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Marvin Miller doesn’t know why the players agreed to HGH testing

Nov 20, 2011, 2:20 PM EDT

Marvin Miller

I liked to Shaughnessy earlier, so why not link to Murray Chass?

He spoke with former union head Marvin Miller — they’re bffs, you know — about the MLBPA agreeing to submit to HGH blood testing in the new collective bargaining agreement. Miller is perplexed by the union agreeing to this and to earlier concessions regarding drug testing:

 “I don’t understand the rationale of this. I don’t understand the rationale of a lot of things. It’s an unproven test. We don’t know the basis for this. I haven’t heard any rationale for this and there is no rationale for it … I understand Selig wanting it, but I don’t understand why the union would agree to it … It’s not a step forward … They didn’t get anything when they agreed to reopen testing when there was no reopening in the agreement to test. I can’t imagine anything appreciable to make you think twice about saying yes.”

Setting aside that Marvin Miller is 94-years-old and may not completely have his finger on the pulse of what’s going down in labor relations at the moment, he has a narrow technical point regarding negotiation tactics. You don’t, traditionally, give something up in this way. And he’s right that the HGH test is kind of a joke.

But Miller’s position is also some pretty old thinking when it comes to baseball labor relations.  What the union finally figured out — too late, but did figure out — was that there was a serious downside to the public thinking that everyone was on ‘roids. And that that perception was going to eventually translate to lower confidence in the game and ultimately lower revenues.

So, like Miller, you could just view this through the lens of owner-player politics.  Or you could see the longer game in which the players giving in on drug testing was actually in their own financial interests. And that’s before you talk about how, you know, getting on board with drug testing was the right thing to do anyway.

I agree with Miller that the HGH test thing is kind of silly — I’ve spoken about why before — but I don’t think you can give the union much hell for agreeing to go down this road, even if they’re doing it for reasons other than “HGH is bad, mmmkay?”

  1. tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    Knowing Marvin Miller as I do, these comments are not surprising. Even after the congressional hearings Miller said he’d never agree to any kind of steroid testing without due legal cause being shown for each individual player. He may be 94, but that’s been his consistent stance since he took over the MLBPA in the 1960’s.

    It’s possible that at his age Miller may not have a finger on the public’s pulse, but Miller never cared what the fans thought. One might take umbrage to that, but his view was shaped by two things: for one, he worked for the players, not the fans.

    Secondly- and be honest here- the fans never, ever, sided with the players no matter what, even when some owners were making over a million dollars a year and they average player’s salary was $27,000.

    • simon94022 - Nov 20, 2011 at 9:36 PM

      Keep in mind that when the average player’s salary was $27,000 — actually, $29,303 in 1971, for example – the average American worker was bringing home an annual income of $6,900.

      I am not defending the old reserve system or suggesting that the owners were the good guys back in those days. But Marvin Miller and his legion of journalist allies back in the 1960s and 1970s were able to spin the players’ situation as though it were a small step above involuntary servitude.

      The fact is that major league baseball players have always been paid very well compared to the public at large. That was true in 1966 and it was true in 1906. The difference is that before free agency ballplayers earned incomes comparable to successful lawyers and surgeons rather than Hollywood or music celebrities.

      Again, this is not to suggest that they weren’t entitled to push the owners for a bigger piece of the pie — more power to them! But I think it explains why the public has never shed any tears for the poor players in their struggles against the greedy owners. It has always been a battle of the comfortably rich against the super rich. Marvin Miller wanted us to believe that his clients were like Pullman workers in the 1890s, and the public never bought it.

      • Reflex - Nov 20, 2011 at 10:46 PM

        Given the average length of a ballplayer’s career, and the fact that the vast majority made less than average as the average was pushed up by the superstars considerably, and the fact that the years when a player is viable in their career also happen to be the years when doctors, lawyers and other skilled professionals are going to school, building their profession, etc leaving out of work ballplayers in their 30’s with few prospects, I do not see the compensation as worthwhile pre-union. If you were offered the ability to make 4 to 5 times the average salary in your 20’s, but told that after that you’d be starting from scratch career wise, and you took that deal, you’d be an idiot, honestly.

        Yes the money looks big. But when you look at the bigger picture I think a case can be made that its not large enough. Even now the salaries are only maybe twice what they were prior to unionization as compared to average. Whether or not thats enough for a ‘typical’ player to make it through thier life reasonably comfortably, especially given the long term physical toll thier activity causes, I’m not certain.

      • bigharold - Nov 21, 2011 at 5:18 AM

        “Yes the money looks big. But when you look at the bigger picture I think a case can be made that its not large enough. Even now the salaries are only maybe twice what they were prior to unionization as compared to average. …”

        Not large enough? Really, by what standard?

        First, it would appear that your math is a little fuzzy. If one assumes that the average play’s $27K is roughly 4 times the average $6.9K salary for 1971 it doesn’t add up. As of 2010 the average MLB player’s salary was just about $3.3 mil while the average US workers salary was about $41.600 which means instead of the average player making 4 times what the average work makes he now makes 79 times what the average worker makes. Or, look at it this way; the worst player on the worst team in baseball has a minimum salary of about $420K while my daughter who just received her masters gets about 40K a year to teach kids how to read and right. And, ironically enough in the end, for the most part, it’s the average worker that is playing these insane salaries buy purchasing ticket, parking concessions, MLB gear and paying cable subscriptions.

        I’m all for players getting whatever the market will bare in terms of salary because as was pointed out the earning window is open for a relatively brief time frame and I’d rather the players get their share then owners just getting richer. But, they were doing pretty good before free agency and now they are doing exceptionally well. I don’t think they need any additional leverage.

        ” Whether or not thats enough for a ‘typical’ player to make it through thier life reasonably comfortably, ..

        Where is it written that if a guy plays MLB for a few years or even into his 30s he should “… make it through thier life reasonably comfortably, ..”?

        But, to Miller’s point about the union accepting HGH testing, .. he’s lost touch with reality. The union ONLY agreed to testing for PEDs because they were afraid, and rightfully so, that if they didn’t the US government would step in and impose more stringent testing, .. like those that Olympic athletes face. Not to mention that a rational comprehensive PED testing program not only protects the player from themselves, so they don’t take chances with drugs that may well provide short term gain at the expense of long term health issues. It also protects the players that want to play the game clean against those that will do anything to gain an edge.

        The next time Miller thinks about saying something so stupid he should consider the players that didn’t break the rules and wonder just how many players never got to the big leagues, .. or had their career shortened, .. or never achieved their real potential because they were competing against guys that had less scruples than they did.

    • purnellmeagrejr - Nov 21, 2011 at 8:23 AM

      Craig captures the essence of why Miller is off base on this one – he’s stuck in the old owner/player paradigm.

      • Old Gator - Nov 21, 2011 at 10:33 AM

        I think Miller should only worry when they start testing for Aricept.

  2. tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    Also wanted to point out that there was no real pressure from the public over the government for HGH testing.

    • hermitfool - Nov 20, 2011 at 3:10 PM

      Since he wasn’t privy to details of the negotiations Marvin Miller might have wisely chosen to keep his mouth shut. He didn’t. He’s 94 years old and can say whatever he wants. The rest of us can wisely choose not to pay attention to him.

      • tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 3:26 PM

        Ah, the internet: where the most bombastic and ill-informed are obsessed with other people “keeping their mouths shut” and “minding their own business”.

        All Miller said was that he didn’t understand why the players agreed to the testing. One not need to have knowledge of what went on to make such a statement.

      • woodenulykteneau - Nov 20, 2011 at 3:31 PM

        Suffice it to say that Marvin Miller has forgotten more than you know about this subject, and most likely, any other.

  3. obpedmypants - Nov 20, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    I think this is one of the steps that unions around the country should follow. The MLBPA is taking steps to enrich their organization for long-term viability of the sport. This is a very low-cost way of getting good PR and restoring faith in MLB.

    Miller is cut from the old-school union thug cloth, where the union pays zero attention to the notion that there is a fine balance to achieve by giving their employer room to succeed while not being exploited themselves. That same approach has ruined the American auto industry, Federal and State governments, and is a model that needs to be revised if not gutted until the economy is booming enough to warrant bringing it back.

    • tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 3:36 PM

      This is a tremendous piece of anti-union propaganda until the facts get in the way.

      Baseball was on it’s rear end when Miller took over the union in 1966. The average franchise is now valued at over 85 times what it was in 1966. Too bad the MLPBA didn’t give the owners “room to succeed” (written while rolling my eyes).

      Hold on…am I crediting Marvin Miller for dragging the owners and industry kicking and screaming into an era of prosperity that was once unthinkable? Miller and the MLBPA certainly had a large hand in it. The changes ushered in by the union made for a more competitive game, where teams could improve and create excitement by adding new players to their teams. Instead of standing pat, the owners looked for new ways to increase revenue. It was as if Miller and the MLBPA had awakened a sleeping giant.

      • pbannard - Nov 20, 2011 at 4:15 PM

        That’s not quite a counter to obpedmypants’ point. I think you’re absolutely right that Miller’s successes on behalf of the players, on the whole, were great (i.e. highly profitable) for the game and by extension the owners. However, I think you could argue that in the 60s and 70s you actually had the same situation as obpedmypants described, just with the owners trying to ignore that fine balance, ultimately to their own detriment. Miller may have ignored the “fine balance” as well, but it was far enough out of line in favor of the owners that it all worked out in the end.

        In this case, we have a much more balanced scenario overall. HGH testing, in particular, is a concession on the part of the players, but it is not a financial concession, nor will it affect a player’s freedom of movement. If we are considering solely the health and profitability of the game, it is difficult to see this as anything but positive or, at worst, neutral. In other words, as long as the body of players don’t have personal/moral objections to blood testing – and I’m sure they’re writing in very strict restrictions on how that blood testing is used – I think this is ultimately a wise move on their part.

        Perhaps the under-appreciated element of this – it obviously suggests the vast majority of players are clean; does the current generation of clean players have greater concern about maintaining a level playing field in the wake of the so-called “Steroids Era”?

      • obpedmypants - Nov 20, 2011 at 5:33 PM

        pbannard pretty much hit the points of my would-be retort. I would have also sprinkled in some ad-hom attacks against you. So in the interest of board civility, it’s probably a good thing that he got in the response first.

      • tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 6:25 PM

        If we are considering solely the health and profitability of the game

        The subject being discussed is Marvin Miller’s take on HGH testing.

        Being familiar with Miller, he’s heard the “do it for the good of the game” argument thousands of times, even when that either wasn’t the requestee’s true motive. Then there are the times where there isn’t any evidence that the proposed concessions were necessary or would truly help the health and profitability of the game.

        I mean, how do we know that HGH testing actually DOES greaten the health and profitability of the game?

        I’m not saying it does or it doesn’t, but given his history in the industry one can’t blame Marvin Miller for being skeptical. For example, Miller was told repeatedly that the abolition of the reserve clause would literally kill baseball.

      • bigharold - Nov 21, 2011 at 12:54 PM

        “The changes ushered in by the union made for a more competitive game, where teams could improve and create excitement by adding new players to their teams. Instead of standing pat, the owners looked for new ways to increase revenue.”

        What changes? The DH rule perhaps? Are you trying to say that free agency and the mobility of players is responsible for the increased value of MLB teams because that is a completely unsupportable statement. For every FA that is added to a team that creates excitement in one city there is another city that just lost a star player.

        The notion that the players union is a driving force behind team values defies logic. Teams have increased in value because of marketing and technology not because of free agency. All FA does is drive up labor cost which is passed along to the consumer. The idea that owners were willing to stand pat rather than look for new revenue steams and that only FA spurred them on completely ignore the fact that most owners are rich business men in the first place. I’m pretty sure they would have figured it out without free agency and they would have become even more wealthy. It complete ignores the technological changes brought about by cable TV and the ability to charge subscriptions.

        I’ve no issue with the MLPA union or unions in general. In this case they are necessary to counter the owners power and protects the players but, the MLPA completely missed the boat on PEDs because essentially they did not protect the players. Rather than advance a comprehensive testing program to protect the players from themselves so that they don’t risk long term health issues for short term success on the field they choose to dig in their heals. Rather than protect the players that wanted to play baseball without illegal PEDs against those that were willing to do anything to gain a competitive advantage they chose rhetoric and dogma. In both cases the players lost, … in the latter on group of players gained at the expense of the other.

        The unions sole function is to protect the players and with regard to PEDs they failed. They are lucky that their constituents are not subject to testing at the same level of testing that Olympic athletes face because that is exactly where it was heading. Miller’s comments reflect that he’s either still clinging to outdated ideas or that he’s to old and incapable of adjusting and thinking critically with the issues that face players today.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 21, 2011 at 3:38 PM

        All FA does is drive up labor cost which is passed along to the consumer.

        No, the costs are extracted from the consumer because the consumer is willing to part with them.

        The idea that owners were willing to stand pat rather than look for new revenue steams and that only FA spurred them on completely ignore the fact that most owners are rich business men in the first place.

        Wait, you understood this?

      • bigharold - Nov 21, 2011 at 5:27 PM

        “No, the costs are extracted from the consumer because the consumer is willing to part with them.”

        Semantics, if you’ve a point make it.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 21, 2011 at 7:21 PM

        No, not semantics at all. You said two things that directly contradicted each other. The first one was wrong, the second one was right. Given that they both can’t be right, I have no idea if you actually understand the economics of it or are just regurgitating talking points.

      • bigharold - Nov 21, 2011 at 11:39 PM

        I’m still waiting for you to make your point. Feel free.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 22, 2011 at 12:11 AM

        My point is you’re an idiot who doesn’t understand that he said two directly contradictory things right after each other because you don’t have a damn clue as to what you’re talking about. Happy?

      • bigharold - Nov 22, 2011 at 10:49 AM

        Kev, if you ever get a coherent thought, .. let me know.

    • JBerardi - Nov 20, 2011 at 4:40 PM

      Yeah just look how wonderful everything is now that we’ve de-unionized everything. Wait, what?

      God forbid a working person in this country make too much money. The horrors.

      • obpedmypants - Nov 20, 2011 at 5:30 PM

        You seem like one of those people who can’t understand degrees of anything. To you, there’s just on and off, and looking at anything in between is just too complex to deal with.

      • tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 5:43 PM

        You seem like one of those people who can’t understand degrees of anything. To you, there’s just on and off, and looking at anything in between is just too complex to deal with.

        As opposed to your grunting “all union are bad” mantra?

      • obpedmypants - Nov 20, 2011 at 5:56 PM

        I guess to you say I said it, then it must be so. It’s not like we have a record of me saying nothing of the sort just a few posts above here.

  4. natstowngreg - Nov 20, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    Just wondering, does Miler actually know that the union gave up nothing? Or is he just assuming it, as he re-fights decades-old battles? I honot Marvin Miller for his accomplishments in getting players out of baseball’s medeival labor market. But his time has passed.

    All that said, if the HGH test doesn’t work, it puzzles me that the union would accept it, public opinion or Congress or anyone else.

    • tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 4:19 PM

      Just wondering, does Miler actually know that the union gave up nothing?

      Is it that terribly hard to imagine that Miller may still have a contact or two at the MLBPA?

    • paperlions - Nov 20, 2011 at 4:27 PM

      What they are giving up is a couple minutes of time and a few CCs of blood. Smart move by the MLBPA because 1) they have probably already told their players not to take the stuff, 2) provided them with the necessary literature to convince them it wouldn’t help anyway, and 3) know the test is pretty much useless unless the player is a colossal moron.

      • bigharold - Nov 21, 2011 at 5:25 AM

        “3) know the test is pretty much useless unless the player is a colossal moron.”

        We’re talking about MLB players here. They knew the test was coming in 03 and look what happened.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 21, 2011 at 11:40 AM

        Difference being their names weren’t attached to those tests.

      • bigharold - Nov 21, 2011 at 1:33 PM

        “…names weren’t attached to those tests.”

        Actually they were which is why the Feds went after them in their effort to convict Barry Bonds. That’s how many players were outed. The point is they shouldn’t have been attached. If anything the MLPA did a pretty poor job of protecting the privacy of their members.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 21, 2011 at 3:42 PM

        Oh, MLB effed up, for sure. Meant that the names weren’t supposed to be linked, and given that expectation, players probably weren’t as careful.

      • bigharold - Nov 21, 2011 at 5:20 PM

        “Oh, MLB effed up, for sure.”

        As did the union. The members were their responsibility and they should have insisted upon a process that protected their anonymity. Clearly they effed up before MLB got a chance to.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 21, 2011 at 7:23 PM

        Alright, I’m really out of it on this particular sub-thread. Meant to say MLBPA effed up on it. Gene Orza holding off on destroying the results because he wanted to throw out enough positives was pretty bad, although not nearly as bad as the federal government pissing all over the Fourth Amendment.

  5. ricofoy - Nov 20, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    The clean players, who I presume to be in the vast majority, have nothing to worry about regarding this test. Why wouldn’t they want to flush the cheaters out?

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Nov 20, 2011 at 5:57 PM

      My thoughts exactly. It seems like the union has to choose between protecting the interests of either the clean players or the cheaters, since the interests of those two groups are in direct conflict. I would think that it is an easy choice, though the union has been plenty wrong before.

    • tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 6:03 PM

      The clean players, who I presume to be in the vast majority, have nothing to worry about regarding this test. Why wouldn’t they want to flush the cheaters out?

      A blood test can be used for more than just it’s stated purpose of determining if a player is using HGH.

      It’s a bit like allowing the police to search your house any time they want. Even if they don’t find anything illegal, it’s still invasive.

      • Reflex - Nov 20, 2011 at 6:41 PM

        Thank you for your posts in this thread, I’ve found them to be insightful.

      • obpedmypants - Nov 20, 2011 at 7:02 PM

        So, you don’t feel like any drug testing should ever be allowed? All tests are invasive an vulnerable to abuse.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 20, 2011 at 7:35 PM

        Current testing isn’t nearly as invasive as blood testing. I’d have no problems peeing in a cup, but major problems giving blood multiple times a year. Also, this test is particularly vulnerable to abuse, given its inaccuracy.

      • obpedmypants - Nov 20, 2011 at 7:53 PM

        >> Also, this test is particularly vulnerable to abuse, given its inaccuracy.

        Maybe we have different notions of abuse, but inaccuracy would lead to unintended unjust results (e.g. false positives), IMO. Whereas abuse would take the form of something like using the blood to test a player for something other than HGH, like AIDS or ALS or something.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 20, 2011 at 11:03 PM

        Yes, fair point.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Nov 21, 2011 at 9:56 AM

        I feel rather conflicted about this, but I can’t help but think a person making millions of dollars for elite physical skills and conditioning should expect his entire health record to be on the table. These guys take physicals, MRI, CAT, urine tests, etc to verify their health already, so the ‘invasion of privacy’ ship seems to have sailed long ago.

        MLB and the owners (not to mention the DoJ) need to do a MUCH better job fulfilling the confidentiality obligations inherent in such knowledge, but I would not blame them for wanting the whole picture on a player’s health before handing out a nine-figure contract.

        It is not quite the same as a police search. We are talking about employers asking for information from voluntary employees relative to job performance. If Pujols has ALS, I think his team should know before handing out 10 years and $300MM in a guaranteed contract.

  6. tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    So, you don’t feel like any drug testing should ever be allowed? All tests are invasive an vulnerable to abuse.

    Baseball needed steroid testing.

    HGH testing is far more invasive since it means giving blood samples.

    Back to Marvin Miller- whether people realize it or not he was always about principles, and one of those principles was that it wasn’t the responsibility of the players to prove that they weren’t using steroids or any other drug without showing probable cause.

    That’s going to be an unpopular thing to say

  7. tommyf15 - Nov 20, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    So, you don’t feel like any drug testing should ever be allowed? All tests are invasive an vulnerable to abuse.

    Baseball needed steroid testing.

    HGH testing is far more invasive since it means giving blood samples.

    Back to Marvin Miller- whether people realize it or not he was always about principles, and one of those principles was that it wasn’t the responsibility of the players to prove that they weren’t using steroids or any other drug without showing probable cause.

    That’s may be an unpopular stance, but it was Miller’s. From a pragmatic standpoint the MLBPA needed to do steroid testing, but if it were up to Miller the players would have never caved to the pressure, even from Congress. He’s that dead-set against self-incrimination.

  8. cowhawkfan - Nov 21, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    Craig,

    Please explain how HGH testing is a “joke”? Hasn’t the vast majority of the scientific community signed off on it? The Olympics use the test and minor league baseball has used the test. Have there been any major problems or issues with those test that perhaps have been unreported?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 21, 2011 at 12:09 PM

      The test has been in use for years by the bodies you mention — and others, many in European professional sports — and has returned something like 2-3 positive tests. And each of those positive tests came in conjunction with probable cause (i.e. someone tipped off the authorities who then went directly to test the athlete in question.

      Which either means that (a) it gives off lots of false negatives; or (b) it’s easy to circumvent. Or both. Fact is, HGH remains in the blood for very short periods. Random testing is really unlikely to be useful.

      And that’s before you look into the data about what HGH actually does for athletic performance. Which, in and of itself, is very, very little if anything at all.

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