Drug policy, appeal process prevail in A-Rod case
Arbitration ruling suspends one of game's biggest stars for entire 2014 season
The Alex Rodriguez situation has been difficult for baseball. It couldn't be anything else when one of the game's biggest stars is accused of breaking the rules, of cheating the game, of playing under what amounts to false pretenses.
But this whole ordeal was completely necessary. And it was done through a process that by now is regarded as time-tested and fair.
Baseball doesn't necessarily "win" in the literal sense when one of its biggest names is suspended for one year for violating the collectively bargained drug policy. But baseball did what it had to do in this case, to preserve the integrity of its drug-testing program and to preserve the integrity of the game itself.
On Saturday, an arbitrator hearing Rodriguez's appeal of a 211-game suspension ruled that Rodriguez would be suspended for 162 games, the entire 2014 season.
It had been alleged that Rodriguez had been supplied with performance-enhancing drugs by Biogenesis, a South Florida "anti-aging clinic." It had been further alleged that Rodriguez had actively attempted to interfere with Major League Baseball's investigation of Biogenesis.
Obviously, the arbitrator in this case, Fredric Horowitz, found the evidence presented against Rodriguez by Major League Baseball to be compelling enough to support a one-year suspension.
Rodriguez has stated that he will appeal this finding in federal court. Federal courts, however, have not shown a tendency to overturn decisions made in binding arbitration cases. A-Rod's apparent legal strategy -- when in doubt, go after somebody in court -- is not likely to prevail in this instance, either.
The Major League Baseball Players Association, which participated in his defense, issued a statement in the wake of the ruling. The statement said that the union "strongly disagrees" with the arbitration panel's decision. But it further stated: "We recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached, however, and we respect the collectively-bargained arbitration process which led to the decision. In accordance with the confidentiality provisions of the [Joint Drug Agreement], the Association will make no further comment regarding the decision."
Rodriguez is a three-time Most Valuable Player and baseball's highest-paid player, still under a 10-year, $275 million contract with the New York Yankees. Given his status, his contract and his team affiliation, it is difficult to find a more visible player in the game today.
But this cuts both ways. The player who received the second-largest penalty arising from the Biogenesis investigation was Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, who was the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player.
Braun had earlier won an appeal of an October 2011 positive drug test on procedural grounds through the arbitration process. In the Biogenesis case, he did not appeal and served his suspension last year.
Again, there was considerable consternation about one of baseball's most visible and successful players being involved with PEDs. But there was a flip side in both cases. The game's anti-PED policies are playing no favorites. Nobody is escaping on the grounds of name recognition or status.
This is the message sent by the Rodriguez suspension. Baseball's drug policies will be pursued vigorously and even-handedly in all cases.
In the Biogenesis case, baseball was able to react aggressively because it has its own investigative arm, as a result of a recommendation set forth in the Mitchell Report. Baseball pursued its own investigation and obviously produced evidence that was good enough to prevail in the Rodriguez arbitration hearing.
In a recent interview with MLB.com, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said:
"We went through a long process to get to the toughest testing program in American sports. A program of that sort needs to be enforced strictly, enforced rigorously, at the highest level. And it has been."
The idea that Selig had some sort of vendetta going against Rodriguez is a notion that A-Rod's handlers could put out in hopes that it would catch on somewhere, somehow, with someone. The fact that it simply isn't true might considerably reduce its reach.
Baseball did what it had to do here, aggressively pursuing allegations against one of the game's biggest stars, not because of who it happened to be, but because the process demanded this course of action.
The process worked. Rodriguez was given the arbitration opportunity that the process demanded. He did not prevail. The process and justice prevailed. This is not a time for gloating. But it should be a time for understanding that baseball's credibility on these issues has once more been upheld.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.