Fehr-advised wall of silence could soon become rubble

Steroids In Baseball

March 03, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

IS A SPLINTER GROUP of Donald Fehr's faithful army of ballplayers about to make a stand for what is right and stop hiding behind "players' rights"?

You be the judge.

The memo from the Major League Baseball Players Association chief (Fehr) to all baseball players and player agents about a federal grand jury's subpoena of drug test results gives a whiff of why that "union" has been one of the strongest in sports.

"We are currently looking into the appropriate steps to take in order to maintain both the intent and the integrity of the Basic Agreement, and to make sure the rights of the players under the Basic Agreement are protected," Fehr wrote Feb. 12.

"However given both the ongoing grand jury and criminal proceedings, we think that the best course of action for players is to do nothing about these matters. If you have any questions, please call the office and speak to Gene [Orza] and me. Best regards."

In other words: Don't break ranks, fellas.

Well, guess what? Ranks are broken.

It matters less that the president of the United States, a former baseball owner in search of re-election, has just called for a steroids summit.

It's inconsequential and, not to mention, a little late that commissioner Bud Selig finally called for zero tolerance in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. Where was zero tolerance when owners and players were careening down to that 11th-hour contract negotiation?

Where was zero tolerance during the seasons that in the future will look freaky on the bell curve of offense? After a week at spring training, after a few calls to agents and baseball officials, it hardly seems as if the status quo of the past few offensively inflated years will continue.

For example, Ken Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, said yesterday that he has found it especially easy to encourage Griffey in his rehabilitation and comeback, considering the climate in baseball right now.

"Junior can look forward to a season where he doesn't have to hit his career-high 56 homers. If he can stay healthy and hit 45 to 50 homers at the same time those who appear to have been on some kind of substances are coming back down to earth, he can be a league leader again," Goldberg said.

The Natural - all Naturals - deserve to have their production and careers judged in an arena in which the playing field is level.

It could have been steroid Armageddon in a much more pro-active fashion. In August 2002, owners could have said there would be no new deal without a sharp-toothed drug-test policy.

They could have decided it was now or never back then, but the owners were afraid of shutting down baseball.

That's why it had to be the IRS and FDA sifting through garbage cans outside the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative for the break to come. It has taken a grand jury and the faces of Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi to begin to set the record straight - so that future records will require no asterisk, no suspicion.

In fact, one has to wonder whether Selig isn't turning into one lucky commissioner. Powerless to stop the union from hiding behind privacy issues, Selig can now throw his hands up and let the events unfold. Essentially, the feds are doing the commissioner's job.

Whereas owners - who own Selig - were not willing to sacrifice a season to a lockout and further erode fan interest by refusing to sign off on a new contract that didn't have serious drug-testing and penalties policies, a real commissioner could have mandated it: In the best interest of baseball, there will be no new labor agreement until there are teeth in this policy.

So far, as the BALCO scandal has unfolded, owners have said they must honor the labor agreement and keep test results anonymous. But there could be a problem. In legal terms, it's called conflict of intent.

The promise of anonymity guaranteed in the collective-bargaining agreement is protected by federal labor laws. However, there are also the rights of the grand jury's process. These are also federally protected rights. Now, it's up to lawyers to figure out whether the grand jury's right to do its job outweighs federal labor law that protects the collective bargaining agreement that stipulated drug tests would be anonymous.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos, an attorney and a newly elected member of baseball's Executive Council, said recently that owners had an obligation to uphold their agreement with the players to keep test results anonymous. Still, there's a chance the grand jury's subpoena power could take precedent, allowing the names to be made a matter of court record.

In the meantime, the greatest threat to the subversive methods of drug cheats are the majority of players who may finally have decided that the integrity of their game is on the line.

"I mean, obviously, he did it," Colorado Rockies reliever Turk Wendell was quoted saying in the Denver Post about Bonds. "[His trainer] admitted to giving steroids to baseball players. He just doesn't want to say [Bonds'] name. You don't have to. It's clear just seeing his body."

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