Shyam Das is no longer the most powerful man in baseball. As the permanent, independent arbitrator on baseball's three-man panel that also includes reps from MLB and the players' union, Das has almost always been the swing vote in any matter reaching his desk. He's been in place since 1999, with the proviso that he could be unilaterally fired at any time by either side. Today MLB pulled the trigger.
The reclusive Das (there appears to be precisely
zero one! photo of him, although this article paints a second-hand picture of the man) rarely made headlines until deciding in favor of overturning Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension for failing a drug test. Braun argued, and Das agreed, that the sample was compromised by failing to adhere to MLB's collection and shipment guidelines. MLB vehemently disagreed.
Last September, Rockies catcher Eliezer Alfonzo became the first baseball player to fail a second drug test, incurring the mandatory 100-game suspension. The suspension was announced before an appeal, which is the standard procedure for second offenses, and the reverse of protocol for a first offense. Alfonzo apparently did not appeal until the beginning of this season, and he used the same chain-of-custody defense that was successful for Braun. It paid off for Alfonzo as well: the arbitration panel overturned his suspension late last week, and he is eligible to play immediately.
In response to Braun's appeal, MLB overhauled its sample collection procedures to adhere to Das's strict interpretation of the CBA language. Since Alfonzo's offense occurred last year, it was subject to the same interpretation, and also failed to meet those standards.
MLB will begin the search for a new arbitrator immediately. If management and the players cannot agree on a candidate, they will turn to this highly scientific process:
Baseball's collective bargaining agreement calls for them to ask the American Arbitration Association for a list of "prominent, professional arbitrators." The sides would then alternate striking names from the list until one remains.
Das will not be idle. He is an arbitrator for the NFL, and on Wednesday will hear a grievance in the Saints' bounty scandal.