Further Review: Union takes when it should have swung away
Column by Ken Cohen
August 9, 2013 Since the suspensions of 13 players earlier this week by Major League Baseball, I've heard player after player publicly state it's about time and that the game needs to be cleaned up. Even the players that were nailed, accepted their punishment and acknowledged they had tried to gain an advantage over other players.
Here were some of the comments:
"It's pretty apparent how I feel towards cheaters," Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer told the Detroit Free Press. "My focus now is to work with the players, work with the union, work with everybody involved to find a fairer system that correctly punishes players to find a way that closes some of these loopholes so that players don’t feel the need to cheat.”
Fellow Tiger starter Justin Verlander said, "I know for myself, personally, I want a clean game," Verlander said. "I want an even playing field all around baseball, and I think a majority of the guys feel that way. I think that's the cleanest and fairest way to play this game, and that's the way this game was meant to be played."
Other players came out with equally strong rebukes against their fellow players, some even wondering if the punishments were harsh enough. But when it came time to really take a stand, the players and their union failed miserably.
That's because the Major League Players' Association will be supporting Alex Rodriguez in the appeal of his suspension. This is what union head Michael Weiner said in reference to A-Rod.
"For the player appealing, Alex Rodriguez, we agree with his decision to fight his suspension. We believe that the commissioner has not acted appropriately. The union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously.
"We feel what [MLB Commissioner Bud Selig] did, frankly, was inappropriate and almost ridiculous," he said. "Look at the penalties that have been [given] out and cases that have been decided by the commissioner's office along with the Players Association. Nothing comes close to 211 games."
Just when you thought the Players Association was actually going to make a strong statement by supporting the 50-game suspensions of the non A-Rod players, it caved in to its "history" which is to protect its players at all costs, no matter what the circumstances.
This was the perfect opportunity for the likes of Scherzer and Verlander to defiantly step up and tell the union head, "do not in any way support Alex Rodriguez in his appeal. He is a long-time cheater who has shamed the game and demeaned much of what we have all accomplished and we're not going to back this completely selfish action on his behalf."
All of the players who came out so ardently against some of their teammates and peers could have taken that final, decisive step. But they didn't. Whether or not the union is legally bound to argue in A-Rod's defense, the players as individuals should have forcefully condemned the appeal. To me, that would have been true indication that they meant everything they said about cleaning up the game and banishing the cheaters. But to sit silently and let their union support A-Rod, is not only a lost opportunity, but regrettably weak.
Yes, you can agree with Weiner and say they are not fighting the fact that A-Rod broke the rules, but that he was singled out with an extreme sentence. That's the legal angle. In this instance, the court of public opinion is far more important and just the perception the union is fighting for A-Rod in any way is despicable. The players are the union, and the way I see it, they are defending a cheater. They can say what they want about supporting Major League Baseball in doling out the other suspensions, but when the time came to legally weigh in, they balked and instead went running to fight for perhaps the biggest cheater of all.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies. His column, “Further Review” appears every Friday.