A-Rod, PEDs, And The Coming Biogenesis Suspensions

Mike Stobe

What does the looming suspension of the Yankee star mean for him, his team, and baseball?

Word is that Major League Baseball might announce more suspensions in the Biogenesis case this week for as many as 15 players, including the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, following last week's suspension of Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. That penalty might include A-Rod being suspended for the rest of this year and all of 2014:

It has become evident MLB is going to demand Rodriguez’s punishment far exceed Braun’s. That is because MLB believes the combination of being a user and obstructing the case demands a much stiffer penalty — especially because Rodriguez has admitted to previous drug use from 2001-03 and because MLB believes Rodriguez subsequently lied to its investigators in previous interviews about his usage.

Alex Rodriguez has to be one of the least likeable superstars in recent memory. He isn't reviled in the way that, say, Barry Bonds is; he's just... well, not easy to root for, even if you're a fan of the team he's on. Several years ago, I was in New York on business and had some free time, so I went to a game at the old Yankee Stadium. Let's just say that the Yankee fans I spoke to didn't have one good word to say about A-Rod, even though at that time he'd already won one MVP award with the team and was on the way to another that year. They just didn't like him, although if you check out the boxscore from the game I went to, you'll see that they liked him a bit better after what he did that day (and also check out the pitcher who he victimized!).

It's not just that; A-Rod has been mocked for his choice of girlfriends and his allegedly flirting with women in the stands at Comerica Park in Detroit during the 2012 playoffs.

So no one is really that unhappy, it appears, with the idea that A-Rod could be suspended for a year-and-a-third, not even many Yankee fans. The only one unhappy is A-Rod, who, according to the New York Post link above, is going to fight any suspension:

The expectation was Rodriguez had hired a cavalry of lawyers, private investigators, crisis managers and spokesmen to fight any sanction. Publicly, his camp has been feisty — and more — in trying to mount a case that both MLB and the Yankees have tried to injure his reputation and keep him from playing.

The only reason, in theory, he would cease that strategy and accept a suspension would be if he felt the evidence was irrefutable and was seeking a way to protect as much of the roughly $97 million he is still owed on his record $275 million contract.

For example, Rodriguez is owed $61 million from 2015-17. Thus, if a punishment were offered to him that extended through 2014, he might accept that to protect the $61 million. If he does accept the punishment, though, the Yankees could try to mount a case to void the rest of the deal based on fraud (a team cannot punish a player for illegal drug use; only the commissioner can do that).

Ah yes, the money the money the money. Not that A-Rod really needs the money; even if he doesn't get what he's still contractually owed, he's made well north of $300 million in his career. Mostly, I suppose, this is about trying to salvage whatever legacy A-Rod has left, which doesn't appear to be much. Meanwhile, the Yankees are considering suing A-Rod themselves, for "damaging the Yankees brand" -- and you should read that Craig Calcaterra piece, because he lays out exactly why that's mostly pretty hilarious, except, as Calcaterra quotes from this ESPN Insider Buster Olney article:

Could a team gain legal traction and win that argument? Could they get some money back? The longtime lawyer said he isn’t entirely sure. "But I’d file that suit if it involved a player with us," he said, "because what do you have to lose?"

Ugh, what a mess. And it's a mess even players want to get cleaned up; check out what Zack Greinke has to say about his former teammate Braun:

"The main thing is, yeah, he lied to us," Greinke said. "He forced us to lie for him, threw people under the bus in order to help himself out and didn't care, blamed others for his mistakes and it’s just a lot of things you don’t expect from people."

Braun publicly attacked Dino Laurenzi Jr., the man who collected his sample.

Greinke said he believed Braun when Braun said he never used performance-enhancing drugs.

"Oh, yeah, 100% believed him," Greinke said. "Everything was so convincing. He had people to blame. He seemed like a really good guy. He was a good teammate at the time. You don’t know the guys that he was pinning it on. I'm not positive, but I think everyone 100% believed him at the time. Especially the next year, he looked just as good as the year before. His numbers his whole career, Hall of Fame numbers. How could you not believe him? He was so convincing."

I think this gets to the bottom of it all; Greinke is far from the only current player who's expressed feelings like this (if you missed this last week, check out what the Dodgers' Skip Schumaker had to say about Braun). It's not just that Braun cheated; he lied about cheating and in so doing, has led to things like this:

To which I refer you again to Calcaterra, who writes eloquently about the Colon case. Yes, Colon was caught, and served a suspension, but, Calcaterra says, that isn't the point:

What I don’t want is to get into some lazy form of thinking where anything odd is chalked up to PED use. That’s unfair and soul killing. To be suspicious of a player we need more than that or else we take all that is joyful and wondrous out of the game of baseball.

In Bartolo Colon’s case we happen to have more than that so we need not engage in these sort of cute, factoid-based accusations about the 1998 All-Star Game. We can and should simply say "people in the game suspect Colon because he took PEDs less than a year ago and is mentioned prominently in the Biogenesis documents."

Baseball writers are in the business of crafting narratives. Fans inevitably adopt these narratives. The writers, therefore, either directly or indirectly, write baseball history. So when a well-known and well-respected baseball commentator like Buster Olney cites that 1998 All-Star game, or cites the mere fact that Colon is pitching well at 40 as evidence of PEDs, he encourages fans to do the same. And, by extension, to be suspicious of any anomalous performance. That’s wrong and unfair. Not to Bartolo Colon, but to the next guy who does something that, until a few years ago, we thought was pretty cool.

Exactly, exactly, exactly. There are quite a few writers who have done this in recent days and weeks; you surely remember the recent "Chris Davis has hit a lot of home runs so PEDs" meme popular among a lot of mainstream writers. Beyond that, it's really hard to craft any sort of narrative in 140 characters on Twitter, as Olney did about Colon in that tweet; all that tweet is, is a baseless accusation, which, as Calcaterra points out, is wrong and unfair.

The only way we're going to fix this is to punish the cheaters -- it seems that most of the players are on board with this -- clean up the game, and at the very least, let those of us who pay the freight for the multi-million dollar contracts get a show that's on a level playing field. Will that end cheating forever? Of course it won't. Competitive athletes will always look to try to get an edge on their competitors, their opponents. It's been that way since the beginning of organized sports. That's just human nature.

But let them do it within the context of the rules of the game and the law of the land. Play fair. That's a lesson we were all taught as kids. There's no reason it shouldn't be that way with highly-paid adult professional athletes. Some more words from Calcaterra sum that up:

I don’t want to live in a world where everything that happens which is somewhat unusual is looked upon as fraudulent and bad. I want to cheer when some career minor leaguer finally figures something out, however late. I want to enjoy it when some tomato can reliever quits baseball, goes back to coaching high schoolers and then has some weird unexpected fluky run. I want to be happy for a guy whose life was turned upside down and found himself hitting in the Mexican League only to come back to the U.S. to find a niche. I want former All-Stars who we all thought were toast to come back and put together one last All-Star season.

If Alex Rodriguez has played his last game as a major-league player -- and there's at least the possibility that has happened -- let that be a cautionary tale to every young player now in the major leagues, or those coming up through minor-league systems now, hoping to become big leaguers, that cheating and dishonesty simply will not be tolerated. Somehow, Alex Rodriguez, disliked by so many, even fans of the teams he's played for, seems the appropriate symbol for cleaning up baseball.

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