We're always told that the Major League Baseball Players Association is the strongest union in sports. The players are virtually undefeated against management. It's a no-contest every time the union as much as looks at the owners. In fact, folks who make their living dealing with serious labor issues often make the case that the baseball players' union is the strongest in any industry in America.

So if that's the case, the union ought to put its full weight behind the banning of ephedrine, the stimulant that may have contributed to the death Monday of Orioles 23-year-old pitcher Steve Bechler. As soon as Bechler's funeral is over, union chief Donald Fehr and all the player reps ought to get together in Florida and Arizona and decide that not another young baseball life is going to be tragically lost through the use of ephedrine.

Yes, it's that easy -- even though it pains me to agree with Peter Angelos. Just look at every big kid trying to lose weight too fast in spring training, then take a look at Bechler's widow, seven months pregnant, and mandate ephedrine be banned. The union doesn't need management's input to make that kind of unilateral decision. That's how you act in the best interest of your constituents; you start by doing everything possible to make sure they stay alive. You send the player reps back to their teams with the explicit message that all these diet supplements are going to be investigated, and that when all is said and done, stimulants such as ephedrine that suppress the appetite and increase the internal body temperature and sometimes speed up the heart rate are going to be banned, period.

If the players' union had been as proactive and as passionate in going after ephedrine as it is when trying to prove the owners are in collusion, then it's possible Bechler might be alive.

Am I going to hold my breath while such a common-sense approach grips union leadership?

Nope.

Union officials say they won't comment publicly until after Bechler's funeral. But how many of us would be surprised if the first thing we see is stone-walling, spinning the issue to make it seem like a management-vs.-labor issue? The first instinct of the baseball players' association is always to control the damage, deny there's anything wrong with what the players are doing, package the message first and foremost. The bet here is that the union will act, first, in the interest of protecting the players' rights. You know how they'll spin this: that any substance that can be bought over the counter isn't something that should be banned. Next, the union will say that a ban must be part of a collective bargaining agreement and that the union doesn't want players' rights violated.

See, the players' rights can only be violated if the union leaves this to management to handle. If the union gets in front of this issue, instead of being arrogantly and defiantly reactive, the issue of rights is taken off the table. How about doing something in the best interests of baseball players? The union shouldn't care what a musclehead at the local gym is taking, relative to its own constituents.

The International Olympic Committee, FIFA, the NFL and the NCAA all have banned ephedrine and supplements that include ephedra. The NBA, the NHL and baseball should have done so already. The Broward County medical examiner is placing significant blame on a weight-loss drug containing ephedrine, saying that Bechler also had moderate hypertension, liver dysfunction and very little food in his digestive system.

I doubt very seriously there's one baseball owner taking an ephedra-based product. And even if there is an owner doing so, he's not working out at a major league level on an 80-degree day. Management has far, far less at stake here than the union, which nonetheless resisted management attempts during the most recent labor negotiations to include ephedrine on the sport's list of banned substances.