Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said Thursday that he is ready to negotiate the details of a voluntary drug-testing plan with the players’ association, but a key union leader called Ueberroth’s plan “the damnedest flimflam you ever saw.”
Even as Ueberroth said that an “overwhelming consensus” of the 650 major league players “have expressed their clear belief that a drug-testing program is a viable solution to the problem,” Marvin Miller, the union official, expressed doubt that the players will be in favor of such testing once they have been fully briefed by the union.
Donald Fehr, the acting union leader, also challenged Ueberroth’s contention that the players support voluntary testing. He said that he had detected no such groundswell and that he believed many of the players who have been publicly quoted as supporting the idea were just “trying to get the press off their back.”
Miller said that contrary to Ueberroth’s assurance that the testing results would be held confidential and that players found to have used drugs would be helped rather than punished, the fact is that use of such drugs as cocaine is a felony. He said that federal drug enforcement authorities could subpoena the test results and prosecute the players.
“Even a false positive (finding) can result in an indictment,” said Miller, a longtime foe of drug testing. “Absolute confidentiality is a lie. No one can give such an assurance.”
Ueberroth is “therefore saying, ‘I’m lying to you,’ ” he added.
Ueberroth responded: “I’ve not spoken in a derogatory manner about anybody on the union side and I’m not going to do so. I’m fighting drugs, not players, and the program works. It stands on its own. . . . The program worked with exactness in the minor leagues. Testing is a deterrent, and I’m going to continue to advocate it, despite any criticism.”
The commissioner had said earlier Thursday in a prepared statement: “A drug-testing program will go a long way to re-establishing the public’s confidence in baseball and bring back a good, positive reputation to all the players. It will also give baseball a leadership role in the fight against drugs for a generation to come.”
Ueberroth said in the statement that he was asking Barry Rona, a lawyer for the clubowners’ Player Relations Committee, to begin drug-testing discussions with the union, the Major League Baseball Players Assn., “at the earliest possible date so that a program can be established by the start of the World Series on Oct. 19.”
Miller said: “He must be kidding.” He indicated that any negotiations on the issue are likely to be long and difficult.
Fehr, meanwhile, said that Ueberroth “can set all the deadlines he wants. I don’t recognize any deadline.”
Miller said he believes that “a very strong hysteria” has set in nationally on the drug issue, and he renewed union accusations that in going straight to the players for their opinion, Ueberroth had violated labor laws that prohibit individual bargaining in matters where collective bargaining is indicated.
Miller said that the union will file a complaint very shortly against Ueberroth with the National Labor Relations Board for attempting to bypass it. It was, Miller said, “a very sneaky way of going about” what Ueberroth was trying to do.
“We’re going to look at what’s being proposed,” Miller said. “But if ever the players agree to testing, it won’t be because they haven’t been informed of the facts in this matter.”
The facts are, he contended, that in addition to opening players to the possibility of criminal prosecution, the tests are not a deterrent to drug use and their reliability is not proven.
In any case, he said, Ueberroth’s suggestion of voluntary testing without notice three times a year is no way to end drug use. The only guarantee of that would be if there were mandatory tests before and after every game and 15 to 18 tests in the off-season, he said.
Miller said that despite drug testing since last spring in the minor leagues, testing for the last three years in professional football, and testing since 1983 of American Olympic aspirants by the U.S. Olympic Committee, no one has ever come forward with proof that such testing works to stem drug use. He challenged Ueberroth to do so.
“The union position is, don’t use public relations to solve the drug problem,” Miller said. He called Ueberroth’s proposal “a sideshow that will not solve the problem. . . . No scientist will tell you that voluntary testing will work.”
He accused the nation’s news media of joining Ueberroth in what he termed a calculated campaign to ramrod the testing idea past the players. But the union will be influenced neither by a campaign waged by “mesmerized media” nor the commissioner’s “PR campaign,” he said.
Neither will the union advance any alternate ideas of its own, Miller said, adding that the current system of stemming player drug use is working satisfactorily. That plan involves voluntary testing by those identified as having drug problems.
Miller made his statements after a series of player meetings requested by Ueberroth had found many of the players saying that they would favor voluntary drug testing if it was negotiated through the union.
In his statement issued Thursday afternoon, Ueberroth said that reports of player reaction indicated three things:
--"Baseball players want to clean up the image of baseball on an individual basis and refuse to be tarnished by the reputations of a few.”
--"They have expressed their clear belief that a drug-testing program is a viable solution to the problem and are willing to cooperate with all segments of baseball to accomplish a drug-free environment in the sport.”
--"Their response was equally overwhelming in their desire that the Major League Baseball Players Assn. represent them in making arrangements for the program.”
Ueberroth said he was very pleased with the response.
“It is clear the players will support a drug-testing program, and I completely understand their desire to work through the players’ association,” he said. “I welcome union participation in eliminating the drug cloud over baseball. It is unimportant to me who takes the lead in administering the program, whether it is this office, the union, or each club’s local employee assistance program.
“It doesn’t matter so long as strict confidentiality and the individual rights of the players are protected, as they have been in the successful implementation of the drug-testing program in the minor leagues.”
Fehr said that one thing he is sure of is that Ueberroth’s credibility has been damaged by the way he has gone about selling his testing proposal. He said that many of the players with whom he has talked resent the commissioner’s attempt to bypass the union and that his tactics “will make it all the more difficult” to reach an agreement.