Originally Published: August 7, 2013 6:01 a.m.
In the end, Bud Selig blinked...sort of.
The MLB Commissioner wanted to ban Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez from baseball for life, and it wasn't just for A-Rod's multiple - perhaps continuous - violations of the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) between the owners and the players. Baseball had evidence that A-Rod recruited other players to the now defunct Biogenesis clinic in Miami that parceled out PEDs like they were tootsie rolls at an automobile convention. And after he realized that baseball's investigators were hot on his trail, A-Rod obstructed the investigation by urging witnesses to change their story and purchasing documents that would have confirmed his guilt.
Never content to operate behind the scenes, Rodriguez went public with inaccurate and incendiary comments, accusing MLB and the Yankees, the team that still owes him approximately $100 million, of conspiring against him. During one press conference A-Rod claimed the Yankees didn't want him back on the field so they could collect a portion of his remaining contract from insurance. He also was steadfast in maintaining his innocence, claiming he would never negotiate a suspension with MLB, all while his attorneys were desperately trying to do just that with their counterparts in the commissioner's office.
Selig reportedly was furious with A-Rod and cut off discussions with his representatives on a negotiated suspension. To no one's surprise, the commissioner came down harder on A-Rod than the other 13 players caught up in the Biogenesis scandal. With the exception of Ryan Braun, who agreed to a 65-game ban as a second offender, 12 players agreed to a 50-game suspension in exchange for forfeiting their right to appeal. A-Rod was suspended for the remainder of this season and all of 2014, a total of 211 games and a loss of more than $30 million. True to his word - for once - A-Rod promptly filed an appeal.
MLB gave some consideration to suspending A-Rod under the labor agreement (CBA) rather than the JDA. A clause in the CBA allows the commissioner to take action against a player when he deems it in "the best interests of baseball." Suspending A-Rod under the CBA would have prevented him from playing during his appeal, unlike a suspension under the JDA which guarantees that the suspension won't take effect until after an arbitrator reviews it. But Selig has never used the "best interests of baseball" clause under these circumstances, and to do so now may have served to portray the contemptible A-Rod as a sympathetic figure. Furthermore, such action may have antagonized the union, something the commissioner was loath to do considering the owners need the players' support to further strengthen the JDA.
In arbitration, A-Rod's suspension can be affirmed, reduced or overturned based on the evidence. Of course, there is nothing that prevents A-Rod and the commissioner's office from entering into a compromise on the suspension prior to a resolution of his appeal. That may yet happen, but don't count on it. The sides are currently dug in, A-Rod intent on salvaging the remnants of his reputation and preserving his contract, Selig determined to eliminate PEDs in baseball once and for all. Nothing short of the commissioner's legacy may be at stake in this face off.
The Rodriguez matter is far from over. In fact, the circus tent is just unfolding. A-Rod is back in the Yankees lineup, providing gist for the tabloids. The team desperately needs his bat, despite the turmoil his presence guarantees in the locker room. The suspension appeal will be heard within weeks, yet may take months to resolve. Testimony from witnesses and other evidence presented in the case will be reported on daily. None of that will work in A-Rod's favor, despite how vigorously his lawyers attempt to attack MLB in its zeal to bring the Biogenesis clients, and especially A-Rod, to justice.
Selig may have blinked in granting Rodriguez a reprieve from a lifetime ban and allowing him to play pending an appeal. However, those concessions will go a long way toward convincing the arbitrator that A-Rod's suspension through the 2014 season is fair and appropriate and should be upheld. And regardless of how or when the arbitration case is decided, this much we already know: Today marks a victory for MLB and A-Rod will forever be a loser.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network and maintains the blog http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.