Baltimore Orioles: Justice vs. Legality


I majored in broadcasting while in college because I wanted to be a major market disc jockey. I also minored in American Government, and a part of that minor were some courses in what amounted to pre-law. So while bearing in mind that I’m not a lawyer nor in the legal profession, however I’m going to put on my law cap for just a moment. According to an ESPN report that was released this evening, approximately 20 players could be suspended in the coming weeks as a result of being named in a report in conjunction with Tony Bosch’s Biogenesis Clinic that was giving out PED’s. Many of these players (such as Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, and Ryan Braun) could be facing very large suspensions of at least 100 games.

With that said, let me state unequivocally that I’m in favor of MLB doing something to rid itself of steroids and PED’s. I have no doubt that this is still a very prevalent problem league-wide, and furthermore I suspect that many of the guilty players are guys that would probably surprise us. (Having said that, I do believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilty.) However with that said, I do think that this is a very slippery legal slope for baseball to try to navigate. When we’re talking about handing down the types of suspensions that they’re allegedly discussing, the entity (in this case MLB) had better make sure that their T’s are crossed and their I’s dotted.

According to the article (which is linked above):

“One source familiar with the case said the commissioner’s office might seek 100-game suspensions for Rodriguez, Braun and other players, the penalty for a second doping offense. The argument, the source said, is the players’ connection to Bosch constitutes one offense, and previous statements to MLB officials denying any such connection or the use of PEDs constitute another. Bosch and his attorneys did not return several calls. MLB officials refused to comment when reached Tuesday.”

In my opinion this could be considered a bit of a reach by baseball. If you read further into the article, it says the following:

“MLB already has established precedent to suspend a player for two offenses in one shot: Minor league player Cesar Carrillo was hit with a 100-game suspension in March when he was confronted with Biogenesis documents containing his name and then denied having any connection to Bosch or the clinic. 

Because Carrillo was on a minor league contract, however, and thus not a member of the MLB Players’ Association, he was not entitled to an appeal through arbitration. Major League players accused by MLB are expected to fight any suspension, and efforts to charge the players with multiple offenses would bring that fight to another level. In the appeals process, players are allowed to confront witnesses and evidence in a courtroom-like procedure before an arbitration panel.”

Courtesy of Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Again, I’m coming at this from more of a legal standpoint than a baseball one. Withstanding appeals by the players union and so forth, we’re talking about a huge number of games and thus a huge amount of money that these guys will be docked. Does one not think that they might not consider legal action to reclaim that money, especially given that the only precedent which exists is from a guy that had no union representation?

On a personal level and as a baseball writer, I fully support MLB’s intention of suspending anyone involved in this situation and with PED’s in general. I’m on record as saying that the rule should be that you’re suspended for 365 calendar days on your first offense, and banned for life on your second. This isn’t the WWF of the 1980’s; PED use in baseball is inexcusable. However my concern is that baseball isn’t considering the potential pitfalls of that course of action.

You might ask why it would be an issue for MLB and all of it’s teams (including the Baltimore Orioles) if some cases ended up in court. Do they really need the PR hit that could endure from going to court in a very public manner over steroids? My personal opinion is that many (if not all) of these guys are in fact guilty. However if I was guilty of using PED’s and I was told that I was getting suspended as a second-time offender because I had given a sworn statement saying I had never used, I might consider a legal challenge. (Whether that person was guilty of perjury might be a different story.) Again, does baseball really want to have to go to court on an issue that is already as public of a black mark on a sport as you can get?

In fact, a court of law could rule that there’s legal precedent for baseball improperly handling some of these cases. An independent arbitrator ruled that  the league’s courier had mishandled Ryan Braun’s sample the last time around, and thus his suspension was lifted and expunged. I suppose that what I’m saying is that as much as I’d like to see the players involved be brought to justice by baseball, I have to wonder if they wouldn’t be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. I would tend to believe that most of those guys are guilty; I just question the methodology that MLB appears to be using to bring them to justice. Sometimes what’s truly “right,” might not be “legal.”