MLBPA Snafu

Something ain’t right.

Last week the Rayburn building in Washington, D.C. again put the national pastime under the klieg lights. We heard from Brian MacNamee, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte’s deposition, etc. There is something in all of this that bears further investigation: Senator George Mitchell’s letters to the players.

We gather from both Pettitte’s and Clemens’ testimony that the chain of communication was as follows: Mitchell had to send any requests through the Major League Baseball Players Association. From there, the union would forward them to the players’ representatives (read: agents) who in turn would notify the players in question that Mitchell wished to talk.

In both pitchers’ cases, they did not receive any correspondence from Mitchell. Andy Pettitte was aware of only one letter, of which he spoke with his agent (the Hendricks brothers). Clemens was unaware any contact had been attempted by Mitchell’s committee. Of note, he uses the same firm as Pettitte.

It appears that the players were unclear of what the procedure was to be; before Mitchell had begun in earnest it appears that the players, through the MLBPA, had agreed as a body not to talk to Mitchell. This appears to be the gist of what Clemens said to “60 Minutes” when he said, “I listened to my counsel. I was advised not to. A lot of the players did not go down and talk to him as well.”

However, when Mitchell uncovered evidence, he reached out to the players to give them an opportunity to respond.

Clemens stated, “I had no idea that Senator Mitchell wanted to talk to me. If it was about baseball and steroids in general, I would have wanted to see him. And obviously, if I knew what Brian McNamee was saying about me in this report, I would have been there.”

Now we get back to Pettitte who, like Clemens, did not know he had been named in the report until a few days prior to its release. Here is part of Pettitte’s deposition:

Q: It was just between yourself and the Hendricks brothers? That was the universe of folks you were communicating about with that?

Pettitte: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: Did you get a sense it was the Mitchell Report that he was calling about?

Pettitte: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Q: Did you ever get any letters from Senator Mitchell inviting you to come down and talk with his staff?

Pettitte: No, I did not. My agent, Randy Hendricks, got one.

Q: One letter?

Pettitte: I believe one. That’s all I know of was one.

Q: When did that come in, do you know?

Pettitte: I think Randy called me about August, maybe, and told me that they were wanting to speak with me.

Q: Did you see the letter?

Pettitte: No.

Q: Did you have any discussions about whether it would make sense to go down and talk to the Mitchell folks or was it pretty much preordained that you weren’t going to—

Pettitte: Yeah.

Q: —get in the mix there?

Pettitte: Pretty much. I think we, you know, for a second talked about it, and I asked him a question, and I just said—I remember him saying that, you know, there’s no active players that are talking. So I mean, to me, you know, that was kind of the end of it, and then I wasn’t going to talk either.

It appears that Pettitte, like Clemens, wasn’t informed about the nature of Mitchell’s communiqué. The Mitchell committee was giving players a chance to respond to certain allegations, yet it appears that the players were oblivious to the nature of Mitchell’s correspondence. The two pitchers appear to be under the impression that Mitchell had contacted them simply to get information rather than to present an opportunity to refute allegations made against them.

This means one of two things: 1) Mitchell was unclear in his messages as to why he wished to meet with the players or 2) the MLBPA and player agents simply didn’t pass along why Mitchell was requesting to speak with them. Both Pettitte and Clemens seemed to have the impression that Mitchell merely wanted to interview them rather than afford them an opportunity to discuss allegations. That being the case, they were continuing the unofficial union policy regarding the investigation (nobody talk to Mitchell). To quote Clemens: “I listened to my counsel. I was advised not to. A lot of the players did not go down and talk to him as well.”

Both men thought they were simply declining an information-gathering interview as opposed to an opportunity to respond to accusations.

If Mitchell had been clear as to the reasons for wishing to meet with the two, then either the MLBPA or the agents in question, withheld that information from Clemens and Pettitte.

If you look at Pettitte’s deposition, he stated, “I think we, you know, for a second talked about it, and I asked him a question, and I just said—I remember him saying that, you know, there’s no active players that are talking. So I mean, to me, you know, that was kind of the end of it, and then I wasn’t going to talk either.” Somehow, if Pettitte knew he was going to be named in the report the conversation would not have lasted for a second. Hendricks reminded Pettitte about the original understanding (again, don’t speak with Mitchell) without reporting the new development (being named).

Clemens stated “I was never told by my baseball agent or the Players Association that Mr. Mitchell requested to see me. Those letters or phone calls never came to me.” Pettitte was asked, “Did you ever get any letters from Senator Mitchell inviting you to come down and talk with his staff?” to which he replied, “My agent, Randy Hendricks, got one.”

Neither man was made aware that Mitchell had given them the opportunity to answer accusations made against them. The reason for this is that the Hendricks brothers or somebody in the MLBPA deliberately withheld that information from them or Mitchell never stated the reason for wishing to meet. However, the Mitchell Report is unambiguous. It states on page 175:

In order to provide Clemens with information about these allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me; he declined.

It states on page 176:

In order to provide Pettitte with information about these allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me; he declined.

However, Pettitte learned he was in it thusly: “McNamee called me, and I was actually on my way down to my ranch, and I just was getting out of Houston, and he had called me—he called me and said, hey, man, I need you to call me from a land line as soon as possible, and I mean—I was like, you know, you’re like what’s up. Something’s going on.”

Clemens recalls that “it was days before the Mitchell Report was released, which I have the Mitchell Report, if I have it right, was Dec. 13 is when it came out. So about—or right here, Dec. 9 I met with Rusty at Randy Hendricks’ house and found out about the allegations that were being made.”

It begs the following questions:

  • Who made the decision to withhold the information from the pitchers—the agents, the MLBPA’s executive board or Don Fehr and/or Gene Orza?

  • Who “declined” on behalf of Pettitte and Clemens to discuss the allegations?
  • Where did the information regarding the allegations stop—with the union or with the Hendricks?
  • Did the individual players decide in advance to not respond even if allegations were made or was this decided by someone else?
  • Whose agenda was being served with this approach?
  • Were the Hendricks Brothers an anomaly or did all agents not pass along Mitchell’s messages?

This deserves deeper scrutiny.

A final thought…

When reflecting on his time as executive director of the MLBPA, Marvin Miller observed the following about former Oakland A’s owner Charlie O. Finley and former Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley: “On most labor relations issues that affected baseball from the ’60s to the late ’70s, O’Malley could see the train coming and knew when to move, whereas Finley stood squarely on the tracks and tried to block it.”

In other words, O’Malley understood that society’s climate was changing and he had to adapt to it. Finley refused to change and the game left him behind. The same can be said about Don Fehr. The social climate is changing, there is a growing intolerance to having two sets of rules—one for the elite and one for everybody else. The use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletics—from high school through the big leagues—is frowned upon by society.

Fehr is doing what Finley did so unsuccessfully in his time—standing on the tracks and trying to block the train. His libertarian ideological mindset welded from his experiences in the 1960s do not fit into the new millennium. His stubborn adherence to it has cost his constituents time and again. It has splintered the MLBPA and the players are being pushed backward by management.

The labor climate in the game was improved for the better in part by the removal of Finley and those like him. If the players hope to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes time to negotiate future collective bargaining agreements they have to cut their ties to the past and prepare for that future. It’s becoming painfully obvious that Fehr’s antiquated approach is damaging the players. Once again, his obstructionist mindset and inability to feel the winds of change has cost the very ones he is supposed to represent.

He has given good service to the players once upon a time, but the MLBPA needs to regroup or it will suffer the same fate as all the other player unions in professional sports.

A friendly reminder…

The Pujols Awards will be running Fridays and I need nominations. Unless you want to read more whining from yours truly let us know! who deserves to be honored this week. If you wish to have your blog credited with the submission, I’ll post the link along with your candidate. Let me know why you feel he deserves an Albert or a Luis.

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