The circus that is Alex Rodriguez continues to plague baseball. Like a train wreck, we can’t help but watch when all we want to do is look away. He should not be the offseason focus, yet Yankee third baseman and his trial continues to steal headlines in the slower offseason where news is harder to come by.
The current drama with Alex Rodriguez stems from his hearing about taking PEDs. MLB has gone hard after Rodriguez due to his supposed affiliation with the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami, which allegedly sent PEDs to a number of players, including Ryan Braun, Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz. Most players named by the clinic received a 50 game suspension after baseball’s investigation and missed the rest of the year, though some returned for the playoffs. Ryan Braun, who spent the offseason before last successfully avoiding a suspension (albeit on a technicality) on an appeal of a positive PED test he produced, was banned for the rest of the year, which was 65 games at that point. He took the punishment because baseball came after him hard and his image was pretty much in shambles. In addition, he is a young guy in the prime of his career, and he didn’t want to risk losing a lot of prime playing time fighting the league office.
The longest suspension went to Alex Rodriguez who got a 211 game ban for seemingly no reason. A-Rod has never tested positive for PEDs, though he admitted taking them in 2002, before the current drug rules were in place. The league office claimed to have overwhelming evidence against A-Rod in the Biogenesis case, placing A-Rod among the most egregious PED users and claiming he attempted to interfere with baseball’s investigation. That was the reason given for the overwhelming number of games in the suspension, which was far more than anyone else received. A-Rod appealed and case headed for arbitration once the season ended.
We know little about the arbitration. What we do know has come from A-Rod’s legal team, which claimed that baseball failed to meet their burden of proof in claiming A-Rod took PEDs from Tony Bosch of the Biogenesis clinic. Rodriguez’s camp also says the chief evidence against A-Rod was the testimony of Bosch, a highly suspect character with no credibility and everything to gain from helping baseball. (Helping guarantees a good word from the league as he goes into his criminal hearing…. that’s right…. the only person who broke an actual law is the star witness of Major League Baseball).
So what’s the big news that has changed things recently? Well, last week A-Rod stormed out of the arbitration hearing after arbiter Fredric Horowitz ruled that Bud Selig did not have to testify in the hearing. Alex said this ruling was the straw that broke the camel’s back in a process that, he claims, is designed to ensure the player fails. It’s a strong, though not overly unfounded, accusation from a man who is somewhat over dramatic himself, and not the most credible individual to ever stand trial.
So what do we make of it? Well there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Neither party is clean in this mess. After realizing that his legacy would be the commissioner of the steroid era, Bud Selig has made the end of his tenure all about cracking down on PEDs and giving baseball the most stringent drug testing policies in professional sports. And, as often happens with over the top, irrational decisions, Selig has focused on nothing else in his pursuit to clean up his image, often making things worse for that same image he is trying to save. For example, hearing that A-Rod intended to appeal his suspension in order to play last season, Selig contemplated using the “best interests of baseball” clause to keep A-Rod off the field during the appeals process. This clause is a broadly worded fail safe for the league, seemingly designed to specifically avoid due process in disciplinary matters. But even with it’s overreaching rhetoric, the application to A-Rod’s case was tough to make,. Backlash made Selig think better of it, but the point was clear. Baseball is now stanchly against PEDs, as opposed to about 10 years ago, and will be seen as nothing less than the ultimate defender of the integrity of the game, no matter the cost.
So does that mean A-Rod is the good guy? Unlikely. He’s taken PEDs in the past and cares about nothing more than his image, which he hopes is to be the home run king and one of the best players of all time. So it is not at all outside the realm of possibility that he took PEDs again. It’s even easier to see that as a possibility now that his skills are diminishing, but he’s so close to so many of the records he desires. He would have no qualms about doing anything necessary to break the records he wants to break, including taking PEDs and blatantly lying about it.
But in this case, he could be as guilty as sin, and, unless baseball proves it, he shouldn’t have to miss a single game. After storming out of his hearing he had a statement ready (ready suspiciously quickly, almost as if this whole storm out was planned) and he went straight to air with WFAN on Mike Francesa’s show and proclaimed his complete and utter innocence. It was a bold tack to take, especially if he’s guilty. In addition, his lawyer, Joe Tacopina, went on the Michael Kay show on ESPN radio and explained that baseball has not met it’s burden of proof and that there is overwhelming evidence that A-Rod is clean. We know that baseball is absolutely singling A-Rod out unfairly and, despite being the least liked athlete in the game, that’s not okay. And baseball seems to have no reason to suspend him this long. No one believes that the suspension is fair, though some suggest it was just a way to guarantee that he gets the 150 game ban that baseball really wanted. Many with knowledge of the case on both sides suggest that that’s where this is headed.
But that’s not where it will end. A-Rod’s side has released evidence and gone on a smear campaign against the league. A-Rod claims that baseball paid $125,000 for evidence to bury him, some of which may have been obtained illegally. While I can’t find definitive proof of this, I can tell you that no one, including MLB, seems to dispute this claim. In addition, we know that Anthony Bosch is guilty and lacks any shred of credibility. Yet his word seems to be the lynchpin in MLB’s case. Rodriguez’s camp has been preparing to sue the league and take this to a higher court should the arbiter rule against him. And according to A-Rod, his guilt was sealed before he came into the hearing, which is why he stormed out without testifying.
That’s where we are now. The hearing is done. Neither Bud Selig nor A-Rod testified, which does seemingly lessen the legitimacy of the process. And A-Rod’s camp is storming towards a suit in a higher court, where they will seek an injunction against any suspension handed down by MLB and try to prove their case in an actual court of law.
So what will happen? Who wins?
Short answer: nobody.
Long answer: Baseball was slightly out of its mind in their aggressive pursuit of A-Rod. They pushed caution and good sense to the wind in an attempt for Bud Selig to re-define his image, which is already indelibly chiseled into the stone of our game’s history. They stopped at nothing to be sure they nailed this guy, and in so doing did more harm than good to their cause. It’s just about impossible to make the most disliked athlete in America look like a victim, but congratulations to the MLB front office. It seems they did just that. They don’t want Alex Rodriguez’s name anywhere near the top of the all time records lists, though the names of McGwire, Bonds and Sosa are fine. It’s irrational and hypocritical and any time someone is denied due process, most freethinking individuals turn against you. If you have a case, proceed with it fairly. If you have a good one, you can follow all the rules and still nail your guy. If you start to wield undue powers to punish those you deem in the wrong, trust in your establishment erodes quickly.
Now to A-Rod. He probably cheated. However I don’t think anyone can prove it. In addition, he was absolutely unfairly profiled by MLB and this arbitration process does seem to be rigged against those seeking an appeal. But unfortunately I think that’s where this ends for him. He is seeking a lawsuit, but it will be difficult for him to get one. While any punishment beyond 50 games is seemingly outside the scope of the 50/100 game ban collectively bargained by the players’ union and the league office, it will likely stick. Baseball can argue that non-analytical positives were not a part of that 50/100 agreement, and the union recently admitted that that was true. In addition, the union agreed to this appeals process as the proper forum for hearing grievances against the league. The arbitration panel was collectively bargained, just like the 50/100 game ban process for the players. This isn’t just to protect the players and give them a forum for hearing grievances against the league, but also to protect the league from outside lawsuits, such as the one A-Rod intends to bring. I think it’s possible that he will get an injunction to have his case heard, but I don’t think that case will be winnable, and his own union’s agreement will likely be his downfall.
Prediction: Arbiter Fredric Horowitz will hand down a sentence of 150 games. A-Rod will appeal to a higher court and get an injunction against the suspension. He will be able to play until there is a ruling, however that ruling will go against him because his fight goes outside the process the union agreed upon to hear grievances. It thereby breaks the very same collective bargaining agreement that he claims baseball sidestepped in handing down his suspension. The suspension will be upheld, and A-Rod will be forced to miss 150 games. He will get some playing time before that happens though, ensuring that neither side is happy. And, as predicted in the short answer section of this post, nobody wins. Baseball wins a pyrrhic victory over the most hated player in the game, who misses an entire year of baseball at the end of his career. He will return as a bench player for the Yankees to ride out the remainder of his contract, but will not make it to 700 HR. A sad ending for a sad man and an equally sad chapter to the Commissionership of the Steroid Era’s Commissioner, Bud Selig.