Olney owes Fehr an apology
Buster Olney, of productive out fame, argues at ESPN that the MLBPA owes its players an apology for ignoring their pleas for steroid testing, which would have prevented the BALCO problems.
Ignore, for a second, the emotional side of the steroid issue. This article is so wrong it makes me angry. His thesis is that the two big men in the union, Fehr and Orza, by failing to agree to testing, led to players being “smeared, by association”.
THG was undetectable. Baseball could have agreed to Olympic-style drug-testing, no notice anytime testing, no matter if you were on a date or at the beach, and they wouldn’t have prvented the BALCO scandal. Baseball, as the Olympics have been when drug scandals have hit, would have been just as tainted.
Further, Olney argues that because a USA Today survey indicated that 79% of players said they’d agree to steroid testing, the union betrayed their desire.
First, there’s a huge difference between saying “I support testing” and “I support having to stand in a room naked with two dudes staring at me while I urinate into a cup repeatedly during a season” much less the kind of full-press testing operation that’s required to make a serious impact on abuse.
Second, the difference between surveys and the union is obvious. Just as a player can go out and say “I’d love to take a huge salary cut to come to your city name here” in front of the microphones and then let the union protect their contract, so it is with steroids.
Or just as a player can come out and say “I’d do anything to avoid a strike” to a rotton-vegetable-armed populace, so they are likely to answer a survey. What major league baseball player, knowing the feelings of the public, is going to turn in a survey that says “I don’t support drug testing”? They’ve seen off-the-record stuff come back to bite people before — even Bonds knew when they labeled his sample that the chances were good that someone, eventually, would be testing it for purposes besides baseball’s anonymous group-level survey.
It is true that some players have said their union meetings didn’t discuss the issue in detail. It’s also true that union representatives are not always chosen for the best available candidates, and some haven’t taken their duties seriously enough. And that may be part of the problem… but the players pick those dudes. If they thought these issues were serious enough to warrant the best of their number, they’d pick the best people that would open discussion and solicit opinions.
The union represents the compromise wishes of the players, and always has. If you want to argue that Fehr and Orza weren’t forward-thinking-enough, or should have set a moral example and dragged their constituents kicking and screaming towards testing that still wouldn’t have prevented this, you’re welcome to do so. But that argument concedes that you understand that that’s not what they are, and yet they were chosen to lead the players union.
They were chosen to consistently represent the wishes of members in negotiations. Long-term, short-term: they are the instrument of player desires. They’re tools. You don’t blame the tools for the job of the craftsman.
Fehr and Orza are convenient targets, but to blame them for something they couldn’t have prevented, even if they had acted on the behalf of a supposed majority of players Olney wants to believe exist, for purposes of writing this easy column, is ridiculous.
There is more than enough shame and disgust to go around, but to say that Fehr and Orza bear any kind of responsibility for this latest public scandal that they should be apologizing for is absurd.