National Press Club

Model pact brings harmony to Major League Baseball, says players' union chief

April 11, 2012 | By Bill Miller | williammiller512@aol.com

Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, takes questions from a luncheon audience on April 11. National Press Club President Theresa Werner moderates.

Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, takes questions from a luncheon audience on April 11. National Press Club President Theresa Werner moderates.

Photo/Image: Al Teich

The historic labor agreement signed late last year by Major League Baseball and its union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, is a model for collective bargaining during a time of economic stress, MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner said at a National Press Club luncheon April 11.

The five-year pact -- a change of pace from the bargaining strife and work stoppages that dominated much of the last century -- guarantees uninterrupted play of the national pastime through the 2016 season.

“In times such as these,” Weiner said, “collecive bargaining may be difficult, adversarial and contentious. But as demonstrated in baseball -- of all places -- it is the surest path to mutually advantageous and enduring solutions.”

Besides ensuring five years of labor peace, the groundbreaking contract includes agreements “that would have been unimagined in the past,” Weiner said.

Significantly, it calls for baseball to become the first North American major sports league to start blood testing for human growth hormone.

It also includes measures to create more competitive balance between low-revenue, small-market teams and rich franchises. Both owners and the union, Weiner said, “think we’re now at a place where each team has an opportunity to win the World Series.”

The agreement also expands the playoffs to 10 teams; restricts the use of smokeless tobacco by players; and switches the Houston Astros from the National to American League to create three five-team divisions in each league.

Despite the productive results of the agreement, which was signed a month before the deadline, “nothing was pre-ordained this year,” Weiner said.

Citing the power struggles of the past, he said that “we were prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

Baseball owners “still want to pay players as little as possible for as long as possible,” he said. “What has changed is that owners have come to respect the bargaining power of players.”

He also attributed the bargaining success to the players being more directly engaged in negotiations. Some 238 active major league players – across a range of salaries - participated in bargaining sessions.

Weiner, who has headed the players' union since December 2009, responded to many audience questions:

Use of the designated hitter in the American League but not the National League, “is a compromise that will be here for a long time.”

Given the contentious bargaining history of baseball, it is doubtful that an agreement on blood testing could have been reached any sooner.

In his personal opinion, baseball’s all-time hit leader, Pete Rose, should be admitted to the Hall of Fame. He's banned from induction because he gambled on the game. Steroid users also should be admitted, Weiner said, but perhaps with an explanatory note on their plaques.

Following further negotiations between the owners and MLBPA and umpires, “we may well see” further expansion in the use of instant replay to review umpiring decisions.

Weiner also asserted that baseball quality is at its highest point because of improvements in injury treatment and conditioning and greater use of international players, among other factors.

"The best baseball players of all time are playing right now,” Weiner said.