it, why shouldn’t I be?”

There you have it – the commissioner’s position on tampering. Could he have spelled it out any more clearly? It’s the Magna Carta of tampering in the reign of commissioner Selig. If all of the parties are happy and the commissioner is happy, it’s not tampering.

This is not the first time Selig has followed his personal Magna Carta, Five years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers were certain that the Red Sox had tampered with outfielder J.D. Drew, inducing him to opt out of his contract, which had three years left, when he had the right to opt out.

JD Drew 225Selig declined to investigate, saying the Dodgers had not lodged a complaint against the Red Sox so he had nothing to investigate. The Dodgers opted not to file a complaint because their owner, Frank McCourt, didn’t want to.

“I have bigger fights to fight,” he said, not meaning his divorce from his wife Jamie because that issue had yet to develop.

In opting out of his Dodgers contract, Drew gave up $33 million he had left for three years and gained a 5-year, $70 million deal with the Red Sox. The tradeoff made it easy for the Dodgers and others to suspect that Drew knew a bigger contract awaited him if he left Los Angeles.

However, Scott Boras, Drew’s agent, denied at the time that any tampering had occurred, explaining that he had advised his client to opt out because the market for free agents appeared to be especially lucrative.

In the Hoyer case, no one was filing a tampering complaint because they were all involved in it—the Cubs, the Padres and club officials. Even if they plotted out the events that would transpire, everyone wanted them to go exactly the way they went. None of the principals was going to be hurt, and neither was anyone else. That’s a corollary of the Selig policy.

Epstein wanted Hoyer. Hoyer wanted the Cubs because Epstein was there, and he would be named general manager so he wouldn’t be taking a lesser title than he had with the Padres.

Jeff Moorad, the Padres’ chief executive, officer, had no problem with Hoyer leaving because he had Josh Byrnes, the club’s senior vice president of baseball operations, to replace him.

When he was in charge of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Moorad hired Byrnes as his general manager and subsequently gave him an eight-year contract, under which he is being paid by the Padres.

According to an official who is familiar with this carousel of front-office machinations, Moorad didn’t have a problem with any aspect of them “because he was in the loop all the time. Theo was talking to Jeff.”

However, given the timing of developments, it seems likely that much of the talking went on before the Cubs named Epstein, and if that’s so, it constituted tampering.

A commissioner shouldn’t wait for a complaint to investigate such events. Selig’s laissez faire attitude invites all sorts of manipulative wrongdoing, telling clubs you’re free to try to get away with whatever you think you can.

Here’s another case that should rouse Selig’s curiosity. A Venezuelan newspaper reported last month that two Venezuelan friends, Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano, had a telephone conversation. Nothing wrong with two old friends chatting on the telephone, right?Ozzie Guillen

Except one manages the Miami Marlins and the other pitches for the Cubs and has a year left on his contract. In other words Zambrano is under contract to the Cubs, and another team’s manager can’t talk to him about playing for him next season.

Zambrano had problems with the Cubs last August, and they would probably like to be rid of him. But Zambrano can’t talk his way out of Chicago by speaking with a manager of another team.

That manager, incidentally, very possibly committed another act of tampering while he was still the White Sox manager.

Failing to gain a contract extension, Guillen asked for his release, which the White Sox granted. Later that day, Guillen used his Web site to announce and celebrate his new job with the Marlins.

Think Guillen hadn’t previously lined up that job with the Marlins’ owner, Jeffrey Loria, a man eminently capable of tampering, according to baseball people?

There has been no indication that the commissioner’s office is looking into either incident.

Selig, once upon a time, did address the issue of tampering. In 2004, after Randy Johnson pitched a perfect game, George Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ owner, was asked in a radio interview if he would like to have Johnson pitching for the Yankees.

“Who wouldn’t love to have Randy Johnson?” Steinbrenner replied.

Selig’s office looked into the incident to see if it constituted tampering but decided that it didn’t. Still, Selig told another radio interviewer, that he didn’t want club officials talking about other teams’ players.

One of Selig’s predecessors had a far different view of tampering. Bowie Kuhn was quick to crack down hard on club officials he thought were guilty of tampering.

When Kuhn was commissioner, general managers were reluctant even to acknowledge that they had spoken with a club about a trade involving a specific player for fear they might be fined for tampering. Kuhn made it expensive to engage in what in his view was tampering.

In 1976, he fined the Atlanta Braves $10,000 for tampering with Gary Matthews, then an outfielder with the San Francisco Giants, who was to become a free agent at the end of that season. Later he suspended Ted Turner, the Braves’ irrepressible owner, for a year for saying during a World Series cocktail party that he would pay whatever it took to sign Matthews.

The next year Kuhn levied a $25,000 fine against Danny O’Brien, the general manager of the Texas Rangers, for saying at a sports luncheon that he would not be surprised to see Larry Hisle in the Rangers’ outfield the following season. Hisle was playing for the Minnesota Twins at the time, but he, too, was about to become a free agent.

Steinbrenner Winfield 225Kuhn snared Steinbrenner in his tampering net, too, fining him $5,000 in 1979 for tampering with Brian Downing of the Angels and reprimanding him and taking away a draft choice in 1980 for tampering with an amateur player, Billy Cannon Jr. He was the son of the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner, who sent letters to all teams but the Yankees advising them not to draft the younger Cannon because he was going to college.

It was Commissioner Fay Vincent, however, who later assessed probably the largest sum ever levied against an owner or official for tampering. Dave Winfield was the subject of the tampering that followed his trade by the Yankees’ to the Angels in 1990.

Vincent found that the Yankees tampered with Winfield after they traded him to the Angels. Vincent fined the Yankees $25,000 and ordered them to pay the Angels $200,000.

Interestingly, in a telephone interview last week Vincent expressed a totally different view of tampering. Commenting on Selig’s apparent view of tampering, Vincent said, “I agree with him.  I don’t think it’s a big deal.

“If your contract is about to run out I don’t see any problem with having you talk to someone about a job.

“Tampering, to me, seemed like a set of minor league issues. I may be missing something, but I never understood it as a big deal. If I’m running Columbia Pictures” – which he did before baseball – “there’s nothing to stop me from going across the street and talking to a fellow at 20th Century Fox as long as he continues to do his job.

“It doesn’t seem to me like it’s a serious issue. I can’t remember a 10-minute meeting I had on tampering when I was commissioner.”

What about the Winfield decision? “I don’t recall that,” Vincent said.

He probably had a good reason for not remembering it. He issued his decision the same day he had Steinbrenner in his office as part of the investigation into the owner’s $40,000 payment to a small-time gambler, Howard Spira, for providing derogatory information about Winfield.

The penalty Steinbrenner paid for that transgression was a little costlier than the tampering penalty.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.