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Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Michael Weiner details MLB's new CBA

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

HGH testing … dramatic changes to the draft … restrictions on smokeless tobacco … five more years of labor peace.

How did baseball get to this point? What made this sport's historic new labor deal possible? Are players and owners really in agreement on everything they just negotiated?

We sat down with the new executive director of the players' union, Michael Weiner, and posed those very questions. The answers might surprise you.

ESPN.com: It's great to have labor peace, but not everyone out there is happy. I don't know how aware you are of the complaints that general managers and people in scouting have voiced about the changes in the draft. But their feeling is that this agreement doesn't help competitive balance, that it actually will hurt competitive balance, because it will restrict what small-market teams are able to do in terms of acquiring amateur talent. Do you share those concerns?

Michael Weiner
Michael Weiner has officially been the leader of the players' union since December 2009.

Weiner: Yes. The union did not come into these negotiations with proposals to modify the [June] draft. For management, that was perhaps their most aggressive objective. They said that what they were trying to achieve was competitive balance. We questioned them, really at every turn, on whether their proposals really would achieve those goals. We told them that we had heard from general managers, and from other people in baseball operations of clubs, that they weren't in favor of some of the proposals that had been placed on the table by the commissioner's office.

The negotiators said, "We have a consensus in favor of these issues." And you have to respect that at the negotiating table. There have been times where you've had a player who has said something publicly, and people on management's side have taken that to be the view of the union, even though players at the table said something different. So we have to trust what the negotiators at the table say.

There are certain features of the new agreement that go directly to competitive balance, that we pushed for -- giving clubs additional draft picks, making some draft picks assignable, tradable. We wanted all draft picks to be tradable. We thought that would further competitive balance. We did question whether restricting the ability of low-finish clubs in any fashion to spend on the draft really was [good for] competitive balance. And the clubs insisted that that's where they needed to be.

The players also didn't come into the negotiations to try to diminish competitive balance. The players feel that competitive balance is just as important as the owners do. This is one where [management] negotiated hard for a result. It would have been a different set of rules if we had not pushed back. But do we share those concerns? We do share those concerns.

ESPN.com: You also have some agents voicing the same concern. So when Scott Boras, for example, voices that concern to you, what do you tell the Scott Borases of the world?

Weiner: As you probably expect, we consult with agents frequently during bargaining. Agents are a critical part of the group that represents players, unlike in other sports, where sometimes there is tension there. We look to the agents for assistance and for ideas. And we spoke at length with Scott, and with other agents who have been active in advising players in the draft, about these issues. And that helped inform our view at the table. What we told them is that, on these issues and everything else, we're going to do the best we can to get a deal that helps the players overall, and that's what we did. But we knew it was the view of Scott and other agents that the management proposals could have a negative effect on competitive balance. Put aside what the economics of it would be. … But [their input] informed our counterproposals and our pushback. In the end, the agreement is what it is. We didn't ignore their input. That's for sure.

ESPN.com: And do you think management's true concern is competitive balance? Or is it economics?

Weiner: You have to scrutinize what people say at the bargaining table, but what they say at the bargaining table is what they say. And they say they're not looking to cut costs here. If you look at the system that was agreed to, the aggregate thresholds that will go to clubs [to spend on the draft] adds up to the total spent in this past year's draft. So even if it turns out that no team exceeds its threshold, spending on the draft would not go down. There is a feature where those thresholds increase each year with the growth of industry revenue.

So they claim that competitive balance is what was motivating them. As I said before, we questioned them quite a bit, because there seemed to be no disagreement that there were clubs out there that felt like the arena in which they could compete for talent was in amateur acquisition, that amateur players remain a bargain even at the prices that they currently are getting through the draft, and that's the best way for teams to build. And [we asked], "Why are you restricting that?" And the answer from management was that "we have a consensus, and a consensus from the small-market teams, that this is the direction that we should go."

ESPN.com: Did they attempt to make the case that this money, instead of going to amateur players, will now wind up in the hands of big league players?

Weiner: Not seriously. Those words occasionally came out of the mouth of some of the people at the table. But then they ultimately said no. And frankly, our players wouldn't have believed that. The way we view the economics is that what you're going to pay for a draft choice is independent of what you're going to pay for a major league player. So they never tried to justify this by saying, "The major league guys will get more money," because they never tried to justify this by saying that draftees will get less.

ESPN.com: You talked a lot at the press conference about the presence of players at these negotiations. One area in which you said the players were very actively involved was in HGH testing. What can you tell us about how that came about and why that came about, and how it changed the character of the negotiations on that issue?

Weiner: The players, for a number of years now, have felt that it's critical for them to take a lead on performance-enhancing substances. It's been the view of the union for a long time that these substances have no place in the game, and players felt it was important to get that message out. As soon as it became clear that there had been developments in the testing world on HGH, players wanted those developments to be examined, and they wanted to see whether or not it was viable to put a testing program in.

Players have no tolerance for use of that substance. They leave it up to us to make sure we do it the right way, from a science perspective, from an analysis perspective, from a collections perspective and from an appeals perspective. But the impetus to say, "If there's a test out there that works, we should have it," came from them. And they've been there for a couple of years.

ESPN.com: And how did they make that clear? At meetings? Were there certain players who spoke directly to you about it?

There are certain features of the new agreement that go directly to competitive balance, that we pushed for -- giving clubs additional draft picks, making some draft picks assignable, tradable. We wanted all draft picks to be tradable. We thought that would further competitive balance.

-- Michael Weiner

Weiner: We're talking to players all the time. At spring-training meetings, what I'll tend to do is give my view of what I think a consensus is on a particular issue and then get feedback. So we did that at spring-training meetings back in 2010 and 2011. But also, we talk with our negotiating committee about any serious proposal. And it was clear in the discussions with our negotiating committee, as we were formulating our proposals on this earlier in the year, where they wanted us to be. It was really virtually unanimity as to what our proposal should be.

ESPN.com: One of the criticisms that has arisen since you announced the details of the agreement is the fact that there's no in-season testing for HGH. Why is there no in-season testing for HGH? And do you foresee that changing at some point?

Weiner: Well, there is no in-season testing now because the players just weren't comfortable yet that we were ready for that. They weren't comfortable enough with the collection process, how the collection process fits with day-to-day play. And they felt that we needed to talk with the membership broadly about those issues. And we will do that starting in spring training this year.

In terms of, is it possible that we would expand our testing to include testing in-season? The answer is yes. We said that at the press conference. Drug testing has always been a membership-wide issue, and our leadership felt that, given the developments over the course of this year on testing, that the right thing to do was to discuss this with the full membership, examine the collection procedures, examine the science more carefully and then consider the possibility of going further.

ESPN.com: And when you say the players weren't comfortable with it, are we talking about that they weren't comfortable with the idea of having blood drawn before a game and then going out to play, because there might be some physical effect?

Weiner: They weren't familiar enough with the way it actually works. Not enough guys had experienced it. That's what I meant by "comfortable." They just didn't know enough about it. Guys know how urine collections work. Some of our players have experienced being tested for blood because they've been in the minor leagues. Some of the current union members have. But there hadn't been a broad enough basis for experience. And because of that, we weren't comfortable with saying, "All right, we're going to subject guys to in-season testing," without enough guys having experienced it.

ESPN.com: What about the restrictions on smokeless tobacco? Is this another idea that the players pushed?

Weiner: The subject of smokeless tobacco became more prominent in bargaining, frankly, because members of Congress, civic leaders, members of the clergy and public health officials brought a greater focus to this issue, to both sides. What the players felt strongly about were two aspects of this. One was, they felt strongly that the union does have a responsibility to try to ensure the health of its members. And there are provisions in here where, jointly, we will work on that, in terms of cessation and in terms of treatment.

Players also embraced the idea that kids look up to them. And players look forward to the idea of being involved in a public education program, working with the Partnership at Drugfree.org, an organization we've worked with for a couple of years now. We will now expand what we were doing with them to include smokeless tobacco.

So the players felt strongly about the health issue and about the education issue. They also did feel strongly that it wasn't the job of the union or management to tell players that they could not use this on the field. So we made changes in restricting the ability of players to use it in interviews and things of that sort. But notwithstanding the view of many that we should ban it on the field, that was a line that the players weren't prepared to cross.

ESPN.com: Is that something management pushed for? You obviously have people out there criticizing this because you didn't ban it or put a program in place where you're going to ban it.

Weiner: Management's proposal was to ban it. Players felt that we should concentrate on player education, public education, cessation efforts and treatment. I guess it's a question of the union's philosophy on the difference between mandate and education. Devote more resources to educating players to the dangers of the product. Devote more resources to help players quit who want to quit. But it's not a union's job to say, "You're an adult. You can't use it."

ESPN.com: We're now heading for 21 years of labor peace in this sport. How much, if any of that, is due to the fact that people are still scarred by what you went through in 1994 and '95, by that strike?

Weiner: What happened in 1994-95 is crucial to what's happened since then. And maybe we're saying the same thing, in terms of you saying people being scarred and me saying that what happened coming out of those negotiations was that owners finally developed a respect for the union, and for the process of collective bargaining, that didn't exist. Maybe that's saying the same thing. But players don't like to go on strike. Players have never liked to go on strike or be locked out.

The attitude the union has always taken is that we'll do what we have to do to get a fair agreement. We've never asked for anything beyond what we thought was fair. If it takes a work stoppage to get what's fair, that's what it takes. And players were cognizant, in '02 and '06 and this year, that work stoppages hurt your game, and fans have long memories, and some fans never forget, and that's to be expected. But I think the biggest difference is that both sides have to come to the table with a respect for the other side and with a respect for the process. And I think that, starting in '02 and we've built on it since then, that's taken place. And that's really the biggest difference.

ESPN.com: Did the contrast with the NFL and NBA play into any of this?

Weiner: I've said in the past, and I think it's still the case, that what happens in the other sports has more of an impact on the owners directly than it does on the players. Our players follow closely what's happened in the other sports. And as a union, we do what we can to support the other unions, and have done that with respect to basketball and football. But our guys take their cues from previous generations of MLBPA members.

Communication is important. I'm not going to diminish that. When it comes to administering a contract, it's very important. It's crucial, because sometimes you can avoid disputes because of the ability to have a conversation. It certainly helps in bargaining that there are open lines of communication.

-- Michael Weiner

I think it's possible that one of the reasons why we had enhanced player involvement in these negotiations is that players were out there looking at what's happening in those other sports and saying, "Wait a second. This is my career. This is my family's financial security. I have to attend to this. I have to pay attention to this." And that's a message that we have emphasized with players for a long, long time. And we put more resources into doing that over the last couple of years. But if you're asking me, "Did it have an impact on players," it was that "I'm going to make sure that I personally understand what's happening at the table and that I personally contribute on the issues that are of importance to me."

ESPN.com: Then there's you and (management's lead negotiator) Rob Manfred. I think it's safe to say you have a little different relationship than David Stern and Billy Hunter. How much has your mutual respect and your relationship enabled labor relations in this sport to reach this point, where you can now talk pretty much as partners in trying to make the game a better place?

Weiner: Communication is important. I'm not going to diminish that. When it comes to administering a contract, it's very important. It's crucial, because sometimes you can avoid disputes because of the ability to have a conversation. It certainly helps in bargaining that there are open lines of communication, that there is a mutual respect, that there's a familiarity with the negotiating style of the other person, so that things aren't misread or misinterpreted. In the end, though, it's not the negotiators that make the agreement. It's the principals that make the agreement. And if the negotiators have open lines of communication, that's going to help.

You can lose an agreement because of misinterpretation, or you can lose an agreement because of personal animosity between negotiators. You can't gain an agreement unless the principals are prepared to agree. So I think sometimes a little bit more is made of the fact that Rob and I have been able to work well together for a number of years. We've been in the game virtually the same period of time. We've been through a lot of things together. I don't think it would have mattered, though, who was negotiating in '94 and '95 in baseball. And frankly, I don't think it would matter who was negotiating this year in basketball, given what the owners' economic demands were there.

ESPN.com: It's interesting that you would say that. Obviously, you have a different style in some ways than your predecessors, than Don (Fehr) or Marvin (Miller). Do you think that just the way that you go about things has helped achieve this climate? How do you think you're different than them? How do you think you're similar to them? And how do you think your style has played into where we are right now?

Weiner: Look, this is the only place I've ever really worked. So everything that I've learned about what it means to run or be a top official at a labor union, I've learned from Don Fehr and from Gene Orza and from Lauren Rich and from others with whom I've worked. And as I said at the press conference, I borrow openly and shamelessly from Marvin. And anybody who wouldn't doesn't belong in this job. Marvin is one of the greatest labor leaders anywhere in the last 50-60 years.

I think there's a lot more in common than people tend to see. I think people in management didn't like the union back then, and they weren't going to like whoever was leading the union. When Marvin started it, they didn't want there to be a union. For much of the time that Don was leading the union, they didn't want there to be a union then, either. So we had things like collusion, and we had things like replacement players, and we had things like unfair labor practices. And I wouldn't expect management to feel very trusting or comfortable with the union leader under those circumstances. And frankly, none of the people here -- myself included, and I've been here for a lot of that -- felt very comfortable with the management people during that era.

Is my style different than Don's? Is Don's different than Marvin's? Yeah. I guess it is. And there are probably pluses and minuses to the different approaches. But I think at this point, people's view of the union is different than it was back then, and that informs people's views of who the executive director is, more than any personality changes or anything else. If we had a different kind of labor negotiation, one where we were still negotiating and we were moving toward potential work stoppages and lockouts, my guess is that people on management's side would be saying the same things about me that they said about Don and Marvin in those times.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter: @jaysonst