The latest news to emerge in the ‘Biogenesis’ saga is that Major League Baseball (MLB) may seek to suspend Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez for violating the labor agreement rather than for violating the drug policy. The likely reason MLB is moving in this direction is, based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between MLB and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA), a player who is suspended under the drug policy may continue playing if the MLBPA files a grievance or appeal on his behalf. If a player is suspended for violating terms of the CBA, he must immediately sit out.
So what exactly does it mean for baseball to suspend Rodriguez under the CBA? What is a CBA? CBA’s are brought up very often in a sports context and usually are not explained in depth (for good reason) on major media platforms. I discussed the NBA’s CBA in a previous post, addressing how it is shaping the way teams operate, but I did not explain what a CBA is.
A Brief History of Labor Unions and Collective Bargaining
Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935 guaranteeing certain basic rights of private sector employees by allowing them to form unions, engage in collective bargaining with management and take collective action (i.e. strike) if necessary (in addition to establishing the National Labor Relations Board to oversee and enforce the NLRA). A CBA is any agreement between a union and management of an organization. In basketball, football, hockey and baseball, the unions are the players associations while ‘management’ is usually comprised of the owners (and the commissioner of the league whose primary constituents are the owners).
The Strength of the MLBPA
Baseball’s player union, the MLBPA, is arguably the strongest among major professional sports. The MLBPA formed in 1954 and baseball had it’s first CBA in 1968. Since then, the sport has had eight work stoppages since 1972 with the MLBPA winning virtually all of the disputes. This has led to the strength of the union as well as baseball players having some of the highest salaries in professional sports. It’s also the reason Alex Rodriguez has been able to sign two contracts worth over $200 million during his career.
The CBA Rule Rodriguez May Have Violated
In MLB’s CBA, Article XII B of the Basic Agreement, states:
“Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law.”
This clause is known as the “best interest of the game” clause that all major professional sports commissioners possess in some capacity. It gives a commissioner ultimate power to take action they feel is necessary to protect the best interest of the game. Although the use of the clause can be effective, most commissioners use it sparingly (although Selig has been creative in interpreting the language in the past). If suspended for violating that provision, Rodriguez will be forced to sit out immediately while an arbitrator rules on any grievance filed by the union on Rodriguez’s behalf. The only situation in which Rodriguez would be allowed to play is if the arbitrator grants a stay which is unlikely as it would overrule the CBA.
Rodriguez’s attorney, David Cornwell, who successfully appealed Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension in 2012, says no ‘plea deal’ for Rodriguez has been discussed with Major League Baseball. Braun recently reached a deal to sit out the remainder of this season for violating the drug policy in connection with the same clinic Rodriguez is being investigated for. MLB is likely pursuing a suspension of Rodriguez for violating the labor agreement to strengthen it’s leverage in negotiating a suspension with Rodriguez.
Although it’s unlikely MLB will seek a lifetime ban for Rodriguez, at 38 years old and plagued by injuries, any significant suspension is likely to severely shorten or end his major league career. MLB is expected to announce it’s bans for Rodriguez and other players involved in the Biogenesis scandal this week.