Commish to invoke 'best interests' clause

Will commissioner Bud Selig stiff-arm baseball's collective bargaining agreement in order to implement a more aggressive testing plan for performance-enhancing drugs?

An industry source told the Houston Chronicle that Selig is contemplating such a move. Unless significant progress is made in negotiations between the owners and the Players Association, Selig may act within the next 10 days, the source said.

To do so, the Chronicle reports, Selig would use his far-reaching "best interests of the game" clause in an attempt to bypass the collective bargaining process and establish a testing plan similar to the one used in the minor leagues. That plan, the newspaper notes, would include a zero-tolerance policy in which one positive test will result in an immediate suspension of approximately two weeks. Additional positive tests would result in longer suspensions.

Selig would not discuss the Chronicle's report, but a source told the newspaper that the commissioner is "adamant about doing something."

"It's a health issue," the source told the Chronicle. "Our doctors have shown us that steroid use is linked to heart disease, sexual dysfunction and other problems. Players are going to start dying if we don't do something."

Meanwhile, Players Association executive director Don Fehr reportedly is receptive to having "constructive dialogue" with Major League Baseball on its desire to strengthen the steroid-testing plan.

Fehr by Friday is expected to reply to a letter sent by Major League Baseball last week regarding the matter, a lawyer with connections to the union told The Los Angeles Times.

However, that same lawyer told The Times that Selig essentially would be overstepping his bounds if he uses the "best interests" provision to push the matter. In the lawyer's estimation, the provision does not give Selig the authority to dismiss the labor agreement; rather, he only can challenge issues that are subject to the grievance procedure.

"[Pushing for a more aggressive testing plan] would certainly not fit that classification," the lawyer told The Times, "and it would certainly be challenged by the union. At any rate I would be surprised if he took a step that drastic before the union replies to the letter."

Several veteran players, including Braves relief pitcher John Smoltz and Rangers starter Kenny Rogers, recently have criticized what is thought by drug experts to be a weak testing policy. Hall of Famer and Yankees senior advisor Reggie Jackson and former Mets manager Bobby Valentine also have been outspoken in favor of more stringent testing.

But a union source told the Chronicle that players "want to give the current program time to work."

The union says it has advised players about the dangers of steroids but will not agree to more testing. The union believes further testing would violate the privacy of players.

Asked about their view of the possibility of Selig instituting a tougher testing program, union officials declined comment to the Chronicle. But one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the paper that Selig could not change a policy that was agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement of 2002.

"We didn't have any testing before last season," the official said. "We agreed to a testing plan. We haven't even given it a chance to work."

But Selig has had a team of attorneys investigating his chances of beating the grievance union leaders likely would file to prevent implementation of a new program.