D-Day has come and gone. A week ago, baseball dropped its punishment upon those involved in the Biogensis debacle, which has unseated the Balco mess to become baseball’s worst steroid scandal. And in that time, I’ve been examining the story. This whole thing is a black eye in the history of the sport. The entire situation is rotten; the players, the proliferation of PEDs after the continuous insistence of baseball that the sport was getting clean and the much anticipated reactionary penalty that was finally handed down. All of it. It all stinks to high heaven and continues to steal headlines in what is America’s greatest pastime.
This has been coming for a while. When we heard the initial story out of the Miami New Times we knew this was bad. And while some would have had us believe it wasn’t a big deal when it first burst onto the scene, the skeptics among us knew better. And who wouldn’t be a skeptic at this point? The All Time HR champion is a cheater. The 3 players who broke the single season home run record are all cheaters. A-Rod was our hope to reclaim our record books with a non-performance enhancing drug user, and he came out years ago admitting to taking steroids when he was playing his best baseball with the Texas Rangers. It may seem cynical, but to buy the home run hitters of the early 2000s as clean players or not to question the guys who come from nowhere to have monster seasons is now par for the course. And if you don’t question it, then you seem naïve. Neither moniker is a good one, but both are understandable and to be expected. What are we supposed to believe now? And this Biogenesis mess seems to be the worst one yet.
I won’t go into the whole history of it on this blog. For a full background, I’d suggest THIS ARTICLE by Big League Stew. My focus is more on the punishment, the build-up, the threats and the colander of leaks that came from A-Rod’s camp, the New York Yankees and the offices of Major League Baseball. None of these parties come out of this mess looking clean.
It used to be easy knowing the good guys from the bad. When you were a kid, there were bad people who did bad things. Then there were good people who punished the bad people. There weren’t any people with ulterior motives. Everything was fair and measured. And when the good people punished the bad people, you were happy and felt like justice had been taken care of. And while I can’t speak for everyone, I can honestly say that I don’t feel that way here. There were cheaters, they were caught and they were punished. For the most part, I’m okay with what went down. Of the 13 players suspended, it is my belief that 12 of them got the proper punishment. In my opinion, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and the others who got a 50 game suspension for their first offense are fine. That’s what was collectively bargained and agreed upon, and that’s what they got. Ryan Braun* (see footnote) got that same suspension, plus 15 extra games for being a sanctimonious jerk.
That was all good. But that’s not what took the headlines. The suspension everyone was focused on, and rightly so, was Alex Rodriguez’s suspension of 211 games.
Alex Rodriguez apparently was deeper into Biogenesis than any other player. Tony Bosch personally came over to his house to give him the steroids on multiple occasions according to eyewitness accounts. There are rumors that A-Rod was involved in putting Bosh in touch with other players that were looking to use PEDs. And baseball claims that he interfered with their investigation by attempting to buy his medical records from the Biogensis clinic. All of that, coupled with the fact that he admitted to taking steroids in the past is MLB’s reason for A-Rod’s extensive punishment.
Alex Rodriguez sees things differently. He admits to nothing, and his press conferences are almost comical in the way that he poorly deflects direct questions and spends 20 minutes saying absolutely nothing. And while he admits nothing, his people are working hard behind the scenes to get his side of the story out there. He claims his ties with Biogenesis are the same as the others, he says he did nothing to interfere with the investigation, though at times he seemingly admits to doing so by claiming that the records mentioned are actually his records and he has as much a right to them as MLB, perhaps even more so. And lastly he points out that he’s never failed a test and his admission in the past about steroid use can’t be held against him, as baseball’s current drug policy wasn’t in place when he took the drugs or admitted to taking them. In addition, every other player who didn’t fail a test got a 50 game ban. He should be treated the same way. All fair points.
So that is the battle in a nutshell. MLB says that A-Rod did more on the Biogenesis front than his peers, justifying his 211 game ban and A-Rod claims that there is no precedent for a punishment like this. MLB makes the argument that the collectively bargained agreement only deals with first time offenders for failed tests, not for non-analytical positives. But then A-Rod points out that all the other non-analytical first time users got 50 game suspensions. Both sides are wrong, both sides are right. That’s what makes this so frustrating. You are taking sides with bad characters no matter which way you look.
There is another party to this mess, though they are less involved. To believe them, they aren’t involved at all. That party is the New York Yankees. The Yankees agreed to the most ill conceived contract extension on the planet when they gave A-Rod guaranteed money to make him about an extra $100 million and pay him until he was 42 years old. The Yankees want to be out from that deal. If they say otherwise they are lying. No one would blame them for admitting it was a bad deal and wanting to be done with it, but they never will. That’s part of what makes them seem disingenuous. They also have done all they can to keep A-Rod and his toxicity away from their major league team. It’s a smart move that no one can blame them for. However, whenever they are questioned about it they claim that it is not their intention, even though no one could blame them for telling a truth that is so plain a child could point it out. If A-Rod had been banned for life, the Yankees would be out from under that contract. If he were to miss all of this season, then insurance would pick up a portion of this year’s salary. Both of those situations greatly help the Yankees. It’s obvious. And while it’s not okay for them to pursue either route, admitting that it would be helpful financially would enable people to cut them some slack. They make no admissions, and reportedly have worked behind the scenes to ensure that A-Rod didn’t come back this year and also reportedly encouraged Bud Selig to pursue a lifetime ban. They deny it, and have every right to. However when they refuse to admit to the obvious, it makes their claims about these much more serious matters also ring false, though they are likely true as there is no evidence to the contrary.
Have the Yankees done anything wrong? Probably not. While they can root from the sidelines for A-Rod to be gone, they cannot do anything to influence that decision. They claim they haven’t and I honestly believe they wouldn’t do anything so brazen. Selig is an owner’s commissioner so he’s well aware of what would help the Yankees, the biggest team in the biggest market. It’s fair to say he hasn’t overlooked their needs. But you can’t blame the Yankees for that. Have they conspired to keep A-Rod off the field, or at the very least away from the club? That gets trickier. This whole season he was rehabbing in Tampa, FL. I see no fault in that. Jeter was away from the team while he got better. However when he returned, only to get hurt again, he stayed with the major league club. A-Rod was not given that option. He was in New York, about to play his first game when he came to the Yankees and told them that he hurt his quad. He was promptly put on the disabled list, over his own objections and insistence that he could play through it, and sent away to heal and begin a rehab assignment. That’s where the Yankees went astray. They have the right to do what they think is best for the player. But they delayed his rehab assignment by a few days and chose to keep Alex away from the team while Derek was allowed to stay with the team. Why the different treatment? By delaying the rehab assignment, they moved A-Rod’s return back until the Commissioner was ready to hand down Biogensis penalties. They gave no reason as to the delay, and it smacks of keeping him off the field this season to collect insurance on the contract. The Yankees claim that wasn’t the case, but again, I tire of them claiming utter innocence on everything. One can only accept these claims so many times. And if they can’t admit that they see a benefit from the obvious truth of A-Rod being banned for life, the rest of their pleas fall on doubtful ears. They may not have explicitly done anything wrong, but I suspect they did all they could within the rules to keep A-Rod from the field. It may not have been wrong, but it certainly wasn’t right.
Now to Alex Rodriguez. His folly is the most obvious. He cheated and lied about it. It’s not good. In fact it’s bad. In addition, he made a number of PR blunders including coming out on Twitter claiming he was ready for a rehab assignment without speaking to the Yankees, to trying to purchase his medical records from Biogenesis in what we all know was an attempt to block MLB’s investigation, to getting a second opinion from a doctor about his injury without clearing it with the team and getting him to go to news outlets making a fool of himself. He chose a doctor with PED tie-ins in his past who didn’t see any X-Rays or examine the patient in person. Basically, Alex told him he felt good over the phone, and that doctor decided to go to every TV station, radio station and newspaper that would see him to share that news. A-Rod is a PR nightmare, a man with a wrecked legacy and someone who desperately wants to be liked so much, that it makes others not like him. It’s a vicious circle. There is no doubt he is in the wrong. He’s the most hated athlete in the United States, and he continues to give us reasons to dislike him. There is almost no possible way to make people take his side and feel bad for him. Successfully doing that would be a massive PR blunder the likes of which this world has never seen.
Major League Baseball succeeded in making such a blunder. Throughout this whole process they had an air about them that seemed holier than thou. They had a secret investigation going into the Biogenesis scandal, held their cards close to the vest, turned Tony Bosch against his former patients and let out convenient leaks to turn public opinion in their favor and scare players into settling for deals. Sometimes it worked (Braun) and other times it didn’t (A-Rod). But they are desperate to be seen as the heavy hand of the law doling out the punishments to those who broke the rules. Did it work? Kind of. They banned a lot of guys. But they also seemed to relish the attention. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t want their sport sullied by PED users (not anymore anyway….they didn’t mind it in 1998 when it made them more money than God). But they do like the attention on their investigation, their punishing of those in the wrong and the image of them doing everything they can to crack down on PEDs in the game. Bud Selig does not want to be remembered as the Steroid Era Commissioner so he’s doing everything he can to change the narrative. But that book has already made its way to the publisher. No time for new chapters, no matter how much he tries. And by God he is trying. But his heavy handedness is not winning him any friends in this game. Last year after Braun got out of his suspension, he had the gall to have the arbitrator who ruled against him fired. I guess that arbitrator is lucky that Selig didn’t have him killed, but come on! You disagree with the boss and you are booted. That makes me feel confident in the ability of future arbitrators to deal with these issues openly and without pre-conceived notions. I’m sure the players feel similarly. So before this mess even started, Selig showed signs of calling plays from the playbooks of Goodell or Stern.
Then came the Biogenesis mess. They claimed this was nothing. No big deal. Investigative reporting proved that they were wrong. They claimed that Tony Bosh couldn’t be trusted, was a quack and that this was a small incident. Evidence said otherwise. Then, Tony Bosch tried to work out a deal with the authorities by agreeing to help baseball in its investigation, and suddenly he was a man who must be listened to. MLB came out and said that they would work together with this unimpeachable witness who knew everything that happened. As they worked with him, baseball saw opportunities to be seen as tough on PEDs and didn’t let these opportunities slip through their fingers. They conveniently leaked that they were going hard after A-Rod, the most hated player in the game, and Ryan Braun, a phony whose stock dropped considerably after his PED mess last year. What better way to get ahead in the hearts of fans than to punish the men who fans hated most?
But they overstepped. They were arrogant. They were secretive. They acted like they were better than others involved. They didn’t let the story die, claiming that they would be delivering punishment soon when the All Star break rolled around so it was all that was talked about. Then on the final day of the trade deadline they again claimed that punishment was imminent. And then on Friday August 3rd they made sure to tell everyone that punishment was coming on Monday to be sure that it was all that was talked about over the weekend. Make no mistake; baseball saw this as an opportunity. They almost seemed giddy it happened. And they were brash. They made threats to suspend everyone involved 100 games. They claimed taking the drugs was the first offense and lying about it was offense number 2. That never would hold up in an arbitration hearing, but it didn’t have to. They just wanted to turn public opinion and frighten the players. Most were ready to deal. The biggest feather in their cap was Braun taking a deal for 65 games, though in hindsight it seems that he got the best deal of anyone. When they heard from A-Rod’s camp (who did plenty of their own leaking) that he would fight any suspension, they threatened to ban him for life to show they weren’t kidding around. This was another ban that would never hold up, but that was never the point. Upon hearing that A-Rod just wanted to play this season and would appeal any punishment handed down, they threatened to ban him using the “best interests of baseball” clause, which is immune to appeal. However that was one of their biggest missteps as it brought down the Player’s Union against them, a VERY powerful organization that had let them run their investigation unmolested to this point. Somehow baseball made the guilty seem innocent in their headlong rush to punish them. They backed off the “best interests of baseball” route quickly, but the threats still remained. And with the country in a fever pitch, they finally relinquished their spotlight and delivered their verdict.
All of the players involved, except A-Rod would get a 50 game suspension. Though these were non-analytical positives and thus not subject to the collectively bargained agreement, they felt that that punishment was fair for these first time offenders. For A-Rod, they chose a 211 game ban. That was more than 4 times what the others got. They claimed that it was for so much more, that he wasn’t really a first time offender and that his meddling in their investigation was akin to breaking the law and should be treated as such. (Mind you, no one involved in this scandal actually broke the law other than Anthony Bosch…. the star witness for Major League Baseball). They claimed he was lucky it wasn’t a lifetime ban and that they were letting him play while he appealed. The fact is he’s not lucky. It’s his right to play through an appeal. And even the threat of not letting him do that was a violation of his due process. And if there’s one thing we love in this country, it’s due process. Because we don’t want our good guys to break the rules. We want them to win by following them. Is it naïve? Yes. But we still want it. And when those rules area egregiously ignored or disregarded, (a la the occasional Roger Goodell punishment in the NFL…or anything David Stern ever does in the NBA) we feel that our “good guys” are no better than the bad ones, having stooped to their level to punish them. And that’s how I feel in this case. In the same way that A-Rod’s desperate need to be liked makes me hate him, baseball’s arrogant assurances that they are in the right make me suspect that what they are doing is wrong. And somehow, they’ve turned one of the most hated men in the country (not named Jeffrey Loria) into someone that people now feel sorry for. What a coup.
The PED era is an infection in baseball. We are working hard to get over it, but it continues to metastasize and spread. While the numbers may have dwindled, the impact is just as harsh. Bud Selig was the Commissioner for much of this era. He could have done more to stop it in the past, but at least he is acting now. However over-reacting to make a point or try to change history is irresponsible and a waste of time. A-Rod is a PED user who deserves to be punished. But you can’t punish a guy more than everyone else because nobody likes him. And the Yankees have plenty to gain from A-Rod being banned for life. Claiming otherwise makes them seem disingenuous at best and outright liars at worst. But while they had motivation and perhaps a few words of encouragement for the Commissioner, the collusion between the two parties as painted by Alex Rodriguez’s camp is unlikely, certainly in that scope, and at the very least could never be proven. It’s lies upon lies. All are good, all are bad. Nobody is perfect or even right in this mess and all parties are wrong to such serious degrees that the things they are right about are overlooked. It’s a disease, an infection upon our game. Not just the PEDs, but the ego and hypocrisy and greed and legacy building. We have to fight this infection, but not by cutting off a limb with a scalpel of record setting punishments and self-righteous indignation. The body of our game won’t survive such a radical course of treatment. And while we decide what to do, the question continues to hang in the air, which is worse: the symptom or the cure?
*The short version of the Braun story is that he tested positive for PEDs last year. He appealed and got off on a technicality. It was some good work by his lawyers to get him out of the suspension, though there was little doubt that he’d actually taken the PEDs he tested positive for. At that point he went on about how the system was broken and it was just and right that he was able to get out of the suspension. He essentially thumbed his nose at MLB and the whole process even though he was guilty. His hypocrisy led to him being suspended for an extra 15 games.