Posted by: Mike Cornelius | January 16, 2014

Sometimes There Are No Winners

From the moment arbitrator Frederic Horowitz’s decision suspending Alex Rodriguez for all of 2014 became known last Saturday the race was on to identify the winners and losers in this sorry saga, even as Rodriguez and his collection of high-priced attorneys were assuring sports fans that the game would continue around the corner in federal court. The first and most obvious loser is of course A-Rod. By appealing Commissioner Bud Selig’s August 6th order suspending him for the remainder of the 2013 season and all of next year, the Yankees third baseman was able to play out the remainder of last season’s schedule as New York tried and failed to capture a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. That extra bit of time, those additional trips to the plate, enabled Rodriguez to break Lou Gehrig’s major league record for career grand slams on September 20th. So the appeal gained him that much at least, a place in the Great Game’s record books, the most reviled Yankee of all time supplanting one of the most revered.

But now A-Rod finds himself in exactly the spot he would have been at this point had he, like all of the other players linked to the now-shuttered Biogenesis clinic, simply accepted Selig’s original suspension. He faces all of next year away from the game, and a future that is uncertain at best. While his lawyers vow to change that by the federal lawsuit, every single expert opinion offered up this week has given Rodriguez virtually no chance of success. In case after case over the years, the federal judiciary has established as settled law that arbitration decisions stemming from a process collectively bargained by management and labor are to be given great respect. Horowitz is an experienced and widely respected arbitrator who surely knew that his decision was likely to be followed by litigation. Even if the judge is an A-Rod fan, there’s little chance he’ll find any evidence of incompetence or bias in the record of the arbitrator’s work.

As part of their filing Rodriguez’s team included Horowitz’s decision, and because Judge William Pauley III refused to allow it to be filed under seal, that decision is now public. It makes the slugger look like both a serial cheater and a clueless buffoon. He connected to Anthony Bosch and the Biogenesis lab through his cousin Yuri Sucart. In 2009, when Rodriguez confessed to using PEDS earlier in his career, he acknowledged that it was Sucart who had originally brought him steroids from the Dominican Republic. The cousin was subsequently banned from all major league clubhouses; yet years later here he is again. Was A-Rod so self-absorbed as to imagine himself invincible, or was there some part of his psyche that wanted to get caught?

Then there are the ham-handed text messages between Rodriguez and Bosch, in which the substances the latter was providing are referred to as “blue cream,” “pink food,” and “liquid soup.” How extraordinarily clever of these two geniuses. No investigator would ever wonder if such codes might hide some more sinister meaning. Now “solid soup,” that might have raised some suspicions!

But if A-Rod is the obvious and ultimately pathetic loser, and at an appearance in Mexico on Wednesday even he seemed to be in the first stages of accepting that he won’t play in 2014, there is no equally obvious winner. Some have called the Yankees winners, because they save the $25 million that was owed to Rodriguez next year. It’s true that the savings will allow them to bid aggressively for free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. They even have a slim chance of winning the Tanaka sweepstakes and still staying under the $189 salary cap for next season, which would allow the Yankees to reset their luxury tax rate.

But the truth is that we won’t know whether the team that ultimately inks Tanaka to a deal can truly be called a winner until a couple of years down the road, after the Japanese star has actually faced big league hitters. And the Yankees still have to face 2015, when Rodriguez says he fully intends to resume his career. He will be nearing his 40th birthday then, and the decline in his skills over the past two seasons has been sharp. After a year away from the game, what can he be expected to bring to that Spring Training? Yet the Yankees will still be wed to their one-time star for an additional three years, and will owe him an additional $61 million. As a Yankee fan, I can tell you that doesn’t exactly feel like a victory.

The Players Association has nothing to show for its efforts in defense of Rodriguez. Indeed the MLBPA now finds itself just one of the defendants in A-Rod’s lawsuit, accused of failing to adequately represent his interests. Potentially worse for other players is the fact that Horowitz’s decision affirmed the Commissioner’s reliance on Section 7.G.2 of the Joint Drug Agreement, which goes far beyond the set punishments for failing drug tests. The section says a “player may be subjected to disciplinary action for just cause by the Commissioner,” vague and undefined language that Horowitz has now turned into a sledgehammer for management.

But as much as all that might seem to point to Bud Selig as the big winner, I can’t agree. First because no amount of revisionist history can undo the reality of Selig’s and management’s complicity in baseball’s dalliance with PEDS. When fans first started flocking to ballparks to see McGwire and Sosa smash balls into the stratosphere the Commissioner and team owners were more than happy to sell them tickets, and they continued to look the other way for years thereafter. A Bud Selig determined to clean up the game is really a Bud Selig determined to rewrite his personal legacy. In the case of Rodriguez, the effort to do so went beyond the pale. Witnesses were alternately threatened with lawsuits then paid for their testimony. Early on in the Biogenesis investigation MLB spokesmen publicly chafed at their lack of police powers; but then Selig’s agents engaged in activities that no police department ever could, limited as law enforcement is by that antiquated concept called due process. At times it was almost enough to make the vainglorious Rodriguez a sympathetic character, and it did nothing to burnish the reputation of either Selig or the office he holds.

So the sorry saga lurches on, off the field but still in the news. As much as fans of the Great Game, including those whose caps sport an interlocking “N-Y” might wish A-Rod would just go away, he probably won’t. The rush to identify winners and losers is natural; it’s part of the fundamental nature of sports. But here there really are no winners. Just folly and farce, hubris and humiliation, and different degrees of losing.


  1. Wow. It’ll be so nice when and if baseball will once again simply be about young men playing…baseball. I long for that day.
    Very nice summary of an awful situation.

    • Believe me Bill, I couldn’t agree more. I think we are getting there as these assorted clowns leave the stage, albeit slowly. Thanks as always for your kind words and support.


  2. Good article. Chuck

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