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Morosi: Baseball won battle with A-Rod, but is losing bigger war
Baseball won. But baseball lost.
Yes, Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for the entire 2014 season. Major League Baseball's evidence against Rodriguez was validated, even if arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced the ban from 211 games to 162. MLB touted in a news release, just in case we forgot, that it remains committed to "eliminating performance-enhancing substances from our game.''
Yet, in the end, this was a hollow victory at the end of a lousy week for the sport.
Baseball fans should be celebrating the Hall of Fame elections of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. You might have missed that news. It was announced Wednesday, but obscured by the loud debate on steroid-tainted candidates Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the uproar over Dan Le Batard’s Deadspin ballot, and the Rodriguez drama that even now refuses to abate.
Saturday's announcement of the A-Rod ban didn't end the controversy, especially with Rodriguez's misguided and narcissistic declaration that he will take his case to federal court. Baseball has a problem. A-Rod is an outsized part of it — more on him later — but this goes far beyond the feral ego of a $275 million man.
MLB remains wildly successful as an industry, particularly in the areas of advanced media and local television, but the past few days have underscored the need for a cultural shift.
The juxtaposition in sports is striking, between the traditional national pastime and present national infatuation. Football has its vices and ills — concussions, brutality, gambling, and, yes, PEDs — but they hardly overshadowed the excitement for the BCS or NFL playoffs. With baseball, the disillusionment comes baked into the crust.
Think about it. When you talked baseball with your friends over the past year, which were the biggest topics? Jose Fernandez's remarkable story of defecting from Cuba and winning Rookie of the Year? Red Sox postseason heroes Koji Uehara and David Ortiz? Or A-Rod, the deceitful Ryan Braun and the PED-induced angst over the Hall of Fame ballot?
If you're a teenager who followed sports news over the past week, which debate sounded more interesting to you — Cam Newton vs. Colin Kaepernick, or Le Batard vs. the BBWAA?
The media deserve some blame for this. Maybe we buy into the notion that baseball, with its unique place in American history and folklore, should be held to a higher standard than football. MLB has a more stringent and publicized drug-testing program than the NFL. But when it's effective against high-profile users such as Rodriguez and Braun, the focus on the problem only intensifies. MLB could adopt a less aggressive approach, but then we'd all accuse Commissioner Bud Selig of taking us back to the summer of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa that fooled us all.
Baseball can hope Rodriguez and Braun are the last former MVPs to be suspended, but history tells us at least a couple of elite players will keep trying to cheat. Selig will press on with drug testing because he must, for the good of the sport, for the benefit of his legacy, and, frankly, because there is more work to be done.
In the last eight days alone, MLB has announced new drug suspensions for four minor leaguers: Eddie Rosario, Darren Driggers, Yonquelys Martinez and Marco Guzman. You've never heard of them. That is the point. If Braun had accepted what he knew was a legitimate positive test in 2011, and if Rodriguez had done the same last summer in the face of evidence linking him to Anthony Bosch, baseball would enter the 2014 season with fewer questions about its authenticity.
Yonquelys Martinez's 50-game ban didn't move the needle on talk radio. It's the selfish superstars who keep PEDs in the news — first by using, then by perpetuating legal challenges because they have the resources to do so.
If there's one negative consequence of no salary cap and two decades of labor peace, it's that superstars have become corporations of one. Some are so self-aggrandizing that they have forgotten owners and fellow players are their business partners. Unlike peers in the NFL, NHL and NBA, they've had no recent labor strife as a reality check.
The pot of available money appears limitless. Better numbers mean more money for me, but not necessarily less money for you, so it's fine if I bend the rules. Most of today's stars know better, but Rodriguez and Braun have operated out of the same selfish playbook. They don't care what they do to the sport or its reputation, as long as their lawyers and PR flacks spin a story that wins a few more believers.
Braun has said he's a changed man. We'll see. Meanwhile, A-Rod has vowed to fight on. Why? An even better question: Who cares? If you believe A-Rod took PEDs, nothing will change your mind now. And if you think MLB "railroaded" him, to borrow the word he invoked in the talk-radio courtroom of Mike Francesa, you don’t need any more convincing.
If Rodriguez were in touch at all with public opinion, his statement Saturday would have gone something like this:
I said all along that the commissioner's office was unjust in its treatment of me. Obviously the arbitrator agreed, because he trimmed 49 games off my initial suspension. While I don't deserve a suspension of any length, I accept it. Even though I would like to take further legal action to clear my name, I realize that doing so would perpetuate a feeling of negativity about the game I love. Therefore, I will consider this matter closed. I will dedicate the upcoming year to personal involvement in initiatives that grow baseball in urban centers across America, where the game must become strong again.
Think that might have earned him a little respect? I do. At some point in this megalomania trip, a dose of humility would have been welcome. But Rodriguez's self-importance is so immense that he's unable to see the damage being done to a sport he claims to cherish. A-Rod should know that the steroid era won't begin to end until he stops fighting for a legacy that, as of Saturday, is officially dead.