Cues from past move baseball's PED talks forward
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Major League Baseball learned its lesson the hard way.
A work stoppage that wiped out the 1994 World Series and chunks of the '94 and '95 regular seasons provided the game a wake-up call. Eighteen years later, it hasn't been forgotten by management and players.
Think about it.
That strike was the eighth work stoppage in a 22-year stretch. It underscored the acrimony between the two sides. It led to the cancellation of the World Series for the first time since 1904, something that even World War I and World War II had not forced.
But look at baseball today.
The game is headed to 21 years of work-stoppage-free baseball. The most recent agreement, which extends through 2016, was negotiated without any public attention and announced well in advance of the expiration of the previous Basic Agreement.
On Saturday, Commissioner Bud Selig said he wants to see increased penalties for players who violate Major League Baseball's drug policy. He asked Michael Weiner, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of labor relations, to begin discussions.
And he sounded optimistic that although the current Basic Agreement has three seasons remaining before it expires, a revised drug policy could be enacted by the start of next season, if not sooner. He echoed sentiments that Weiner expressed during the tour of Florida Spring Training camps he is making.
And the reason for optimism a deal will get done?
It helps that in the last two decades, with Manfred and Weiner at the table, there has been a familiarity among the negotiators, allowing the two sides to get away from time-wasting feeling-out sessions. They can focus on getting a deal done instead.
More important, the players have taken an active role in negotiations, having realized, like the owners, the damage a work stoppage can create in the aftermath of the mess that was 1994-95.
Remember, it was in 2002 that the next negotiations came, and the two sides were minutes away from another work stoppage when a settlement was reached, thanks in a significant part to the hands-on approach former pitcher Tom Glavine took in bringing the two sides together.
The Joint Drug Agreement is an outgrowth of the subsequent collaborative efforts. The owners had always broached the subject of drug testing. The union leaders would immediately scream invasion of privacy, and the owners would pull the drug policy off the table as an early concession, not wanting to fight that fight.
In the last decade or so, however, players became vocal about the actions of a small minority who chose to use performance-enhancing drugs, tainting the careers of many. That's why the drug policy was initially adopted, and it's why it has steadily been made stronger, including the past offseason when baseball adopted in-season blood testing for HGH.
Baseball has created the most stringent drug policy of any of team sport.
Currently, a first-time offender is suspended for 50 games. A second strike results in a 100-game suspension. The third strike is the end of the player's career.
Selig is quick to point out that of the 5,000 tests administered in the last year, only five had a positive result.
"The vast majority of the players deserve credit, but there is never talk about that," Selig said.
The focus is on the five who failed, not the 4,995 who passed. That's society. They stop to gawk at the car wreck.
The game was thrown another curve this offseason by a report linking Major Leaguers to the now-closed Biogenesis clinic in the Miami area, including Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal, who already have been suspended for positive tests.
And if the violation of the drug policy isn't enough concern, the fact that a Colon or Cabrera can be suspended for 50 games while their team was in the midst of pennant race and then go on the free-agent market and get sizable salary increases has added to the outrage.
Colon, who had a $2 million deal with the A's last year, re-signed with Oakland for $3 million this year. Cabrera, who had a $6 million deal with San Francisco last year, received a two-year, $16 million from Toronto in the offseason.
Among the players who have spoken out this spring is Colorado outfielder Michael Cuddyer.
"The sport keeps getting black eyes," he told the Denver Post. "You get through one storm and you get punched in the other eye with another one. It gets old."
He said he would like baseball to establish a one-year suspension without pay for a first-time offender and lifetime ban for a second offense.
Selig heard Cuddyer and other players loud and clear.
"I have been pleased to see how many players spoke out on how much they care and their concern about recent events,'' he said.
Now it is up to Manfred and Weiner to get things worked out.
Recent history has shown they are up for the task.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.