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Marvin Miller Urges Players to Fight Tests : Ex-Union Head Fears Loss of Solidarity Over Drugs

March 08, 1986|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — Concern and alarm have suddenly gripped a warhorse named Marvin Miller.

Some retirement.

Reached by phone at his New York apartment Friday, the former executive director of the Major League Players Assn. and architect of that union's rapid growth in status and strength said he was:

--Concerned about the individualism that has surfaced among the players in regard to the issue of drug testing.

--Alarmed that only Keith Hernandez of the seven players recently handed conditional suspensions for the year by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth has elected to appeal by filing a grievance.

Miller said the players are running for cover on the testing issue and bowing to intimidation by the commissioner, the clubs and the public in response to the suspensions.

"Apparently we don't have players with guts enough to defend themselves," he said.

"Aside from Hernandez, we apparently don't have one man--and I use that term advisedly--who has the courage to stand up for his rights."

Miller said that a lingering absence of conviction and solidarity could prove fatal to the union.

"If they continue to act as individuals, it will not take long before they're back at the state in which I found them," he said.

Which was?

"Probably the most exploited skilled employees ever," Miller said.

And what would his response be to the current climate?

"I think the members have to understand that the major problems must be confronted as a group rather than as individuals," he said.

"They have to be reminded that they can't be hurt by exercising rights protected by the collective bargaining agreement. They have to understand, for example, that they have nothing to lose by asking an arbitrator to determine if the commissioner was within his rights, if he had due cause to discipline them.

"I mean, is Ueberroth the law? Do you sit back and accept that? Doesn't someone say: 'Wait, this is wrong. This happened four and five years ago, and I was never involved in distribution. I was never prosecuted by the authorities and I have never been involved with it since.'?

"All of this has got to be brought home to every player and every agent, some of whom knuckle under because they either don't understand or are afraid they'll lose some of their percentage.

"It seems to me that there are too many hands in the till."

Miller cited Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro, who helped author the independent drug program that 32 of the Baltimore Orioles have agreed to follow.

"What if the union was negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement and Mr. Shapiro decided that the Orioles should have their own pension program? What's the difference between that and what he did?" Miller asked.

"In my mind he should be called before the (union's) Executive Board and asked for an explanation. If the board doesn't accept it, then he shouldn't be recertified (as an agent)."

Asked then if Executive Director Donald Fehr has been lax in demanding unanimity, pushing players to defend their rights and educating them as to how the union's previous gains were accomplished, Miller paused, then said:

"I think you'll have to ask him."

A secretary in Fehr's New York office said that Fehr was traveling Friday and unavailable for comment.

The call was made to Miller in response to the perception that the union is under siege, reduced to counterpunching through the grievance system against a series of actions by Ueberroth and the suddenly unified owners.

Before the suspensions, there was last fall's unilateral decision bY the owners to withdraw from the joint drug agreement, the ensuing refusal to guarantee multiyear contracts unless the player accepted a testing clause and the seemingly conspiratorial response to the this year's free agents.

The union has also faced dissent from within. A growing number of players have criticized the association's failure to develop a drug plan and said that by agreeing to a testing clause they are showing a willingness to prove their innocence to the public. It is estimated that more than half of the 650 major league players now have a testing clause in their contracts.

Miller, who was the union's executive director for 18 years, has remained an informed and interested observer. Though he is not officially associated with the union at this time, he helped negotiate last summer's collective bargaining agreement and was recently invited to an Executive Board meeting in Chicago.

Is the union under siege? Is there a division among the players?

"I would say the union is definitely under siege," Miller said. "But I wouldn't characterize a difference of opinion as division.

"I mean, this has never been a monolithic organization. A certain difference of opinion is healthy. The problem now is that there seems to be more confusion among the players and their agents as to their role in the union.

"More and more, the players are acting as individuals, while the owners are acting as a union. More and more, the owners are skirting the labor laws and collective bargaining agreement and getting results."

Asked about the growing endorsement of drug testing among the players, Miller said he was reminded of the McCarthy era, when people were pressured to sign a loyalty oath to prove they weren't Communists.

He said that some athletes were running for cover, ignoring the possibility of testing inaccuracy, the ultimate perception that those agreeing to be tested are closet addicts who require that kind of discipline, and the lack of safeguards in the testing clauses on how many times a player may be tested.

"The club can hassle a player any time it wants," Miller said. "Maybe the players need that type of harassment to realize what they've done.

"They can only be hurt by their failure to remember."

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