Major League Baseball fires arbitrator Shyam Das

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Shayam Das, the neutral third arbitrator who handles PED and other appeals, and who served at the pleasure of both Major League Baseball and the MLBPA, has been fired:

A person familiar with the decision tells The Associated Press that baseball management has fired Shyam Das, the arbitrator who overturned Ryan Braun’s drug suspension in February.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because the decision had not been announced.

He has held the job since 1999. He was always able to be fired with written notice by either the league or the union.  The story is still developing, but it would not be a surprise to hear that he was fired by the league due to the Braun decision, which baseball officials lambasted at the time it was released.  Of course, as the linked article notes, he also serves as an arbitrator for the NFL — he’ll hear the New Orleans Saints bounty appeal this week — so maybe they think his plate is too full or want some fresh blood.

Whatever precipitated the league’s decision, however, this is a tricky business.  Baseball arbitrators, because they can be removed by either side, have no incentive to consciously or consistently favor one side or another.  At the same time, the league or the union have little incentive to remove an arbitrator for strategic reasons because the other side has the ability to do the same thing. This is part of why Das has been in place for 13 years. Everyone was basically happy with what is always a delicate balance.

But now things change.  So a qustion: does MLB think that Das had gone too far to the player’s side of things?  Do they think they’ll get more favorable decisions now that he’s gone?  Do they expect that the union will fire back or make life difficult for the league in hiring a new one or keeping him or her in place once hired?  Or is this just a case of change for change’s sake?

I would expect a statement from the league by the end of business today. That’s how they tend to roll with these things.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”