Bud blows it
Overall, Bud Selig has been a Godsend for Major League Baseball. Revenue sharing, playoff expansion, new stadiums and realignment have all been smashing successes under Selig's watch. It is not an unfair statement on any level that he has moved the game of baseball forward more than all of his predecessors combined. Without question, someday Cooperstown will call.
But Bud blew it this week.
Shyam Das is one of the most respected professional arbitrators in the country. A graduate of Harvard, Yale Law, and the University of Chicago, Das has been a full-time labor arbitrator since 1977. He has served on dozens of professional panels, and has been the NFL's collective bargaining agreement arbitrator for the last eight years.
Since 1999, Das has also been the final word on matters relating to the differences between the players and owners in Major League Baseball. Among other items, under Das' watch, management had prevailed all 13 times in upholding suspensions involving performance enhancing drugs (PED's).
That streak ended on Feb. 23, when Das infuriated the Lords of Baseball by ruling that Ryan Braun's appeal had validity and would be overturned. As much as the owners did not like it, this was the agreed upon procedure that baseball had employed. And until the Braun case came along, management had prevailed in each of the 13 PED suspension cases that went before Das.
"As a part of our drug testing program, the commissioner's office and the players' association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute," a statement from Rob Manfred, management's representative on the three-man appeals panel, read in response to the Braun decision. "While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das."
What a crock.
In their firing of Das (which is permissible by either the owners or the players association at any time under baseball's collective bargaining agreement) MLB showed that the only thing they respect is their absolute power to nail players, due process be damned. Because while they had the right to fire Das at any time, that doesn't make it the right thing to do.
Then again, in the case of Ryan Braun, baseball has done almost nothing that anyone could mistake with being the right thing to do. Once Das' decision was rendered, their lone response should have been to simply tell the truth: that baseball's arbitration process worked. That while they may have had a different perspective, there is real due process that is afforded to the players that they allegedly celebrate.
Instead, they tried to throw Braun under the bus with their pathetic words and ultimate action of Das' ouster.
After all, while it is honorable to do their diligence in cleaning the game up, for MLB to unceremoniously dump the man that has carried their water for the last 13 years in matters of player discipline over one (albeit very high-profile) case is reprehensible.
The hissy-fit MLB had when Braun was exonerated should have been a precursor to Das' immediate dismissal. That almost three months passed and did nothing to soothe the hard feelings over the case is reminiscent of a pouting child throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store over a box of candy, and then continuing to suck his thumb all the way home.
When the decision was reported on Monday, I contacted MLB chief spokesman Patrick Courtney to offer baseball a chance to clarify or dispute my belief that Das was fired solely for his decision in the Braun case. All Courtney would confirm is that Das was dismissed but was unable to comment further.
Taking the high road, Das has only offered up the statement, "I had the distinct privilege to serve as chair of the MLB-MLBPA arbitration panel for almost 13 years. I have the greatest respect for the representatives of both parties I worked with during that period, and I wish the parties well in their ongoing relationship."
While it is honorable of Das to not publicly be bitter, the only conclusion one can draw is that the Commissioner didn't get his way; so rather than address the actual problem it would be better to just dump the guy who pointed it out to us.
And while the overturning of the suspension of Colorado Rockies catcher Eliezer Alfonso made headlines this week because of the similarity of circumstances of Braun's, make no mistake about it. Braun was the big fish MLB wanted to stuff over their fireplace to puff out their chests and prove to the world that everyone is subject to the rules of Bud, popularity or hometown be damned.
Instead, the emperor was shown to have no clothes.
Das' firing doesn't merely indicate that baseball wants a figurehead lackey disguised as the game's independent voice; it screams it with a bullhorn in Times Square for the whole world to hear that is their true desire.
Then again, we shouldn't be surprised at Selig's ruling, for his is just another in a long line of pouting commissioners looking for their own bobo to side with them. One has to wonder how the next arbitrator is going to act. Will he too be under the impossible scrutiny of management to render decisions favorable to them just to keep his job?
An arbitrator is not supposed to be an advocate for anything other than justice. For the last 13 years, Shyam Das has conducted himself with the utmost professionalism. He deserved to have the same respect shown him that he showed the game of baseball.
Unfortunately, his is merely the latest in a long line of shameful firings by owners who did not get their way.
Arbitrator Peter Seitz was fired in 1975 after he ruled against owners in the Andy Messersmith reserve clause case that led to free agency. Thomas Roberts was canned after his ruling that the owners colluded against free agents between the 1985 and 1986 seasons.
In both cases, the owners were wrong; either by virtue of the law or by simple good faith in bargaining and common decency. When someone dared call them out on it, all that they got in return was a pink slip.
So much for a true independent voice.
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