Discussion

It's time for the MLBPA to break with drug cheats

Updated: May 8, 2009, 2:36 PM ET
"A-Rod's numbers shouldn't count for anything. I feel like he cheated me out of the game. … It does bother me. Especially for the guys that went out there and did it on talent. We're always going to have a cloud on us, and that's not fair at all. … The ones that have come out and admitted it, and are proven guilty, [their numbers] should not count. I've been cheated out of the game. This is my ninth year, and I've done nothing to enhance my performance, other than work my butt off to get guys out. These guys [who took performance-enhancing drugs] have all the talent in the world. All-Star talent. And they put times two on it." -- Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros pitcher, February 2009

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In the spring of 1995, in the midst of a labor war with the striking players' association, Major League Baseball employed in exhibition games what it referred to as replacement players. The union members, on the other hand, referred to them as scabs, and for years after the strike was settled, members of the players' association turned their backs on replacement players/scabs such as pitcher Rick Reed, refusing to allow them to listen in on meetings or join the union.

The union members felt that players such as Reed and others had acted in their own self-interest for financial gain, to the point where they had put other players' interests at risk. The feeling was they had viewed the union as an institution at risk and had chosen to cross the union's line.

So today, 14 years later, is there any real practical difference between players who have used performance-enhancing drugs or banned substances, and those replacement players/scabs?

The player who uses banned substances or performance-enhancing drugs acts in his own self-interest and for financial gain to the point where he has put other players' interests at risk. Because users have chosen to cross a line to gain an advantage, the clean players inevitably are forced to make similar choices of whether to cross into the world of PED usage to keep up. Because of this, the greater interests of the union ultimately are threatened.

The PED users have cast a cloud over every clean member of the union. Of the 10 most prolific home run leaders since 1986, six -- six -- have been connected through suspension, a positive test or some other avenue to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and that link will forever affect how the accomplishments of clean players are viewed. And more directly, the users have been stealing jobs and money, either directly or indirectly, from their union brethren.

And yet the union treats the PED users very differently from the replacement players. This was part of the statement issued by the MLB Players Association upon the announcement of Manny Ramirez's suspension: "The Players Association stands behind Manny and will continue to support him in any way we can."

Why?

Of course, the players' association had its legal role to play as the due process from Ramirez's PED issue played out. But going forward, why would the union protect a user's interests?

The players' best chance for keeping their union members and their collective legacy clean would be to exercise the kind of anger that Roy Oswalt felt upon the announcement that Alex Rodriguez had cheated. If you care to look for that anger, you'll find it. If you talk to players privately, they will rage about guys who cheat. They will recite moments from when they believe that some suspected cheat got a big hit or threw an overpowering fastball to beat them in a big spot, and they will talk about how unfair they feel all of that is. And they will speak with the same kind of passion that union members once aimed at the replacement players.

They'll talk about how many drug tests they've taken since they've become professional ballplayers, how the rules are laid out for them, how they are educated about performance-enhancing drugs and are warned continually about their potential pitfalls. They will talk about how they are offered help if they have questions -- any questions -- about any drug. They all have access to information that keeps virtually all of them from making silly mistakes with what they put in their body.

Privately, the players speak with enormous skepticism about the skeptics of anyone who is caught. And if you were to poll the players privately, I'd bet the vast majority of them would vote for more stringent penalties, whether it were a two-strike policy -- such as one year and a voided contract for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second offense -- or a zero-tolerance policy.

But implementing such a policy will take leadership among the players. Voices like those of Oswalt will have to get louder and stronger to push change upstream against years of union culture. The players' association executives for years devoted themselves to fighting drug testing, certain that they were doing the right thing, but along the way, the best interests of the clean players were left behind. Now leaders like Oswalt need to stand up in union meetings and ask for more change, more protection for the guys who don't want to use performance-enhancing drugs.

It has been seven years since the players began taking drug tests. Everybody either knows the rules or should know the rules. If a player gets caught for using performance-enhancing drugs or banned substances today, it's almost certainly because that player is willing to cheat on his union brethren to gain an advantage over them.

And the union should view the cheaters through the same prism that it viewed replacement players.

The Manny response

• Stupidity nabbed Manny, writes Gerry Callahan.

• Manny shouldn't be voted into the Hall of Fame, writes John Harper.

• Ramirez joins the generation of the lost, writes George Vecsey.

• Ramirez will lose about $7.7 million, writes Dylan Hernandez.

• The Dodgers should dump Ramirez, writes Bill Plaschke.

• Ramirez has some explaining to do, writes T.J. Simers.

• There is little reason to believe Manny given the track record of athletes, writes Sally Jenkins.

• Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was saddened by the news about Manny.

• There's plenty of slime to go around in baseball, writes Scott Ostler.

• Ramirez's suspension shouldn't shock anybody, writes Randy Youngman.

Lance Berkman is not surprised that Ramirez was suspended.

• Manny is Bud Selig's latest dirty secret.

• The Dodgers lost their first game without Ramirez, blowing a 6-1 lead.

• Separately: A-Rod rejoins the Yankees on Friday.

Non-PED Zone

Ken Griffey Jr. rises above his tainted peers, writes Larry Stone.

A.J. Hinch is expected to take over for Bob Melvin as the Diamondbacks' manager, writes Nick Piecoro. Mel Stottlemyre Jr. will take over as the pitching coach, and Jack Howell will become the hitting coach. In the end, the hiring of Hinch will be viewed as a resounding success or a horrendous decision, because Hinch doesn't have any prior managerial experience at any level, Steve Gilbert writes.

• During the past 14 seasons, Mariano Rivera has never allowed more than five homers in any single season. Yet after allowing back-to-back homers for the first time in his career in a loss Thursday, Rivera already has surrendered four homers in 2009. He's 39 years old, and we may be seeing a future Hall of Famer at a crossroads.

What is indisputable is that Rivera's cut fastball does not have the same acute movement this season that it has had in the past. Rivera's cutter appears to be moving along a horizontal plane rather than veering downward, and it isn't being thrown with the same velocity. Time will tell whether it improves.

Rivera's cut fastball is arguably one of the most devastating pitches of all time, along with Bruce Sutter's splitter and Sandy Koufax's fastball. Rivera's weapon has been so great that he essentially has beaten hitters throwing that one pitch during his time as the Yankees' closer. Hitters have known he'll throw it, and sometimes, Jorge Posada doesn't even bother to call for it, because there's no mystery about what Rivera will throw next.

If Rivera doesn't regain the cutter, he'll be a very different pitcher.

Meanwhile, Evan Longoria is a pace to drive in 219 runs, after he hammered Rivera and the Yankees. I wrote a feature on Longoria that is the cover story of the ESPN The Magazine issue out this week.

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