MLB: Management Being Management | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Americans don’t have labor consciousness. You might say, “what on earth does this have to do with anything baseball related?,” but luckily, we’re talking about baseball labor. One of the striking aspects of the public response to the Ryan Braun decision — besides the willingness of many people to simply disregard the evidence and implications of the Braun decision and flat out label Braun a cheater — is the extent to which fans are surprised by MLB’s conduct following the decision.

I spoke with my Dad last night, and he echoed the same sentiment that a lot of people have voiced — “why on earth did MLB say they disagreed with the decision?” Well, it’s simple — this was a labor battle, between MLB and MLBPA, ownership and players, and MLB obviously cast its vote against Braun. Their vote isn’t going to change if Braun is cleared by the MLBPA vote and the independent arbitrator — their position remains the same, in the grand scheme of things. Their vote upholds the testing protocol, and their stake of interest in maintaining a negligence-based testing procedure.

Norm Hall / Getty Images North America

If you’re asking, “why does Braun’s image have to suffer at the hands of MLB comments?,” well, that’s how MLB will continue to maintain and defend their interests. The MLB press juggernaut continued their defense of their interests and position on Friday evening, as reported by Barry M. Bloom at

“The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun’s case acted in a professional and appropriate manner,” said Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources. “He handled Mr. Braun’s sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs — including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“Our program is not ‘fatally flawed.’ Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator’s decision. Neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.”

You might forgive Americans for believing that Braun is a cheater, reading statements like this. Taken on its own, the statement that Braun’s party and the MLBPA never contended that the sample was tampered (or produced evidence to that effect), looks like a not-so-subtle statement that, “whatever was in the sample was in the sample,” and of course, Braun therefore was exonerated thanks to a technicality. No wonder MLB will defend its collections agency before its NL MVP!

The truth is, Braun never needed to argue that collections agency tampered with the evidence. His camp replicated scientific results, according to Will Carroll and WEEI-Boston, that proved how a sample can degrade over a span of nearly 48 hours if not handled according to protocol and tested ASAP. From that perspective, Braun certainly did not win his case on a technicality — he challenged the very validity of the test on the basis of broken protocol.

Here we have two distinct pieces of information about Braun’s case: (a) his camp did not argue that the collectors tampered with the sample, and (b) his camp did argue that the sample degraded or was compromised due to broken protocol. That’s a very specific set of arguments that, yes, means that whatever was in the sample when it was tested was probably in the sample when it was collected, but those contents degraded over time, calling testing validity into question.

(This is to everyone that still thinks: “well, it’s fine that Braun got off on a technicality, but don’t expect me to believe that Braun’s sample was clean.” Evidence doesn’t work that way — when there are questions about the very validity of evidence, you can’t make statements about the contents of the evidence. There’s no logical way to say “Braun was not suspended” and “Braun was a cheater.” It doesn’t work that way because the argument that “Braun was a cheater” depends on faulty evidence that resulted in “Braun was not suspended.” The two concepts are mutually exclusive. If you want to believe that anyway, fine, but know that you’re not entitled to false opinions, and you obviously don’t care about facts, evidence, transparency, or skepticism. Yes, I mean that personally. You’re just wrong.)

This is where a lack of labor consciousness comes into play. Americans are not trained to have, as workers, a mistrust of or opposition to the motives of ownership/management. Since those motives are not called into question, the information presented by parties defending ownership motives seems valid and plausible — Americans ask, why wouldn’t an organization look out for the best interests of their employees? Therefore, Americans can and will continue to think that Braun cheated, so long as MLB protects its interests and defends its case and its testing process in a manner that obscures the facts about Braun’s case.

One of the problems with the outcome of this case is that neither the MLB nor the MLBPA seem destined to extended conflict. This is the MLB of labor peace, avoiding work stoppages and animosity at any cost since the 1994 work stoppage, and the MLBPA’s statements convey that sentiment:

“As has happened several times before with other matters, this case has focused the parties’ attention on an aspect of our program that can be improved,” said Michael Weiner, the union’s executive director. “After discussions with the Commissioner’s Office, we are confident that all collections going forward will follow the parties’ agreed-upon rules.”

“Our Joint Drug Program stands as strong, as accurate and as reliable as any in sport, both before and after the Braun decision. The breach of confidentiality associated with this matter is unfortunate but, after investigation, we are confident that it was not caused by the Commissioner’s Office, the MLBPA or anyone associated in any way with the program. In all other respects, the appeals process worked as designed; the matter was vigorously contested and the independent and neutral arbitrator issued a decision deserving of respect by both bargaining parties.”

While MLBPA is upholding their decision, their public statements are not defending their interests as aggressively as MLB is asserting their interests. As a result, Braun’s case will remain one in which information hinting at his guilt will continue to surface, despite the victory of his party. MLBPA is rightfully happy with the arbitration results, and therefore, content to stop there with their press remarks. As a result, MLB will have plenty of opportunities to establish questions and assumptions about Braun’s “cheating.”

If this surprises you, think about the motives and interests of the MLB: to protect the validity of their testing, they need to maintain the idea that positive tests cannot be challenged, that cheating is cheating, and that use of banned substances will not be tolerated, whatsoever. Of course, legal, collectively-bargained procedures will never be able to correspond one-to-one with the moral desire to see positive tests yield suspensions. That’s not going to stop the MLB from changing their interests and publicly presenting their interests in that way.

So, don’t feel badly for Braun that the MLB did not immediately come forward and proclaim their excitement at how their process worked, and how Braun received his day of justice. That was never their intent; Braun is indeed guilty in their eyes, and for sports fans that have trusting and naive opinions about management parties, that opinion reflects as strongly on Braun as all the evidence that favors his exoneration.

But, don’t mind me while I celebrate labor’s victory. This was a big one, and I feel like anyone that cares about evidence, transparency, logic, and skepticism (and labor) should be really excited about Braun’s victory. Luckily, I’m a Brewers fan, so watching a motivated-Braun will be even sweeter for me.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Nathan Petrashek says: February 26, 2012

    MLB’s valiant attempt to require players to play drug-free is somewhat at odds with their response to this case. Their statements after the fact say, “Our process works,” while at the same time MLB contemplates federal litigation to overturn an award that resulted from that process. MLB’s stance seems horribly contradictory.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

      I agree completely.

      I believe MLB has now shown that they seriously believe no tolerance in terms of actual positive tests. It sounds like in MLB’s eyes, the positive test remains the indication of guilt, regardless of the JDA or arbitration process.

  2. Lance Hanish says: February 26, 2012

    We live in two worlds: Brewer World and the Rest of the World. Brewer fans believe we had a glorious victory. We were all vindicated. The system is flawed. MLB won’t admit the system is flawed because they never show to anyone they are flawed. Rest of the World fans believe the system is flawed because he had failed his test and was vindicated. As a Cardinal fan stated, “What’s the difference between Braun & Big Mac?” As some of the Mets players stated yesterday, they felt the MVP got off free. Over in Tigerville, Prince claimed ignorance of the entire situation because he was too busy seeking a job. For me, I’m going to Maryvale and hail the Crew. We have a new prince in left field to protect against the hoards of disbelievers.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

      I think it’s a shame that sports fans see this as a matter of team affiliation. I guess this makes me different than most fans, but wouldn’t you support the players you pay to watch the entertain you?

      It never ceases to amaze me how nationalistic fans are about their teams.

  3. Jake says: February 26, 2012

    Fantastic article. Finally somebody examined this situation from this perspective. Well written and logically argued. Thanks very much.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

      Thanks for reading, and for the kind words!

  4. stabby says: February 26, 2012

    Our program is not ‘fatally flawed.’ Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator’s decision. Neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.”

    If the drug program isnt fatally flawed, you might wonder why MLB states that ‘Changes will be made promptly’ !!

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

      Right on!

      Perhaps they believe that the changes needed are so inconsequential, they can handle it in a short amount of time?

  5. Chris says: February 26, 2012

    An excellent piece, classic Radio Silence…

    While am not inclined to view Braun’s case through the lens of management v. labor, I am delighted that there are an increasing number of voices who recognize that this situation is not a player winning on a “technicality,” but that flaws in protocol handling of evidence are a big deal, not some narrow and insignificant matter. Sadly, that is how most are viewing this around the country, branding Braun with a scarlet “S” that will dog him for, perhaps, the rest of his baseball career.

    Given that, I am not sure that this is going to focus Braun and lead to sustained or even greater results. He already had laser focus. Now, I fear, he will overcompensate in an effort to convert the disbelievers, and that additional pressure might lead to reduced results. The irony, of course, is that by trying harder to confront evidence that has already cleared him, he might under-perform, thus given fuel to those who contend that “he couldn’t do it without the needle.”

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

      I hadn’t thought that Braun might actually overcompensate. I suppose that’s a very real possibility — do you think Braun’s veteran status will make him more likely to be able to motivate himself in a manner that manifests itself in a disciplined approach?

      He has morphed into quite a disciplined/contact power bat.

      • Chris says: February 26, 2012

        What concerns me is Braun’s status as a human being. In my experience, when something one values is challenged — in this case, RB seems to cherish his integrity — the door is open for irrational responses like “I am going to show the doubters that I am for real.”

        It might have been Kierkegaard (you would know better than I) who told the story of the man accused of being insane who, in an effort to disprove the tag, stopped everyone he saw on the street to told them “I am not insane!” …only to be lead off to the asylum as a result of that behavior. This is what I fear for Braun: In the pressure he will feel to show that his MVP season wasn’t the result of PEDs, he will press for greater heights, taking him out of the disciplined/contact power bat he has become and his results will decline. However, I don’t know Ryan Braun. Perhaps he is made of better stuff than that. But I would certainly understand if he fell prey to this all too human tendency.

  6. Rob says: February 26, 2012

    This makes sense, and is broken down wonderfully. As a former union steward in a medium sized company I understand that management is going to stick to their guns. They have nothing to gain if a member of the rank and file (like Braun) “wins”. Especially something like this where public opinion comes into play. One thing I don’t understand, however, is some people’s view that, because Braun’s team proved that the process was broken in this situation, the entire system doesn’t work in all situations. There were extenuating circumstances with the Braun case that caused the ruling to be overturned, and if those circumstances were absent Shyam Das would have ruled in MLB’s favor. To me this doesn’t indicate a completely broken system, but a situation that broke the system in this case.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

      I agree with your final comments. I especially disagree with the line of reasoning that there is now a “Braun Loophole,” and that Braun established “precedent.”

  7. Bill says: February 26, 2012

    It’s all politics.

    Like you said, “to protect the validity of their testing, they need to maintain the idea that positive tests cannot be challenged, that cheating is cheating, and that use of banned substances will not be tolerated, whatsoever.”

    Is it hard to believe that there is a possibility that the MLB is actually on Braun’s side behind the scenes? They cant come out to the public and admit that because then they would be admitting that there is actually something wrong with the system. If there is something wrong with the system, then there could be reason to suspect that there may have been flaws in the past, which brings into question all the positive tests before Braun.

    I’m not saying that all the positive tests in the past were false positives, but the MLB acknowledging a false positive now, will only make people question past results.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

      I would hope that they’re treating Braun better in person than they are in the media. I think you make a valid point; but, part of me still wonders how much they are sticking to their guns overall.

      I especially agree with your last comment.

  8. John says: February 26, 2012

    Nice article. It’s cool to see the labor slant, but not surprising coming in Wisconsin. I’m sick of hearing it was just a technicality. Breaking down the chain of custody is actually challenging the science. The scientific method relies on following the same procedures for each test, in order to ensure accurate results. Plus, if MLB really thinks the triple sealed samples are tamper proof and the timing makes no never-mind, they should give the players 44 hours with which to drop off their own samples, honor system style.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

      I love the “honor system” comment. I wish I had more to add, but I can’t top that!

  9. Nicholas Zettel says: February 26, 2012

    I want to thank everyone for all the kind comments and thought-provoking remarks. I am saying this because I had actually thought about scrapping this after I wrote it.

    In our line of work, readership and comments are always appreciated; but I can definitely say that it makes a difference when you’re skeptical about how an argument turned out.

    Thanks again for reading, and for checking out the new Disciples of Uecker!

  10. Matt Tracy says: February 27, 2012

    Here is the over-arching problem with MLB commenting AT ALL on the Braun case: had this process played out as it should have, i.e. in private, then Braun would have shown up on Friday and no one would have been the wiser. But because his privacy was violated (probably not by MLB), the Commish’s Office gets to talk about something they have no right to? That’s where they lose me. Just because the process broke down does not give MLB the right to throw the rest of the process out (as well as professional courtesy). MLB should still have to “act as if” this process were handled correctly. Theoretically, had Braun lost, he would make a statement, and MLB would simply agree; but because this was new territory (a player winning), they get to act like childeren? Wrong MLB.

    Bottom line: MLB has been happy to keep the process quiet when they win (as they are supposed to), but now, when they lose for the first time, they further violate the confidentiallity of the process.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: February 27, 2012

      Well, the only difference is, the process isn’t quiet when a player loses — MLB would announce the suspension.

      But, overall you’re correct that MLB shouldn’t really be commenting on this. However, I imagine a portion of the delay was occupied by debates about how to issue statements about this, given the breach of confidentiality. There are strict provisions about that in the JDA, so I imagine MLBPA and MLB had to come to an agreement to allow anyone to talk about this at all.


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