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New labor agreement shows how far baseball has come

The deal runs through 2016, which will mean 21 years will have passed since last work stoppage, a big feat given MLB's labor history. Drug program will now include testing for human growth hormone.

November 22, 2011|By Phil Rogers

Live long enough, you'll see everything.

One of America's major sports just announced a new collective bargaining agreement. It is the same one that is expanding its drug testing program to become the first to include blood testing for human growth hormone.

And that sport is baseball.

Where have you gone, Pete Rozelle? You too, the young David Stern?

Baseball lost the 1994 World Series to civil strife between small-market clubs and large-market clubs and a 25-year war with the players union. But under the leadership of Commissioner Bud Selig, baseball came to the conclusion that it was time to stop trying to do the impossible — break the union Marvin Miller built on the backs of men such as Andy Messersmith and Curt Flood.

The new labor agreement runs through 2016, which will mean 21 years will have passed since baseball's last work stoppage. Remember when those happened every four years, like the Olympics?

"Nobody back in the early days would ever believe we'd have 21 years or labor peace," Selig said Tuesday at a news conference in New York. "Clearly that's remarkable. It's interesting to note that baseball's popularity, manifested in myriad ways, has been at its height the last 15 or 16 years. I think one of the biggest reasons is labor peace. A lot of us didn't grasp how much the labor confrontations of the '70s and '80s hurt the sport … this is obviously a very proud day for us."

Michael Weiner, who in 2009 succeeded Donald Fehr as head of the players union, praised the deal as "collective bargaining at its best." He and the owners' chief negotiator, Rob Manfred, worked quietly for more than a year to put the deal in place, with owners giving ground on Selig's desire for a hard slotting system and players recognizing the need to add teeth to rules banning HGH.

Weiner cited the respect between the sides.

"That's respect we earned by the leadership of this union over many years," he said. "Marvin, Don Fehr, Gene Orza … it took awhile for owners to realize this union was here to stay."

Some highlights of the agreement:

There will be blood testing for HGH. Because the substance is not reliably detectable through urinalysis, it has been impossible to know whether players were using it to gain stamina for workouts and games. Players will have blood drawn randomly in spring training and will be subject to random testing in future off-seasons, with discussions continuing about adding in-season testing. A positive test would mandate a 50-game suspension.

"Players have no tolerance for the use of performance-enhancing drugs," Weiner said. "We want to have the best program we can have.… This addition, I don't want to diminish its significance, it's part, but it's consistent with the principles we've had for a number of years."

Selig, who was lambasted for having his head in the sand during baseball's steroid era, was beaming. He had to fight for every inch of ground on all testing issues when the union was led by Fehr and Orza, but not anymore.

"This is the strongest program today in American sports," he said.

As expected, there will be realignment into three five-team divisions in each league — with the Houston Astros going to the AL West in 2013 — and an additional wild-card playoff team in each league. The wild cards will play a one-game playoff, guaranteeing two elimination games to start the playoffs. There are still details to be worked out for that to happen in 2012 but Selig continues to push for that.

There will be limits on how much money a team can spend in the amateur draft and for international signings, with a tax system and a loss of future picks for teams that spend beyond the limit.

This was a compromise that emerged from the union's stonewalling of the so-called "hard slotting" system Selig wanted at the start of bargaining. The idea is to minimize the advantage of teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but there is some concern about penalizing low-revenue teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays who have chosen to use their farm system to compensate for lower major league payrolls.

Instant replay will be expanded to include calls on fair or foul and "trapped" catches.

Rosters will expand to 26 for all doubleheaders.

The obscure Elias rankings for draft-choice compensation will be eliminated, as will draft-choice compensation for all but the top players. A team would have to enter a qualifying offer in excess of $12 million to be compensated for the loss of a free agent.

There will be a slight increase — from the top 17% to top 22% — of players with two-plus years' experience eligible for arbitration.

Also, players will be required to participate in the All-Star game if selected unless they are injured or receive an exception from the commissioner.

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