Did Major League Baseball get the last laugh in the chain-of-custody argument?

Last week, the League fired longtime grievance arbitrator Shyam Das (the guy who cast the deciding vote that overturned National League MVP Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs last month) after allowing a second player to use the so-called chain-of-custody defense. The League was certainly within its right to remove Das, who “served at the pleasure of” both MLB and the Players’ Association—either side was free to remove Das, at any time, with or without cause, upon written notice. But is the League’s action a sign of something more significant?

 What’s happened here is that MLB removed a judge from the bench because of a philosophical disagreement—i.e. the League believes that their “independent arbitrator” should take a more relaxed view of pillars of the American justice system like the Rules of Evidence.

Alfonzo’s grievance challenging his suspension raised issues that were nearly identical to those resolved in the arbitration involving Ryan Braun. It is not anticipated that any other future cases will be impacted by the circumstances raised in the grievances of these two players.

That was MLB’s statement, after announcing Das’s termination, and the fact that they’d reached “an agreement” with the Players’ Association regarding Eliezer Alfonzo’s alleged second positive drug test. Whether or not Alfonzo is suspended makes little, if any difference—he was designated for assignment by the Colorado Rockies (effectively cut from their roster) and sent to Triple-A. What’s troubling, however, is the League’s declaration, that the evidence issues in Braun’s and Alfonzo’s arbitration hearings will never be at issue again.

This type of situation is precisely why the founders of our country—in the U.S. Constitution—gave federal judges life tenure. The underlying theory of life tenure is that judges will be true to their own consciences and moral convictions, without fear of reprisal for rendering an unpopular decision. Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement also had a provision with the same intent (described by attorney Craig Calcaterra in his NBC Sports blog Hardball Talk), but it seems that it failed in this case.

Although the effect of Das’s removal is limited to baseball, it represents a microcosm of judicial politics in the United States, which has been a hot-button issue in states such as Mississippi, New York, New Jersey, and Ohio, and subject of the realistic fiction in books by John Grisham. N.B. read Grisham’s The Appeal for a creepy tale about a tort reform group’s influence on judicial elections, which results in…sorry, you’ll have to read the book to find out how it ends (or just read the Wiki-spoiler review).


Braun Decision Affirms Fact that Appeals are Crucial to our System of Justice