Some people will buy it. Maybe not a lot, maybe only a lunatic fringe, but some. Some people will view Alex Rodriguez as a martyr, and there is nothing baseball can do about that now.
Rodriguez isn’t simply pursuing a scorched-earth policy, he’s trying to destroy the entire solar system, from Commissioner Bud Selig to the Yankees to his own union.
Maybe Rodriguez won’t win. Maybe he’s guilty as sin. But his antics are all about distraction, about raising doubt. To some degree, he surely is succeeding, in the court of public opinion if nowhere else.
This is the risk that baseball took in going after Rodriguez. He wasn’t going to roll over like the other 12 players who were implicated in the Biogenesis scandal and accepted suspensions when confronted with the evidence against them. He was going to fight, fight like a cornered animal, fight a losing, seemingly irrational battle to the end. And unlike the others, he has the money — and the unrelenting hubris — to do it.
So now what?
Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz still could reduce Rodriguez’s record 211-game suspension; he will rule on the merits of the case without regard to Wednesday’s sideshow, when A-Rod stormed out of his appeal hearing upon learning that Horowitz would not require Selig to testify.
And Rodriguez, regardless of whether he serves 100, 150 games or some other number, still could attempt to take his case to federal court, though good luck with that; the courts generally defer to the rulings of arbitrators who are appointed through collective bargaining.
One thing is certain: There will be more noise. More questions raised about why Selig, the accuser, would not face Rodriguez, the accused. More questions about the integrity of baseball’s investigation, the allegations from A-Rod’s camp that the sport purchased stolen documents and that one of its investigators engaged in inappropriate sexual relations with a witness.
Never mind that it took Rodriguez until Wednesday to deny — on a radio show, and not under oath — baseball’s charge that he used performance-enhancing drugs over a long period and attempted to obstruct the sport’s investigation of him and others.
Never mind that the arbitration process Rodriguez labeled a “farce” is the same process that enabled Steve Howe to play through seven drug suspensions, John Rocker to receive a reduced penalty for making racist comments and — ahem — Ryan Braun to beat a positive drug test.
And never mind that because the burden is on baseball to justify its discipline of Rodriguez, the sport decides how it wants to make its case — and that baseball, according to a source, has used chief operating officer Rob Manfred and not Selig as its witness in every case since reaching its Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) with the union.
Perhaps Selig bears greater responsibility in this matter — Rodriguez’s discipline is based on his “just-cause” powers in the JDA rather than a scientifically based positive test. But Horowitz evidently did not see it that way. He did not compel Selig to testify, perhaps because he felt the commissioner’s testimony would mirror Manfred’s and ultimately was not necessary.
In any case, the battle lines remain the same.
Baseball wants this to be about whether Rodriguez used PEDs. Rodriguez wants it to be about something that has concerned many of us since the start of this investigation — whether baseball went too far.
Some will see it that way, even if they suspect that A-Rod was a steroid beast. For those people, the failure of Selig to testify — while consistent with baseball’s handling of such matters in the past — will only fuel the perception that Rodriguez is being treated unfairly.
As the union said in a statement, “(the union) believes that every player has the right under our arbitration process to directly confront his accuser.”
And as Rodriguez’s former agent, Scott Boras, told FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, “Players should have the same rights as American citizens. … When you can’t face your accuser, what’s on trial now is the process itself.”
I wouldn’t go that far, seeing as how neither the union nor Boras previously objected publicly to Manfred serving as the accuser. But one can argue that this case is different because of the sheer magnitude of Rodriguez’s suspension. One also can argue that baseball should have known Rodriguez would freak out if Selig failed to appear, and adjusted accordingly.
The problem with that argument is that A-Rod was going to freak out no matter what — if it wasn’t over Selig, it would have been over something else. His camp’s strategy, in the view of one player agent, is to attack on every possible front — and hope that waging such a fight leads to an acceptable resolution.
A-Rod is attacking. He’s not going to stop attacking. And baseball will have to endure the consequences. Baseball picked this fight, picked it thinking it was just. But the inevitable outcome was that baseball would get smeared, too.