Major League Baseball has announced that Alex Rodriguez is being suspended for 211 games, effective Thursday, costing him roughly a total of $30 million in salary. A-Rod is expected to appeal, which means he will be in the lineup for Monday night's game against the Chicago White Sox. It's going to be a madhouse at U.S. Cellular Field, and it's not going to dissipate from there: This is, alas, going to be the story everyone's going to be talking about for the rest of the season. A-Rod is at the center of everything, all of the time, forever and ever.
But I have to tell you: What a relief.
Forty hours ago, I was legitimately afraid this was going to lead to a full-blown crisis in the game of baseball. Not one of those the-sky-is-falling-because-someone-rubbed-some-cream-on-their-arm crises. Like a real one. This is going to be an annoyance for a while; you'll wince every time someone brings it up. But it could have been a disaster.
Forty hours ago, Alex Rodriguez was defiant. After homering for the Trenton Thunder, A-Rod claimed that people were finding "creative ways to cancel [my] contract," a notion that he is hardly alone in wondering about. (ESPN New York brought it up way back in January.) He said that he planned on playing on Monday night in Chicago. He held his cards close. He waited for MLB to blink.
We've heard all this talk about backdoor negotiations, but mostly, we've just seen posturing. And by just about any account, A-Rod has won the pose-off. Here are the (public) negotiations between MLB and A-Rod's camp, from what has escaped into the public square.
MLB Threat: We will ban you for life from baseball using the Collective Bargaining Agreement rather than the Joint Drug Agreement, which will make it so you cannot play during an appeal. It'll be a Best Interests Of Baseball thing. You'll get Pete Rose'd.
A-Rod Response: [keeps working out] [maybe hurts his quad] [has some idiot go on the radio for him]
MLB Threat: OK, so maybe we would have had some court issues with that one. We will now ban you using the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the rest of this season and next season, roughly 211 games. You still cannot play during appeal.
A-Rod Response: [keeps working out] [hits a couple of homers for Trenton]
MLB Threat: All right, all right, that would have led to a nightmare with the players union. Fine. Now we'll let you play during the appeal because we're going to do this under the Joint Drug Agreement after all. We're still going to do this 211 games, though, and we're going to act like we're still being really tough.
A-Rod Response: [shrugs] [keeps working out] [flies to Chicago]
And this is where they landed. They may not get that either.
I am not saying that A-Rod has won anything: Eventually, there's a sense that he's going to get hammered with something. After all, every other player involved with Biogenesis settled, from Ryan Braun (who did it in the most weasel-y, self-protective way possible) to Nelson Cruz (who seemed to have some regrets about the whole thing, along with his team) to Jordany Valdespin (whom no one knew about until Monday, but still nobody cares about because he isn't A-Rod).
But it's worth noting, again, that no one has actually seen any of this evidence, and it's almost certainly going to be up to an arbitrator -- with the burden of proof on MLB -- to decide just what the punishment should be. And since we're apparently using the JDA now, and not the "interests of baseball" clause of the CBA, it is up for legitimate discussion whether this 211-game suspension is even applicable: As The Hardball Times pointed out, almost every other player on Monday was hit with a roughly 50-game suspension, the same as a first-time offender. In fact, Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal, other players associated with Biogenesis, didn't get suspended at this time because, reportedly, they were "considered to have served their time with their past suspensions."
In fact, the aberration here appears not to be A-Rod: It appears to be Braun. When he accepted his 65-game suspension rather than fighting like A-Rod did, he gave the illusion that all sorts of players would be making deals, that the union was going to back off because of an apparent outrage among its members about PEDs, that the usual rules of engagement (following the JDA, having there be clear levels of suspension and punishment) were off. We heard this talk of lifetime bans, of being punished twice (once for using and once for lying about it), of the overwhelming force of the MLB office landing on A-Rod's neck. But if Braun had fought -- and it wasn't really in his best interest to do so -- I bet his suspension would have been only 50 games, like everybody else's.
And you know what I bet is going to happen with A-Rod? I bet, after the arbitrator business is over, once this is all settled, he ends up getting somewhere around 50 games too, maybe a little bit more as a sort of pain-in-the-ass tax: He'll get what a first-time offender -- which, technically, is what he is -- would get under the JDA. If you're going under those rules, and not the "interests of baseball" clause, that seems the only responsible, fair solution, right? These are, in fact, rules. Baseball has always been obsessed with rules on the field. Maybe it's worth it to have them matter off the field too.
If that happens, that's going to feel like a disappointment for MLB and a victory for A-Rod, but honestly, we should see it as a victory for all of us. It will be a victory for due process, first of all, and, uh, that's not for nothing. And it also won't blow open a fissure in the delicate land of owner-union relations by giving the commissioner's office unilateral power to punish players it wants to bring the hammer down on. You can argue whether or not it would be "fair" -- I sorta think it would be, but again, I haven't seen any of the evidence, and you haven't, either -- but it would be following the rules and bylaws agreed to by MLB and the players union.
A common refrain over the last month during this Biogenesis business has been to say that, before he retires, Bud Selig wants to wrap up what is considered the biggest stain on his reign, the steroid era. I do not know if this is true or not, but the premise is wrong. First off, Bud Selig is never retiring. Second, Selig has done a far better job than he is ever credited with. But most of all: The biggest stain on the Selig Era isn't the steroid era. It's the fact that the 1994 World Series was canceled. They canceled the World Series. There is literally nothing in baseball that could possibly be worse than that.
And why did that happen? Because the owners and the players union had such a deep distrust of each other that they couldn't come to a basic agreement that would stop the cancellation of the World Series. That's where baseball's inherent, grave peril has always resided. Throwing the hammer at A-Rod, in defiance of a mutually agreed upon Joint Drug Agreement, could have damaged that. It could have been the first fray in a decade-long unraveling. Maybe it wouldn't have been. But do you want to risk that just because you're mad at A-Rod? Ultimately, Bud Selig and MLB decided to play this more by the book and let the process run its course. It'll feel strange on Monday night when A-Rod is playing third base while the whole world hisses at him. But in the long run … it was the only real way to go. Phew.
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