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MLB Arbitration: A Brief History

Saturday, August, 24, 2013

The coverage of New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez has generated a lot of press regarding arbitration proceedings.  When it comes to claims of illegal drug use, however, arbitrators do have a history of reversing Major League Baseball commissioner decisions.  This could be good news for A-Rod.


It seems that the authority of the Commission of Major League Baseball is overstated, although some fans have referred to that role as “the Czar”.  Most news coverage surrounding the issues with A-Road have focused on a clause in the Basic Agreement between owners and players that lends the commissioner the power to “act in the best interests of baseball”.  Some fans expected that with a clause like this, Allan Selig would have taken the opportunity to ban Alex Rodriguez entirely after he was discovered to have used performance-enhancing drugs.


There are loopholes, however.  Restrictions make it difficult for the commissioner to act entirely under the previously mentioned statement.  A great example is Selig’s 22 game suspension handed down to Rodriguez, which can only be enforced if the player is guilty of a third positive test for banned substances.  If the commissioner’s decision is indeed appealed, an arbitrator will step in to review the case and determine whether Rodriguez will play or sit out the 211 games.


For the most part, Rodriguez seems to have history on his side.  When cases go to arbitration with regard to drug use in baseball, no arbitrator has actually upheld a suspension.  Of course, each case is unique, and the case will be determined by veteran arbitrator, but if Rodriguez’s case is headed down the path of others before him, it’s in his best interest to go to arbitration.  The clues and context of past arbitration decisions have been important for getting some idea of what a new case might look like as it unfolds.