Ueberroth's end run around the joint drug program clearly antagonized the Players Association, which is in the process of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the club owners. If the owners try to put mandatory drug-testing on the bargaining table, it could become a strike issue. At the least, says Fehr, Ueberroth's action "has the potential to disrupt negotiations." Ueberroth may be gambling that the union wouldn't dare strike over his testing plan and offend a public that feels that "something must be done" about drug use by athletes.
For their part, club executives, almost to a man, fell in line with the commissioner. "I think we need a testing mechanism," said John Schuerholz, general manager of the Royals, a team deeply affected in the past by player drug use. Some owners even joked about being tested. "They might find a little vodka in me, but that's about all," said Philadelphia president Bill Giles.
But Ueberroth's own house was divided. An employee of the Major League Baseball Promotion Corporation said, "Peter's seriously underestimating our intelligence if he thinks we're going to blindly follow along. Any thinking person would object to being tested." The promotion personnel were briefed by baseball's general counsel, Ed Durso, last Thursday, and the same employee said, "What really struck me was his total lack of preparation. One of us asked him what would happen if we refused to take the test, and he said, 'I don't know.' "
Ueberroth seemed to be shooting from the hip. He said he would announce more details on May 20, but did disclose that employees will submit samples "twice, maybe three times a year. It will be random testing." Test results, he said, would be kept in strictest confidence and would be used to help rather than punish those with drug problems. Which drugs are the targets? "Illegal drugs, obviously cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other types of substances," said Ueberroth. He was not sure about amphetamines and had no plans to test for anabolic steroids, arguing that "it is not an illegal substance." But athletes often obtain steroids on the black market and by not testing for them, Ueberroth seemingly contradicts his concern for the health of baseball people.
Ueberroth obviously has great confidence in his public relations instincts. His decision to preempt whatever news may come out of Pittsburgh by imposing blanket testing on all non-playing personnel was undeniably shrewd. For years critics have accused sports czars of hypocrisy: If they're so concerned about drug use, why don't they treat all their employees and not just athletes? With one deft stroke, Ueberroth has effectively defused that argument.
A growing number of American companies are administering mandatory drug tests on their employees, and this no doubt has helped embolden Ueberroth to do the same. "Some people think a urine test is dehumanizing," he said, addressing the questions of civil liberties. "But it's like the metal-detector test at airports."
But just because more and more testing of all kinds is going on doesn't mean it's necessarily right—or that it's always efficacious. Ueberroth treats the details of his testing plan as mere incidentals, to be filled in later, but those details will be critical in determining how fair and useful testing will be. Still, there's little question that such testing would be at least a partial deterrent to drug use.
Amid all the pomp and circumstance that greeted Ueberroth's commencement of a hard line on drugs, it came to light last week that he and his good friend, producer David Wolper, have discussed a possible appearance by the commissioner in a TV miniseries based on John Jakes's Civil War saga, North and South. Ueberroth's role would be that of one General Abner Doubleday.
The commissioner should be very adept at playing a man who tries to perfect the game of baseball.