Alex Rodriguez must be losing his arbitration argument by a lopsided score. He faced the truth-or-dare game against PED supplier Anthony Bosch in a closed-door session last week, with gags on all parties, but Rodriguez is always transparent, never self-aware. Whenever he fears he'll lose cherished relevance, he turns to his default defense: his clumsy art of distraction.
Playing baseball means relevance. Earning money means relevance. Claiming a spotlight means relevance. Nothing would end that high for Rodriguez quite like a 211-game ban for repeated doping violations. So in an effort to extend his party for one -- even his supporters on the streets of New York for the hearing seem manufactured, with their lookalike posters -- Rodriguez and his kick-line of lawyers filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball on Thursday. They accused MLB of running a witch hunt, by buying off Bosch with the goal of forcing A-Rod out of the sport for good. In a statement to USA TODAY, Rodriguez said he was seeking a path for vindication.
A-Rod always takes a crooked route, though. He has never argued the merits of the case -- he is accused of violating the league's drug policy by doping, with an assist from Bosch -- though he's had ample public opportunity to say it's all a lie. So, in truth, the lawsuit is a distraction to the real issue, just a shiny object, if an offensive one.
"It's a slap in the face of every player and the union itself," said Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, which advises pro leagues on anti-doping issues, when reached on Friday. As MLB stated, the lawsuit circumvents the dispute and grievance process of the collective bargaining agreement and "is a clear violation of the confidentiality provisions of our drug program."
That drug program has impeded Rodriguez's legacy tour. You wonder, when he watched Mariano Rivera exit, with all the authentic tears and genuine emotion, if he had a moment of honest where-did-I-go-wrong self-reflection. Probably not. Rodriguez simply curses a drug-testing program that caught up to him, before he could escape clean to the public eye. Without MLB's aggressive stand on doping, he would be free to break all the records, collect all the bonus money and drink in the pinstripe life until the end of his deal in 2017. With MLB's push to purge the dopers, Rodriguez isn't desperate to grab history, but rather for self-preservation.
The lawsuit is his Hail Mary. The legal proceedings may delay an arbitration decision, extend his paychecks and beat up MLB as the messenger of his doping ways. All along, the tactic of Rodriguez's defense team was to argue the credibility of Bosch and MLB -- pulling a bait-and-switch on blame, to curry public favor -- and pin the taint on anyone but A-Rod.
"It's a desperate maneuver to avoid consequences," said Tygart, adding that the lawsuit signals that Rodriguez is sidestepping the bargaining agreement "because he doesn't like the outcome of it."
It's A-Rod's template. He has always mistaken his money for intelligence, believing brilliance is being able to buy your way out of trouble. Aren't his lawyers lucky to be in the company of such ignorant wealth? Rodriguez has never seen himself as others view him, as evidenced when he willingly kissed himself in a mirror for a Details magazine photo shoot of self-admiration in 2009. He once told me, "I don't care what anyone thinks," which meant he cared desperately. Got 'em all fooled, he imagines. The world is hoodwinked, he believes.
The reality is different. Just beneath the narcissistic surface, he has always been paranoid enough to ensure that he would stand tall by taking others down. In Texas, former owner Tom Hicks was stunned when David Epstein and I broke the revelations of Rodriguez's positive drug test in Sports Illustrated, in February 2009. "In fact, Alex used to tell me negative things about other players around the league who were suspected of [drug use]," Hicks said.
Leaving Texas was the turning point in Rodriguez's personal development. When he departed his feted status as a lone-star Ranger, he discovered quickly that he could never match the Yankee love for Derek Jeter. It's as if he went from only child to middle child. He began to act out, dropping the choirboy veneer for the bad boy underneath. He circulated with strippers with a mischievous grin and circled the bases while yelling "Ha" at an opponent. If he couldn't be Jeter, he'd be the un-Jeter. Rodriguez began to scream for attention, to indulge in dategate with Madonna, to stomp across the pitcher's mound in Oakland, to annoy the Yankees brass on Twitter.
The Yankees were enablers for far too long. Some within the organization had suspicions of his doping, well before Hank and Hal signed him to a $275 million bag of fool's gold, but even if the Yankees deserved the Hollow Man, baseball was owed a player who would give to the game. All A-Rod has ever done is take. The lawsuit only extends the heist.