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Baseball’s Crusade May Get Backlash From the Union AND Fans

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The problem with preaching on top of the mountain is that there are a lot of people looking to knock you down. And that may be the problem those in charge of baseball may soon face.

ESPN reported yesterday that Major League Baseball plans to suspend more than 20 players they have been investigating for months in connection with the Biogenesis clinic supplying them performance enhancing drugs – after the All-Star Break, that is.

In other words, wait until after their Mid-Season Classic so nothing disrupts it and then throw under the bus the players it just triumphed during the game.

Okay, maybe that’s a cheap shot, especially since league spokesman Pat Courtney declared the report premature and would only say “We are still in the midst of an active investigation.”

Still, while Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun are definitely the two players MLB is targeting the most in this investigation, reportedly searching for a way to hand them 100-game suspensions despite them not being convicted a first time (Braun had a suspension overturned), Rangers fans are definitely eyeing this with fear, as All-Star Nelson Cruz is reportedly on the list.

So many baseball fans in North Texas are already declaring their season to be over (which they rarely need much of a reason to do anyway). But they might want to hold the phone on Mister Boomstick definitely being out for at least 50 games.

It should be noted that NOTHING is definite at this point. While ESPN tries to break the story first (while possibly shilling for the front office of its MLB partners, because that’s what that network does), we have to constantly remember that no hard evidence has been leaked at all. We don’t even know if they have the same amount of evidence on every individual player other than a name on a list. Many just assume for now that MLB has all the dirt it needs to lower the boom, and when you ASS-U-ME…

But no matter what, it seems clear MLB more than ever is trying to set itself up as the holy savior of decency – but instead may be setting itself up for the same humiliation its football brethren suffered last year.

The NFL tried to take the same path when it laid the hammer down hard on the New Orleans Saints for the infamous “Bountygate” scandal, when Roger Goodell suspended coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, coach Sean Payton for a year and numerous players for taking part in a “pay-to-injure” program. Goodell was hailed by many, including myself, for trying to bring humanity into a game that desperately needs it. And then he ended up with egg on his face as his own predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, declared he did not have enough evidence to convict the players and vacated those suspensions.

Thus it was established once again that in the modern age, a sports commissioner does not have complete autonomy. And that may come back to bite Selig here.

Selig and MLB are desperate to land a big win in their crusade against PEDs, especially after the U.S. Attorney’s office has repeatedly failed in nailing the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and even wrestling czar Vince McMahon two decades ago. And if Selig isn’t careful, that desperation could be his undoing in this crusade.

No one has failed a drug test, at least not in reference to this current investigation, and that is key. While we don’t know who all the league office is talking to, the main sticking point is that the key witness in the whole thing, Tony Bosch, is someone they said months ago was a completely unreliable source. Yet now they have accepted his agreement to cooperate with them just as they were on the verge of buying the services of Biogenesis investor Porter Fischer to give them the dirt on Bosch.

Thus, if and when such suspensions come down, expect the players union to strike back with extreme ferocity. If it’s not written in stone in the collective bargaining agreement that MLB can definitely suspend players with just circumstantial evidence, the union will fight – and could very well win.

MLB’s best defense perhaps lies in the fact that 1. Definite proof wasn’t needed in 1920 when Judge Landis banned the Black Sox for life for fixing games, and 2. No official failed drug tests were needed for U.S. Cycling to strip Lance Armstrong of everything he had built. But the thing to remember here is that nether Armstrong or the Black Sox had a group as strong as the MLBPA behind them.

Some holier than thou experts might say if the union knew what was best, they’d throw these players under the bus for “the protection of others and the good of the game.” That’s not how a union works. The MLBPA’s job here is to ensure due process is upheld, or else a governing body like the MLB office can eventually flex its muscle and just discipline players with no real evidence whatsoever.

Think something like that wouldn’t happen in major sports? Just ask those who remember the late race car driver Tim Richmond, who NASCAR banned for a failed drug test that was completely bogus just so they could get an AIDS-infected person out of their sport.

But the biggest question in all of this is “Just how much do the fans care?”

Therein lies perhaps the biggest similarity between Selig and Goodell. They are putting forth all their efforts to supposedly “save” their sport for a fan base that doesn’t seem to want it to be saved.

If you approached a casual NFL fan on the streets and brought up the subject of players intentionally abusing and hurting each other, you’d probably get a shrug and a “So what?” After all, wanton violence and abuse is what almost everyone watches football for.

Meanwhile, as the baseball reporters with keyboards and microphones go on and on about the sanctity of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron’s game being destroyed, most casual fans continue to buy their tickets and high-priced beers and shrug it off with the attitude of “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” for lack of a better term.

We as an audience have long demanded that our athletes do whatever it takes to win. Wouldn’t it then be hypocritical for us to then chastise them for doing whatever it took?

It seems maybe, just maybe, a lot of fans get that. And if the union wins this fight, the majority of fans will likely be there tho throw the eggs at Selig. They usually stand by the players as long as they don’t go on strike.

Whether Selig can lower the boom on someone like Nellie Cruz has yet to be seen. But even if he can, it won’t stop him from likely receiving a standing ovation from the Ballpark crowd when Cruz is able to step in the batter’s box again.

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