Shyam Das, former MLB arbitrator, breaks down baseball's appeals process
Shyam Das, the former arbitrator for Major League Baseball who overturned the suspension of Brewers star Ryan Braun in February 2012, believes any potential player discipline in cases governed by the sport's joint drug agreement will stay within baseball's domain.
MLB has an ongoing investigation into Biogenesis, a now shuttered anti-aging clinic in Miami where founder Anthony Bosch is alleged to have sold performance-enhancing drugs to numerous players, including Braun and injured Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. The two could reportedly receive 100-game suspensions as a result of MLB's investigation.
Das was the last MLB arbitrator to issue a major ruling when he sided with Braun. The Brewers star was suspended for 50 games for elevated testosterone levels in 2011, but had the suspension overturned on appeal by Das because of the procedure behind the test.
If a player is suspended as a result of the Biogenesis probe and appeals the decision, the case will go to the current arbitrator. Das said the arbitrator's role is to judge the ultimate fate of any player suspected to be in violation of baseball's joint drug agreement, and the arbitrator's decision is not likely to be challenged outside of baseball.
"Baseball, like most other private employment collective bargaining, is covered by federal law," Das said in a recent telephone interview.
Baseball and the players union have agreed in labor arbitration to take their disputes to an arbitrator, Das said.
"They would have to prove bias, something along those lines," Das said. "Neither party would have much of a chance if it went to court."
Braun became the first player in the history of MLB's drug program to have a suspension overturned.
"It was known that [Braun] had tested positive and was going to be suspended even before the arbitration hearing was held," Das said.
Das, who served as MLB's arbitrator for 13 years, would not detail his ruling in the Braun matter, though he reportedly found issues with improper protocol in the handling and timely delivery of the sample.
"I considered everything," said Das, who was soon fired by MLB after overturning Braun's suspension. "I gave it my best judgment as to which party I thought should prevail under the terms of their agreement. That's all I can do."
It appears that much of MLB's Biogenesis case will rest on what is termed a non-analytical positive, meaning evidence other than a blood or urine test to detect banned substances. Das would not say if that makes the case more difficult for an arbitrator to rule. The arbitrator's decision, Das said, is based solely upon the interpretation of the joint drug agreement.
"Most of the cases, there aren't any [law] books to run to," he said. "The law is what's in the contract. And in this case, the parties' joint drug agreement, that's the law. The drug program itself sets forward the standard. It specifically states what has to be shown by the commissioner in order to have the discipline upheld. No arbitrator has the authority to deviate from the terms of the agreement. It's entirely a rule of the agreement. How you do that in any given case may depend on specific facts."
Das said the appeals hearings can take place in New York at MLB's offices, the players association, in a hotel or even at the site of a player's team.
"The procedure is informal, but it still follows a regular procedure in the sense the parties present an opening statement as to their relative position in the case, then they proceed to submit exhibits and testimony of witnesses," Das said.
Baseball's new arbitrator is Californian Frederic R. Horowitz. He may soon have multiple cases arising out of Biogenesis. He has worked in arbitration since 1989, including salary arbitration hearings in baseball. "Fred Horowitz, in my opinion, is a top-notch arbitrator," Das said, "and I'm sure he's up to the task."