There are few public figures in American life less well liked than Alex Rodriguez. Edward Snowden? Kristen Stewart? Anthony Weiner? Maybe.
Yes, there are approximately 270 million reasons to despise the Yankees’ third baseman, the largest of which is his biggest-in-the-history-of-baseball contract. Add to that his nails-on-a-chalkboard demeanor, his .272 batting average last season, and what’s not to hate?
But just because Alex Rodriguez is, well, cringe-worthy doesn’t mean that he ought to be exiled.
And Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig seems to realize this. Today, Selig issued a 211-game suspension that would shelve the Yankee star for the rest of the year and all of next. The penalty seems severe at first glance, but it’s far less punitive than it might have been. By going after A-Rod under baseball’s substance-abuse program, which falls under the game’s collective bargaining agreement, Selig knew exactly how this would play out.
Selig suspends A-Rod. A-Rod files an appeal. Pending that appeal, A-Rod takes his spot in the Yankees lineup for the first time this season—much to the chagrin of Rodriguez’s employers, the New York Yankees. (More about that in a moment.)
Selig could have pursued a nuclear option—invoking his open-ended powers under the “best interests of baseball” clause and slapping A-Rod with a lifetime ban similar to the one that’s keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame. But while A-Rod may be even more universally despised than Rose, his transgressions are far less serious. While Major League Baseball hasn’t released details of the investigation, the grounds for the suspension likely include allegations about Rodriguez’s relationship with Anthony Bosch of the Miami clinic Biogenesis: using the company’s PEDs, encouraging other players to do the same, and lying to baseball officials about the whole thing.
If it’s true, it’s bad. But not any different than what dozens of players have been caught doing and perhaps hundreds have gotten away with it. While Rodriguez admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs—like other stars including Jason Giambi and Mark McGwire—he had not been sanctioned by Major League Baseball for violating its drug policies. (The drug test that he reportedly failed in 2003 was conducted for survey purposes with no penalties attached.) As a first offender, A-Rod was poised to take the fall for JWA: Juicing While an Asshole.
But Selig had a problem. Reports suggest that there’s voluminous evidence against A-Rod. However, the source of that evidence is Tony Bosch of Biogenesis, who’s trying to squirm out from under a federal investigation. If Selig suspended A-Rod for life, the player’s expensive attorneys would immediately file suit, and their first move would be to subpoena Bosch. At which point one thing could become crystal clear: Bosch is one of the handful of people in America who’s enough of a sleazebag to make A-Rod look (a) believable and (b) sympathetic.
That’s why Selig was unwilling to risk his legacy—and what’s left of the game’s integrity—by attempting to slap A-Rod with a lifetime ban that could have gotten rid of him once and for all. Or merely aired more of baseball’s dirty laundry.
With this more modest penalty, the commissioner gets to look like a tough guy, throwing up his arms, and shifts the blame to the “system”—and by extension the Player’s Association, which, reluctantly, has A-Rod’s back in this mess. But even so, Selig can’t avoid the stench. As commissioner of baseball, he professes to be the guardian of the game, but he’s really just the owners’ errand boy. They pay his salary and he serves at their pleasure. L’Affaire A-Rod shines a spotlight onto this glaring conflict of interest.
Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner made a huge mistake in 2007 by offering A-Rod a 10-year extension instead of calling the slugger's bluff and allowing him to opt out of his contract. The Yankees have been paying for this $270 million bungle—enabled by some savvy advice from Goldman Sachs—ever since. How does the team get $34 million worth of relief from its incompetent management? By Selig suspending A-Rod without pay. It may not make you raise your eyebrows, but it should make you hold your nose.
So Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez remains the poster boy for baseball’s biggest problems. He is the game’s most accomplished active player and—give or take a Barry Bonds—is probably the best player you’ve ever seen with your own two eyes. But like so many of his contemporaries—more, surely, than any of us know—he had some pharmaceutical assistance in jacking those home runs.
The game wishes he’d disappear from the top of the record books. The Yankees wish he would disappear from their payroll. The fans just wish he would disappear.
But because of contract law and due process, internal politics and public relations, that’s not going to happen. All that Bud Selig can do is grimace and give the game's perennial pariah a long, unpaid vacation.So, Alex, what are your plans for next summer? We hear that Edward Snowden might be looking for some company.