Baseball lucked out in Jose Bautista. As the first player of the poststeroid era to undergo a wow transformation, Bautista has been plain-spoken and comfortable whenever someone has decided his spike in power numbers requires explanation.
Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, emerged from the Toronto Blue Jays’ clubhouse Sunday morning dressed in frayed blue jeans, a faded purple polo shirt and canvas Chuck Taylor sneakers. When he said that despite Bautista’s off-season contention that he’d been drug-tested 16 times in the last two years and despite the leaking of confidential information about Ryan Braun’s failed drug test, player support remained strong for not just drug testing but blood-testing for human growth hormone, Bautista seemed surprised that anybody would, well, be surprised,
“Why wouldn’t players support it?” Bautista asked before hitting his third homer of the spring in a 10-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. “The integrity of the game is just as important to players as anybody involved. I have never heard anything come out of the mouths of any player about being opposed to testing.”
Weiner reiterated Sunday that the players’ association investigated Bautista’s claims made during a state dinner in the Dominican Republic that he’d been tested 16 times in two years and that the association did not believe Bautista was targeted, even though wording in the collective agreement suggests a player could be tested only a maximum of 12 times.
“Jose’s accomplishments are so phenomenal that it is unfortunate there are some people who still raise questions about it,” Weiner said. “I’ve known Jose from the beginning of his career and he’s the same guy that he was, diligent, deep-thinking and a hard-working guy. His success is because of who he is.”
Truth is, you can’t find anybody in the commissioner’s office or with the players’ association who will say on the record that they believe Bautista was tested 16 times. Yet Bautista has held to the story, stressing that at no point did he complain.
“I’m part of the [drug-testing]program,” Bautista said Sunday, “and if I’m asked to take part every single time, I’ll take part in it.”
He said he “really doesn’t care” if his claim is greeted with skepticism.
Of course, Bautista’s story serves the narrative both sides like to run out about drug-testing. It makes Bautista something of a sympathetic figure, while the skepticism expressed in some quarters is tempered by the fact that the chief threat in any drug-testing program is the fear created by randomness.
Weiner said Bautista’s comments have not been a matter of direct discussion during his spring-training tour of clubhouses, beyond players asking for assurance that randomness is the central tenet of the plan. “There were sometimes where players asked ‘How come I got tested X number of times while other guys were tested only three times?’ The way our program works for deterrent purposes is that no player can be confident he’s not going to be tested again,” Weiner said.
The leaking of Braun’s test results came on the heels of a new collective agreement that beginning this winter will provide for off-season as well as in-season blood-testing for human growth hormone (HGH,) so in some quarters a backlash was anticipated. That has not happen. The players held fire when the commissioner’s office issued a blistering public statement following the overturning of Braun’s suspension. The fact that both sides know the leak didn’t come from either of them likely made the response easier to digest. “This was a strange situation,” Weiner said, “in that players didn’t have all the information and, quite frankly, they can’t have all the [information]”
Weiner’s predecessor, Donald Fehr, is now running the National Hockey League Players’ Association and Weiner himself has done salary arbitration consulting when Bob Goodenow ran the union. So he can be expected to follow the lead-up to and negotiations on a new NHL collective agreement, and Weiner cautioned against reading too much into the current silence of the NHLPA.
“The last two rounds of [baseball]collective bargaining where Don was executive director, 2002 and 2006, were done with very little public comment,” Weiner said. “Don understands it’s a lot harder to do a deal if you’re negotiating publicly.”
Fehr’s strength, Weiner said, is the ability to generate consensus. Weiner seems cut from the same cloth.