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MLB drug suspension appeals could extend beyond season

Ryan Braun of Milwaukee has been interviewed by MLB investigators.
(Rick Wood / MCT)

NEW YORK -- Although Major League Baseball could issue mass suspensions within weeks, players choosing to challenge a suspension would be unlikely to miss any games this season.

Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., said Tuesday he does not know how many players might be affected but that no suspensions are imminent. The suspensions would not be subject to the usual protocol: 50 games for first offenders.

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“It’s going to take some time -- I don’t know about months -- for the commissioner’s office to finish its investigation,” Weiner told the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.

Weiner said he hopes to engage the commissioner’s office in discussions “within the next month” and that appeal hearings for suspended players could start “as soon as September.”

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More than a dozen players could be affected, and players already interviewed by MLB investigators include Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees.

Under baseball’s drug policy, players testing positive for performance-enhancing substances are subject to specified penalties -- 50 games for the first offense, 100 games for the second, a lifetime ban for the third.

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However, according to union officials, players suspended on a basis other than a positive test are not subject to those penalties and can be punished for any length of time at the discretion of the commissioner. That could leave room for the union and the commissioner’s office to negotiate the length of a suspension.

The evidence in the cases now in question is expected to consist of interviews and documents related to Biogenesis, a since-closed Florida clinic whose director allegedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to players.

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The discussions between the union and the commissioner’s office could involve whether suspensions should be announced before appeals can be heard, the proper length for those suspensions, how to conduct an unprecedented number of hearings most efficiently, and negotiations on suspension deals that could preempt hearings for affected players.

Weiner indicated that not all players subject to potential suspension have met with MLB investigators.

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“When all the interviews are done,” he said, “we will meet with the commissioner’s office and try and work something out.”

News reports about the Biogenesis investigation could lead the commissioner’s office to invoke a clause that allows suspension announcements before appeal hearings, on the basis the player’s involvement is so widely known as to render confidentiality concerns moot. Weiner said the union believes that no announcements should be made unless a player agrees to a suspension or loses an appeal.

David Prouty, general counsel of the players association, said hearings are mandated within 10 days of a suspension, with a ruling from an arbitrator within an additional 25 days. In this case, the possibility of multiple hearings -- each of which could last multiple days -- before baseball’s lone arbitrator makes it likely that any player choosing to challenge a suspension would not miss any games this season.

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“If we can’t reach a deal, yes,” Weiner said.

Commissioner Bud Selig, meeting with the Baseball Writers Assn. before Weiner, declined to discuss the Biogenesis investigation in any detail but denied it had been spurred in any way by “some kind of retribution or something to do with my legacy.”

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He added: “The only thing I can say about the investigation is it’s thorough, it’s comprehensive and it’s aggressive. I’m proud of it.”

Selig formed an investigative unit in the wake of the Mitchell Report, issued in 2007 and commissioned after the sport took a beating in congressional hearings for its reluctance to adopt a stringent anti-drug policy.

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“We must be doing all right,” Selig said. “I haven’t heard from anybody in Washington in 8 1/2 years.”

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