Big changes? Big deal!

Well, the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs has finally been purged from the major leagues.

Further, the Mets were brilliant in landing Victor Zambrano in exchange for Scott Kazmir, and Riche Phillips was equally so in his umpires’ mass-resignation strategy. In addition, Derek Bell’s “Operation Shutdown” may well be the greatest negotiation gambit in history, while Juan Gonzalez’s and Jody Reed’s turning down contract offers from Detroit and Los Angeles respectively were both strokes of genius. Not to be forgotten are the following words to live by—whenever the opportunity presents itself folks should wholeheartedly and unconditionally get involved in land wars in Asia and go up against Sicilians when death is on the line.

Cynical? Sarcastic? MOI???

I’m guessing that you realize that I have a few issues with the new agreement.

Be forewarned—I’m following my usual methodology with this subject … blame management and rant (although I have a barb or two to direct at the MLBPA) so caveat lector.

As usual, it appears Bud Selig’s threefold agenda (and by extension ownership in general) was served in the new rules. The three things the commissioner always hopes to accomplish (absent stadium extortion) are (1) cost containment of players (2) keep Congress placated and at bay (3) make sure that the MLBPA is aware that they’re no longer running the sport.

Let’s deal with these issues one by one.

Cost Containment

One thing Selig has tried to get a handle on is draft bonuses. While there is a slotting system in place, teams will often go over slot if they want a player badly enough. In this instance, I am not unsympathetic with what is being attempted in that it is a legitimate problem.

The entire point of the draft is to give the worst teams first crack at the best amateur talent. Due to the effect of agents and exorbitant demands by prospects at the urging of their “advisors,” often the best talent are left undrafted until wealthy clubs’ turns come up.

This is why, despite poor draft positions and compensation for free agents they sign, teams like the Yankees and Red Sox keep coming up with the young studs that dot their roster. The commissioner is trying to put in place disincentives for players to demand bonuses that will leave them undrafted and available for large-revenue clubs—hence the slotting system.

It will be interesting to see how the testing of prospects will be administered—to begin with, the top 200 prospects are subject for testing. However, how are the top 200 determined that are subject for testing and by whom? The Elias Bureau? John Sickels? When is the evaluation made, how will the affected players be notified, and how much lead time do they have before being tested? Will it be done before the draft? Afterward? Once the player has been signed? If I had to hazard a guess (and most of my guesses tend to be hazardous) I assume a drafted player who is demanding an a deal that exceeds the recommended bonus for that particular slot will likely be tested and if he tests positive for anything, it will be used to drive down his demands.

If testing is to be done before the draft or right after, I can’t see this not being challenged by agents (especially Scott Boras) because these aren’t covered by the collective bargaining agreement, nor are contractually tied to any club within MLB. If testing is to be done before a player is signed, chances are he’ll argue that any testing will have to done after the player has agreed to terms. Does this provision include posted players from Japan and undrafted free agents (Alfonso Soriano being an example) such as Cuban defectors etc?

I guess we will have to wait and see.

Keeping Congress placated and at bay

Of course, the biggest trick in all of this is to have a program that they can sell as an effective solution to doping in baseball without really having one that can cause undue headaches for both MLB and the MLBPA. On the surface, the numbers look impressive, until you … oh, I don’t know, give it a moment’s thought (or two should that become necessary).

May I Have Your Autograph, Please?
The payoff of being polite.

According to The Biz of Baseball: “The program adds 600 tests per year (making the total number of tests 3600), an average of three per player per year. The Independent Program Administrator is authorized to conduct up to 375 offseason tests over his three-year initial term, which will, on average, more than double the amount of offseason testing.”

This sounds impressive, but that leaves a lot shortfall. There are 1,200 players eligible to be tested (30 teams x 40 man rosters); 3,600 tests work out to one test every four months for every player occupying a spot in an MLB 40-man roster, while 375 offseason tests over three years is far from earth shattering.

I believe the correct phrase is whoop-de-dingle-doo.

However, by implementing a large number of recommendations from St. George Mitchell’s epistle to the Dunderheadians it should pacify Congress—at least until Jose Canseco finishes his literary trilogy with “Green Eggs and Winstrol.”

Make sure that the MLBPA is aware that they’re no longer running the sport

As in any negotiation—especially if it involves a collective bargaining agreement—there has to be some give and take. Well, ownership again was able to get the union to re-open a live CBA … something unthinkable during the era of Marvin Miller. The MLBPA received as payment something that George Mitchell recommended anyway—player amnesty for those named.

Impressive, is it not?

I feel badly for Don Fehr—he may not be very press savvy and doesn’t come across very well but he’s never been accused of being dishonorable or duplicitous. However, he is a product of the 1960s and was a good replacement for Marvin Miller at the time since he provided continuity for a union that was insecure in its ability to choose a new executive director (the initial choice, Randy Moffett ,who served briefly, was a disaster).

The social landscape and business of the game have undergone major change since Fehr took the reins yet Fehr is simply trying to continue to maintain the empire formed by Miller. However, that empire’s foundation—unity and player consensus—has been completely eroded away.

A great many players have little knowledge of the history of the union and how they came to enjoy its benefits. They isolate themselves from it, instead relying on agents and entourages for support. The rank-and-file feel largely ignored, some superstars feel it is an impediment to their earning power (as demonstrated by Barry Bonds’ withdrawal from its licensing program), and it appears that few even concern themselves with its business deferring it to team reps and union executives.

Bottom line—it keeps losing ground to management, and the performance-enhancing drug issue has exposed its deep divisions. Selig understands this, and with the aid of Congress, is continuing to push it backward. All Fehr could receive in all this is what management’s handpicked investigator recommended it give up (player discipline).

In all, it is yet another victory for Bud Selig, another loss for Don Fehr and the MLBPA and really isn’t much of a significant change in ridding the game of performance-enhancing drugs.

Can I have a moment of your time?

Please follow this link: When sports becomes a small matter: A child and autism. Maury is a good friend and we both are proud fathers. My children, now grown, have been spared this, but it is becoming more prevalent and even if you haven’t been personally affected, chances are someone you care about is dealing with this issue within their family. Maury is one of several friends who face the challenges of an autistic child. I can tell you that when the hormones of adolescence set in it can become a nightmare for the entire family.

In addition, it isn’t cheap.

Parents of autistic children are, in my opinion, heroes— an often misused and misunderstood word in the 21st century. We live in a world where children are all too often abused, exploited, ignored, abandoned, unnecessarily medicated or shuttled off for others to care for at the first sign of difficulty. We are taught through the mass media to look out for Number One, to put self interest and personal gratification above all else and take the path of least resistance whenever possible.

Tragically, we see examples of this whenever we turn on the news, and they only cover the tip of the iceberg.

These parents (of autistic children) ignore all these influences and pressures and stand up to love, nurture, look after and raise children under the most stressful of circumstances. One friend of mine has an autistic teenager and a wife with cancer, and he is close to bankrupt because of these issues. He faces every day like a man and does everything in his power to look after his responsibilities.

We often erect statues and glorify those who lay down their lives for various causes. What is often forgotten is living and sacrificing for a cause day-by-day is far, far more difficult than dying for one. A dead person, however brave in life, no longer faces stress, pressures, physical, emotional and psychological pain where the next day bodes no better than the current one. They don’t have to look ahead to days, weeks, months, years and decades of the same challenges and resist flinching—they are simply at rest from these tribulations.

We can only praise the dead and they’re likely not even aware of it—we can do much more for the living and they do appreciate it. It has been said that no man has greater love than this: that one should surrender his life on behalf of those he loves. This isn’t always accomplished by ‘the ultimate sacrifice.’ More often, it is done every day by folks like you and me who sacrifice their time, money, energy, goals, dreams and aspirations to take care of others. They do not die, but rather sacrifice their day-to-day lives to accomplish this end.

The world would be a far better place if the time, energy and resources spent on the dead (just one example) could be re-directed to the living.

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