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Pete Toms Article Archive
Written by Pete Toms   
Monday, 30 November 2009 00:32

Last Week in Bizball by Pete Toms

This week in LWIB, no end in sight in the “survey testing” court battle plus updates on the Rays and A’s hopes for new ballparks.

“SURVEY TESTING” COURT BATTLE PROLONGED

Despite several years of relentless media coverage, federal investigations and congressional hearings in to steroid use amongst MLB players, there is yet little to no evidence of a fan backlash. The 2009 season (if we include spring training) saw some of the games biggest and most popular star players admit openly (Alex Rodriguez) or tacitly (David Ortiz) that they had previously used PEDs. As well, Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance widely used by steroid users to restart natural testosterone production following a “cycle”. All that following years of “I’m not here to talk about the past”, BALCO, The Mitchell Report, Clemens/McNamee, etc. Nonetheless, MLB has prospered greatly this decade. The official line from MLB is that the “steroid era” is a regrettable aspect of the game’s history and today’s game is “clean”. Commissioner Selig recently told Bob Costas in an interview for the MLB Network:

The sport is cleaned up. We administered 3,700 tests at the Major League level this year and two positives. ... We had 8,995 tests in the Minor Leagues. That program is nine years old. We are down to seven-tenths of one percent.

Fans of MLB appear to have neither cared about PED use in the first place or have been placated by a combination of The Mitchell Report and more rigorous “testing”. Or, maybe everybody became sick to death of the subject. However, there is at least one sub plot in the “steroid era” saga that will not be concluded for at least a few and perhaps several years. LWIB saw Solicitor General Elena Kagan order the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals to rehear the case over whether federal investigators violated the Fourth Amendment when they seized the results of thousands of drug tests during a search for the records of 10 MLB players implicated in “BALCO”.

The “anonymous” survey testing of 2003 was negotiated by the MLBPA and MLB in an attempt to measure the prevalence of steroid use amongst players. The results of the “survey testing” would in turn determine whether mandatory drug testing be introduced. In 2004, BALCO investigators seized the electronic results of all 104 (reportedly) players that tested positive (as opposed to the 10 “BALCO” players they had warrants for). Subsequently the MLBPA went to court and argued that the seizure of all 104 (reportedly) test results violated the Fourth Amendment. The MLBPA requested that the evidence be returned. There have been three rulings in the case, the most recent by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in August sided with the MLBPA. Solicitor General Kagan’s interest in the case has nothing to do with steroid use in MLB and everything to do with the interpretation of the “plain view doctrine” in computer evidence searches. That the Solicitor General has ordered all 27 judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case (as opposed to the previous 9 who ruled “en banc”) emphasizes the importance of the case to the Federal Government. A resolution is not expected for perhaps as many as several years as reports this week predicted that the case will eventually be heard by The Supreme Court.

As such, several longstanding questions surrounding the “survey testing” will go unanswered for the foreseeable future. Will the test results be returned and eventually destroyed by the MLBPA? Will the identities of all players who tested positive eventually be revealed en masse? Will or should or can the MLBPA reveal the full results of the “survey testing” in order to preserve the reputations of “clean” players? Can the Commissioner reveal the results “in the best interests of baseball”, arguing that full disclosure would “turn the page” on the “steroid era”? Might a player or players testing positive whose name(s) was leaked to the media eventually sue the MLBPA for not destroying the test results (as was promised to the players) prior to seizure by federal investigators. Subsequent to the August ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, law professor Michael McCann raised these issues at SI.com:

Provided the Supreme Court does not reverse the Ninth Circuit, the list will likely remain under seal indefinitely, if not permanently. All parties to the litigation, as well as their lawyers and other personnel, are barred from releasing the names. The MLBPA, which is a party to the litigation, thus lacks the legal authority to release the names.

MLBPA could eventually seek a court order that would enable it to divulge the remaining names. The MLBPA could reason that while disclosure might harm the interests of 97 players, it would serve the best interests of the far more numerous number of other MLB players, who would be cleared from suspicion. MLBPA, however, would pursue such a strategy under the peril of being sued by the 97 named players for breach of fiduciary duties. As a labor union, the MLBPA and its officials owe duties of trust and competence to each of the players. Releasing the names would undoubtedly harm the reputations of the named players and possibly jeopardize their player contracts and endorsement deals. Named players could also file a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board.

Unlike the MLBPA, Major League Baseball is not a party to the litigation. If MLB has the list, it could theoretically release it, but doing so would likely trigger a legal action commenced by the MLPBA. …..

Commissioner Selig could nonetheless argue that the "best interests of the game" authority, as vaguely contained in MLB's constitution (a document originally drafted in 1921 and not one collectively bargained with the MLBPA), accords him sufficient authority to release the remaining names. In Selig's defense, the list has embarrassed baseball and prompted unwanted speculation as to who might be on it. Even worse for Selig, the list returns to the public spotlight every time a name or two is leaked. Selig might understandably feel that the only way the game can move on from the Steroid Era in Baseball would be to release the entire list, a move recently endorsed by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

AND

MLBPA's failure to protect the names from the government's investigation into BALCO bears mention. While such a failure might call into question whether MLBPA officials adequately satisfied their fiduciary duties, the Ninth Circuit's opinion suggests that fault should lie with the government. For that reason, the MLBPA may be less susceptible to any potential legal challenge brought by a named player.

More names are likely to be leaked before this case is finally settled . When Mark McGwire walks on to the field at 2010 spring training wearing a St. Louis Cardinals’ uniform the “steroids era” will again, however briefly, be a focal point for the baseball media. And when the Barry Bonds perjury trial begins it will bring much media attention to the same subject. Again, while fans are inevitably curious about who “cheated” and who didn’t, the continued enormous popularity of MLB indicates that the “steroid era” has had little impact on their avidity. But until these last “steroid era” subplots are concluded, the subject will remain a semi-regular topic of discussion in the baseball media. Last week’s edict from Solicitor General Kagan ensures that that conclusion remains far off.

Select Read More to see details on the A's and Rays Stadium Updates

OAKLAND AND TAMPA BAY STADIUM UPDATES

This coming season will be the first for the Minnesota Twins Target Field. The Florida Marlins expect to move into their new ballpark beginning with the 2012 season. Setting aside the Twins and Marlins, only 3 franchises (Toronto, Oakland and Tampa Bay) remain without a “retro style” ballpark. LWIB saw updates on both the A’s and Rays efforts to construct new ballparks.

A’s owner Lewis Wolff’s plans to construct a new “baseball only” stadium in Fremont collapsed under the weight of the recession (the stadium was part of a much larger real estate development plan) and local opposition. Speculation that the Oakland Coliseum (the A’s present home) would be retrofitted to a “baseball only” facility (a la what the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim did with their stadium) must be considered moot since the recent announcement that the Oakland Raiders extended their lease through 2013 for the same stadium. Earlier this year MLB formed a committee to study the A’s options for a new ballpark, including the possibility of re-location within northern California. (I.E. San Jose) Commissioner Selig would likely have to grant the A’s permission to move to San Jose as the city, as per MLB’s rules, is part of the San Francisco Giants’ territory. (The alternative would be a lengthy court battle) The Giants and A’s will need to agree on a “territorial indemnification fee” (or some other form of compensation, see Angelos/Nationals) before Mr. Selig would ok the move. A site for the proposed new ballpark necessary to entice the A’s to San Jose has been selected and the requisite studies and campaign for public support are underway. LWIB saw a number of Bay Area media reports on the possibility of the San Jose re-location. The genesis of these reports were recent interviews that A’s owners Wolff and majority partner John Fisher conducted with select local media. While Mr. Wolff has long been the public face of the A’s attempts to obtain a new stadium, the media access to the very private Mr. Fisher was notable. Joe Stiglich reported in the Contra Costa Times:

An article published in the December issue of San Francisco magazine reinforced the desire and motivation of the Oakland A’s ownership group to move the team to San Jose.

AND

"From the moment we bought this team, the most important thing for Lew and I was to build a new ballpark to keep the A’s in the Bay Area," Fisher is quoted as saying in the article. "Our conclusion is that the best opportunity to build a ballpark is in downtown San Jose."

Here is the San Francisco magazine piece quoted by Mr. Stiglich. At his Field of Schemes blog, Neil deMause questioned the journalistic integrity of the SF magazine piece, highlighting the reporter’s extensive personal history with A’s ownership. It is not last week’s public statements by the A’s owners that is noteworthy per se. More interesting is what this spate of media coverage orchestrated by Mr.‘s Wolff and Fisher reveals about the increasing urgency of their desire to advance the new stadium agenda.

Just as A’s minority owner Lewis Wolff’s Fremont plan was detonated by the recession, the Tampa Bay Rays last year temporarily abandoned a campaign to obtain a new stadium in the Tampa / St. Petersburg region. This despite their unprecedented on field success in 2008. Pleas for new stadiums are not politically popular during recessionary times. However, the construction of new ballparks in Minnesota and Miami tells us that these negotiations can go on for decades before agreement is reached. And so, the lobbying for a new Rays ballpark has resumed. Tampa Bay stadium advocacy group The ABC Coalition recently released a draft report of their study on the need of and best location for a new Rays ballpark. Central Florida News 13 reported:

The ABC Coalition concluded if Tropicana Field is not replaced in a timely fashion, the Tampa Bay area could lose Major League Baseball.

Committee members approved a draft report saying sites should be considered in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The report said the Trop is outdated, and the Rays need a more “fan-friendly” stadium.

The report pointed out the Rays still have some of the lowest attendance numbers among Major League teams. The report said the stadium needs to be in a place that’s easier to get to if the Rays want to boost attendance.

“It’s not a question of whether a new venue needs to be put in place to keep the Rays healthy in the long-term,” said Jeff Lyash, chairman of the ABC Coalition. “It’s a question of when and where.”

Not surprisingly, the release of the draft report met with a negative reaction from St. Petersburg officials. (The Rays current home, Tropicana Field, is located in St. Petersburg) Stephen Nohlgren reported for the St. Petersburg Times:

A draft report by the group examining possibilities for a new major league baseball stadium has provoked a pointed response from the city of St. Petersburg:

Tropicana Field is "fan friendly,'' the Tampa Bay Rays are legally required to play there for the next 17 years, and don't involve the Rays in Hillsborough stadium discussions without the city's approval.

That's the gist of an e-mail to the stadium group Wednesday by St. Petersburg development director Rick Mussett.

AND

Mussett's letter made several points.

• The Rays always knew that revenues at the dome would be lower than at other cities. That's why the Trop contract gave St. Petersburg a smaller slice of stadium revenues than fellow expansion city Phoenix received from the Diamondbacks. The dome was more of a Chevrolet-type stadium, not a Cadillac, original owner Vince Naimoli said.

• The Rays were one of only nine teams to increase attendance in 2009, though the Tampa Bay area had higher unemployment than all but two other major league markets.

Both franchises (A’s and Rays) have much to resolve before agreements are finalized to construct new ballparks. (The A’s are much further ahead though) However MLB owners across the country, with the help of sympathetic local politicians, local advocacy groups (ie, local business), developers, fans and constructions unions have a perfect record in winning approval for new ballpark initiatives. How much time will pass before the A’s and Rays move into new ballparks is impossible to predict but bet that it will happen.


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Pete Toms is an author for the Business of Sports Network, most notably, The Biz of Baseball. He looks forward to your comments and can be contacted through The Biz of Baseball.

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