Baseball, union forge unlikely partnership

Baseball, union forge unlikely partnership
January 11, 2013, 10:45 am
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For those of us who came of age as baseball fans with players and owners continually warring, Thursday’s announcement of an agreement on Human Growth Hormone testing was nothing short of breathtaking.

This comes just over a year after baseball and the union agreed on off-season and spring training testing for HGH.

MLB and the players began bickering in the 1960s when the recently deceased union head Marvin Miller convinced the players to band together. Strikes and court cases were common for the next three decades.

After the 1994-95 debacle which cost fans the World Series, things began to loosen. The 2005 Congressional hearings which spotlighted Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro convinced baseball to work together on drug prevention programs.

Now, the players and owners work together relatively smoothly, and it’s amazing to watch.

The Orioles were one of the teams most under the spotlight in the Mitchell Report, which reported on drug use. Many Orioles were mentioned, and Palmeiro became a national joke when he became the first prominent player who tested positive for steroids in Aug. 2005.

Even more amazing is the general ability for the league and players to work together on most issues, something that’s absent in the NFL, NBA and NHL.

The NHL is finally ending its costly lockout, the NBA had one last season, and relations between management and players in the NFL can currently be described as hostile.

Fans deserve a clean game. It’s taken years to limit drug use. Last season, 12 players were suspended including Melky Cabrera, who was leading the National League in hitting at the time. That’s far too many.

The effects of drug use in the 1990s were again present this week when the steroid era players and those who were simply talked about users, were shunned when it came time for Hall of Fame election.

While the debates about whether Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro should be allowed in are healthy, the game was a loser on Wednesday when the results were announced.

For years, the arguments on Pete Rose’s admission to the Hall raged on. Those discussions seem quaint in retrospect.

As the climate changes, the issue of drug use by the steroid-era players may still be a hot one, or five years from now, may become a non-issue. 

If Rose was somehow reinstated by a future commissioner because it won’t happen under Bud Selig, his Cooperstown enshrinement would still be opposed by most Hall of Famers.

Bonds and Clemens received less than 40 percent of the vote and the opposition to them is so strong by most members of the Baseball Writers that their election seems unlikely.

The only good thing that came out of the steroid era was that the involved parties now realize how injurious their acts were and that future abuses must be limited.

As last year’s suspensions show, a handful of players will try and gain an unfair advantage. Abusers will be caught and punished.

Cabrera cost himself millions of dollars as well as the possibility of a World Series ring with the San Francisco Giants. Once his 50-game suspension was over, the playoffs were under way, the Giants were rolling, and they felt Cabrera would be an unwanted distraction.

The unannounced testing, which will occur during the season, will also test for increased amounts of testosterone as well.

Baseball is the first major sport to have HGH testing. With the rancor between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and union chief DeMaurice Smith, there’s been no agreement.

When baseball was belittled a generation ago as being behind the times because of its acrimonious player-management relations, a day like Thursday would have been hard to imagine.

Selig’s first act as commissioner wasn’t a good one. The disastrous strike and the failure to try and limit steroids use, was awful. His second act with nearly two decades of labor peace, cooperation with the players on the World Baseball Classic, and the ability to work together on a drug abuse program, has been masterful.

This work has resulted in unparalleled prosperity for the sport, rich television contracts, lots of new stadiums and a strong presence in new media.

A baseball strike now is as unlikely as years of labor peace was in 1994. Let’s keep it going.