A-Rod doesn't deserve lifetime ban

Major League Baseball should not give Alex Rodriguez a lifetime ban.

After six months of leaks, lawyers and conspiracy theories – to say nothing of Brian Cashman’s F-bomb heard ‘round the world – Major League Baseball apparently won’t ban Alex Rodriguez for life.

Good.

MLB will suspend Rodriguez through at least the end of next season, according to USA Today. Rodriguez is expected to appeal and rejoin the Yankees’ active roster Monday in Chicago. From there the matter will be left to arbitrator Fredric R. Horowitz, who could uphold, shorten or overturn the suspension. In this long, sordid affair, that’s the closest thing we’ll see to an equitable outcome.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig has abandoned his reported plans to banish A-Rod forever using the collective bargaining agreement’s “best interests of baseball” clause. That is wise. To have done so could have imperiled MLB’s constructive relationship with the players’ union and given credence to the (unsubstantiated) belief that MLB is crusading against A-Rod to help the Yankees nullify his contract – at a near nine-figure savings.

The commissioner’s office is said to believe A-Rod (a) used performance-enhancing drugs over a period of several years and (b) interfered with the Biogenesis investigation. If so, he should be punished. And that’s about to happen.

But to justify a lifetime ban, MLB would need to prove that Rodriguez’s sins were far more egregious than those of Melky Cabrera – who tested positive for PEDs last year and tried to deceive MLB officials by creating a phony website. Or of Ryan Braun, who tested positive in 2011, attacked the integrity of the drug-testing program, reportedly appeared in the Biogenesis records, and lied repeatedly about PEDs.

Cabrera’s sentence was 50 games. Braun’s was 65. They doped, got caught, and went to great lengths in an effort to cover it up – which, come to think of it, sounds similar to what Rodriguez supposedly did. So it would be incongruous, perhaps even unfair, for A-Rod to be sent away for good.

Is it possible that Rodriguez has done far more to obstruct the commissioner’s office than any other player since major-league steroid suspensions began in 2005? Perhaps. But we’ve yet to see public evidence of that. And until we do, it’s hard to argue that his misdeeds merit baseball’s ultimate penalty.

Rodriguez’s appeal will last several weeks at a minimum, which works to his advantage in two ways.

The first is financial. Even if Horowitz upholds the original suspension length, it benefits A-Rod for the penalty to take effect as late as possible. That’s because players aren’t paid during PED suspensions, and A-Rod’s annual salary this year ($28 million) is higher than the four seasons left on his deal after 2013, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. (Think that agitates the Yankees?)

The second has to do with A-Rod’s pride. Despite his pathological insincerity and deranged public-relations efforts, A-Rod cares about the manner in which he exits the sport. He’s 38, undeniably on the backstretch of his career. And because of Biogenesis, his dismal 2012 postseason, and other reasons too numerous to list, the man who ranks fifth on the all-time home run list has become a punchline. He can’t possibly go out on top. But he sure as hell doesn’t want to go out like this. Now he has a chance to regain a small measure of dignity before he’s through.

The Yankees? For one thing, the accounts payable office in the Bronx must continue with those biweekly payments to employee Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez – at more than $2 million a pop. That will be as palatable as battery acid soup unless A-Rod immediately starts helping the undermanned Yankees erase a 9-1/2 game deficit in the American League East.

Do the foundering Yankees want A-Rod in their lineup for the next month? That is debatable. Do they want him next year – at $25 million? No chance. And it seems likely they will get that wish for at least part of the season. If MLB has more evidence against A-Rod than other Biogenesis clients who are about to accept 50-game suspensions – which sources say is the case – then it seems inevitable that he will serve a ban of some length.

As anguished as the Yankees are about holding one of the worst contracts in American sports history, they should take solace in knowing A-Rod eventually will become irrelevant. (Did you know Manny Ramirez, another steroid-tainted hero, is anonymously hitting .279 for the Pacific Coast League’s Round Rock Express?) Rodriguez could be done with baseball by this time next year, collecting a disability settlement – paid for by the Yankees and an insurance company – on account of a bum hip.

For now, though, A-Rod is still here. In fairness, that’s where he should be. And if you have a problem with that, I’d suggest a time-honored remedy: You can buy a ticket, sit behind the Yankees’ dugout, and boo the hell out of No. 13.

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