Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Buster Olney Thinks Players Union Should Ignore Players, Listen To Buster Olney

Illustration for article titled Buster Olney Thinks Players Union Should Ignore Players, Listen To Buster Olney

By now you know that Marlins second baseman and reigning NL batting champ Dee Gordon has been suspended 80 games for testing positive for PEDs. This will cost him roughly half his 2016 salary, or around $1.65 million; it will not cost him the other half of his 2016 salary, or the remainder of the five-year, $50 million extension he signed back in January. ESPN’s Buster Olney seems to think it should, and that the union representing Gordon’s interests as a player should see to it. What’s he on?


Here are some paragraphs:

The Marlins have no idea if Gordon’s PED use contributed to his success in 2014, before they traded their best pitching prospect, Andrew Heaney, to get him. They have no idea if PEDs were the backbone of his batting title last year. They have no idea what kind of player he will be for the duration of his contract.

They know only that they have to continue paying him, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and the Joint Drug Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association.

The true evil of PEDs, you see, is that they might in certain circumstances disrupt the otherwise flawless plans and assumptions of MLB general managers (who, by the way, apparently never benefit from players using PEDs). Truly, clostebol is the tinfoil hat of pharmaceutical pseudo-hormones.

The union embraced drug testing and has taken it further than any other sports league. But for philosophical reasons, it has not seriously entertained the idea —to date—of allowing teams to void multi-year deals, like Gordon’s, following a PED bust.

Philosophical Reasons Why MLBPA Has Not Entertained The Idea—To Date—Of Allowing Teams To Void Multi-Year Deals, Like Gordon’s, Following A PED Bust:

1) Because it does not aspire to be a useless trash union
2) Are you out of your goddamn mind
3) Uh, Schopenhauer’s Cat, or whatever?

The practical reality is that until the Players Association does this, the incentive to cheat will far outweigh the risks involved in being caught. Whatever the intent, whatever the justification, PED crime in baseball pays well.


Hey, remember three paragraphs ago, when Buster Olney was laying the groundwork for saying Dee Gordon’s contract should be voided by arguing that the Marlins entered into it without knowing how his performance might have been influenced by PED use? That was fun. I wonder what changed between then and now, for Buster Olney to feel comfortable implying, on the basis of a single failed test, that Dee Gordon got paid because of performance improvements he owes to steroids.

As to the question of whether Dee Gordon’s use of banned PEDs goes back farther than the window of time that would have produced this single failed test, pfft. Who cares. It probably does! Personally, I assume pretty much everybody in baseball (and other sports, for that matter) is using either banned shit or not-yet-banned shit not meaningfully different from the banned shit. I don’t care. Mostly, people don’t care about this shit, except when management and its stooges prod them to.


Here is the thing. Olney, whether by cynical choice or clumsiness, is producing exactly the actual intended product of MLB’s drug policing and broader sanctity-of-the-game crusading: a cloud of suspicion and disrepute. Over a specific player, sure, but much more importantly over the players as a group, and over the union that represents them. A single drug test result turns into an insinuation that Dee Gordon has defrauded the naïve ballclub that signed him under a presumption of good faith, with the MLBPA acting as his accomplice. The union’s core function—protecting the players’ earnings against a management looking for any excuse to curb them—becomes an indulgent “philosophical” frippery abetting theft.


The linchpin of this horseshit is an ahistorical fiction, advanced by Olney himself ...


... that the union agreed to MLB’s current drug policy because its own members broadly wanted protection from pressure to cheat. (Never mind that this is tautological nonsense: it’s only cheating because certain substances have been made arbitrarily illegal in the first place.) This framing has the MLBPA defanging the PEDs disciplinary regime against the wishes of both ownership and a body of principled players evidently large enough to have forced the drug-testing apparatus into place through sheer numbers in the first place. Why would it do that? Who knows? Because it’s bad, I guess.

But the real fun is watching Olney take this bullshit apart on his own. As he sees it, MLBPA has two tools at its disposal for fighting the proliferation of PEDs in the game, and is using neither. The first is the aforementioned idea of voiding the contracts of PED users. The second?

Peer pressure. There’s something incredible and counterintuitive about how PED users cheat their brethren of major-league service time and money and are warmly treated in clubhouses.


Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Who can imagine a reason why PED users aren’t socially ostracized by their peers? Perhaps their peers don’t feel as cheated “of major-league service time and money” by PED users as Buster Olney would like you to believe they do. Perhaps they feel that the organization that exists to protect their interests has done so, in working with management to create a drug use policy that provides for tough punishment for those who fail tests. Perhaps they just don’t give a shit.

Buster Olney doesn’t have to care about what players actually think, though. He’s free to treat what he feels they should think as what they actually do think. That’s one of the many differences between him and the union.