No Suspense Necessary for the A-Rod Suspension Appeal

CBA, History, Management, Media, PEDs, Players

A decision on Alex Rodriguez’s arbitration hearing to reduce or overturn his suspension is reported to be imminent. There’s no suspense here, however. It’s fait accompli. And he’ll lose.

Do you really and truly believe that MLB is going to undercut itself by reducing Alex Rodriguez’s suspension from 214 games to something less? Anything that will allow him to play this season?

Think again.

In spite of A-Rod’s litany of high-priced, smooth-talking and experienced lawyers, the entire appeal process was a non-starter. Like Captain Kirk standing before the Klingon tribunal trying to convince them of his innocence of the murder of their Chancellor, A-Rod has no chance of winning this appeal; no possible benefit from it other than garnering some sympathy from those who see how unfair it’s been. Forgetting the Trekker fiction, this show trial was only entertained because A-Rod had a right to it and is pursuing every avenue to try and reduce his penalty and get paid for at least a portion of the next season-and-a-half. In reality, it’s like a trial in North Korea. If MLB could put him before a firing squad and purge him from their sight (and the Yankees’ payroll), they would do that. That’s the equivalent of this supposed arbitration hearing meant to give A-Rod his say.

Because A-Rod has become the poster child for the flouting of the flexible and self-serving rules baseball has enacted regarding performance-enhancing drugs, they have to keep using him to validate their new tough stance on the behavior of players who ignore and try to circumvent the testing process.

This is not a defense of A-Rod.

He repeatedly lied and formulated different methods to use the drugs that he clearly doesn’t believe he can perform without. From the lies to the feigned contrition to the Biogenesis revelations to his public displays regarding the suspension and pleas for widespread sympathy to his plight, A-Rod is not worthy of mercy for what he did. But in the context of MLB and its own complicity in PED use, A-Rod should not be punished like this unless Bud Selig and his minions are taken to task as well.

The 214 game suspension is exemplar of MLB’s “get tough” tack to warn the players not to do it again; that their punishments have teeth and there won’t be the wink-and-nod at PED use there was post-1994 to the flashpoint hearing before congress in which Rafael Palmeiro‘s finger-wagging did more to antagonize the public than any anti-social Barry Bonds gesture of self-entitled arrogance ever could. There won’t be the “yeah whatever” suspensions that are so impotent that it’s worth it for an average player to use the drugs to make himself an All-Star and get an All-Star contract even if he gets caught. A-Rod is the key to send that message. It’s not the fact that A-Rod was getting busted again and again that spurred this massive and unprecedented suspension. It’s that he was the sexiest name they could have ever asked for as evidence that they were serious about putting forth the perception of cleaning up the game.

No matter your position on A-Rod and whether or not he’s deserving of what amounts to a death penalty for his career, it’s impossible to claim that this arbitration process is a fair one. It’s being heard by Fredric Horowitz, the hand-picked arbitrator employed by MLB. He is not finding in favor of A-Rod under any circumstances. Horowitz is relatively new on the job after replacing Shyam Das when Das was fired after—to MLB’s shock—finding in favor of Ryan Braun when Braun appealed his failed drug test after the 2011 season.

The other members of the three-person panel are MLB COO Rob Manfred and legal counsel to the MLBPA David Prouty. Prouty will obviously find in favor of A-Rod. Manfred is even more in MLB’s corner than Horowitz and testified for MLB. How can he be viewed as a fair judge?

A-Rod’s histrionics, desk-kicking, hand-slamming, storming out of the hearing and running right into Mike Francesa’s warm studio embrace aside, this is not an evenhanded hearing with an independent judiciary making the decision based on facts. From the beginning, the process was weighted to convict. Talking out of both sides of their mouths regarding legality and fairness, the head of Biogenesis, Anthony Bosch, was paid for his testimony. MLB purports itself to be as reasonable and objective as a court of law simultaneously using tactics that would immediately call the testimony of the star witness into question. They have Manfred testifying against A-Rod in a case in which Manfred will have a substantial say in the decision. If it sounds like North Korea, it may be because these are the methods used in North Korea.

The problem with MLB choosing not to come to a closed-door agreement with A-Rod regarding a suspension that both they and he could live with is that there’s always the potential of a federal lawsuit turning baseball’s heavy-handedness and dictatorial edicts back on itself as happened with collusion and the reserve clause. Both times baseball thought they’d win easily. Both times they lost badly. Both times it cost them an exponentially greater amount of money than if they’d just decided to treat the players as partners rather than a beaten down society of hindrances to furthering their own ends.

MLB has been notoriously clumsy in using its corporate connections and power in high places to its best advantage as the NFL does. What are they going to do when A-Rod—with nothing left to lose and seeing no logic in backing down now—chooses to toss it to the courts for an injunction allowing him to play in 2014 while the case winds its way through the legal process? Wouldn’t it have been easier to shun the attempts to use A-Rod as the conduit to wash away all baseball’s collective sins? To quash it for the good of everyone who looked the other way while the public was oohing and aahing at the record-breaking power numbers and other byproducts of the drug use? Would A-Rod have taken a 100 game suspension just to get it over with? They’ll never know. From the beginning, they were hell-bent on getting the conviction because they hate A-Rod and want to use him as their fulcrum to leverage the rest of baseball to fall in line; as the case study of what can happen if they take the same road he did.

The A-Rod decision is imminent and we know the result. But this case is far from over. And it’s MLB’s own fault if they lose again.




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What Ryan Braun And Lance Armstrong Have In Common

Award Winners, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, MVP, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Lance Armstrong’s long-awaited admission for using performance enhancing drugs set the standard for non-apology apologies. At the time I called it a half-hearted allocution and stated that there’s a certain nobility in blatant unrepentance. Armstrong’s performance combined a clear lack of regret with the type of combativeness that you’ll rarely see in someone who wants to regain public support.

Like most other athletes and celebrities who have to publicly confess to save their careers after a scandal, Ryan Braun has failed to learn from the mistakes or follow the examples of others, especially Armstrong. Rather than take the next step from Armstrong and do the one thing that might have granted him forgiveness—admit what he did without excuses or context—he stuck to a safety-first script hoping it will fly. All he succeeded in doing, however, was to make himself appear to be the same seedy, self-involved liar he was before. This time, rather than openly lying, maligning the character of others and relying on technicalities to be set free, he decided to qualify his behaviors with more excuses.

You can read the statement here. It’s a general, run-of-the-mill public apology made because he had no other choice. Braun claimed that he was dealing with a “nagging injury” and used a “cream and a lozenge.” Then he went into the dull clichés of someone who’s been backed into a corner and can’t lie his way out of it.

If Braun wanted to be forgiven, he should have said the following:

I did it because I wanted to compete and win. I was on a team that was a championship contender, I knew other players were doing it and I was under the impression that what I took wouldn’t be detectable. I knew I was breaking the rules and did it anyway. A lot of other guys were doing it and, while that’s not a justification and not something you want to hear from your children let alone a grown man who’s supposed to be a role model, it’s the truth. The reason I’m standing here is because I got caught. Had I not gotten caught, the likelihood is that I would still be using PEDs simply because they work. After the test came back positive, I knew I was busted and found a technicality to overturn my suspension. In so doing I said some terrible things about an innocent man and lied to everyone. I was desperate and didn’t know what else to do. I’m truly embarrassed about what I’ve done and I only hope that in the future the fans, my fellow players and Major League Baseball will see fit to give me another chance to prove myself as someone worthy of respect.

This would have been a refreshing change from the feigned emotionality that is a prerequisite for a public apology. It would’ve worked. And it had zero chance of happening.

What Braun and Armstrong have in common is that they were perfectly willing to steamroll over anyone who got in their way and threatened the foundation upon which their lies were built. Armstrong had his extended middle fingers hidden behind his back while he was confessing. Braun had his fingers crossed for luck that the public would believe it. Intentionally or not, Armstrong’s way was more honest as it was cohesive with the way he was acting. Braun is still trying to trick people. In the end, they’re both liars and they found methods to justify their lies. They don’t want forgiveness, they want the public’s adoration and approval. The sad fact is that they think these “apologies” were steps toward getting that back, but still have the impenetrable fortresses of arrogance constructed around their egos to be stunned when they don’t.




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MLB’s Expanded Replay—Did They Miss Another Call?

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Baseball’s incurable habit for getting things wrong has grown so common that even when they get something right, they can’t win. In cases like the performance enhancing drug investigation, their crackdown is almost a doubling-down on the wrong to trample on players’ rights and the collective bargaining agreement. The players brought much of it on themselves, but from the time the 2003 PED test results were leaked, there’s been a concerted effort on the part of baseball to “get” the players who are using PEDs even if that means trusting someone so furtive and lacking in credibility as Anthony Boesch. That’s not a defense of Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez or any other player who went to Biogenesis, just an analysis that MLB’s methods weren’t exactly clean themselves. They got down in the dirt to get the dirty, exhibiting audacious hypocricy for cracking down on a culture that they cultivated themselves. Now they’re dirty—well, dirtier—too. They’ve gotten their results, but it comes at an obvious cost that’s yet to be determined.

As the fallout from the Biogenesis suspensions continues to be felt with A-Rod’s continuing soap opera, MLB finally got something right on the money with their expansion of instant replay. The details of what they’re doing can be found here, but the gist is:

  • Managers will be given one challenge for the first six innings of the game and two from the seventh inning on.
  • There will be no challenges on judgment calls such as balls and strikes, check swings and hit by pitches.
  • The plan was created with significant guidance from Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and John Schuerholz.
  • The players, owners and umpires still have to approve it.

I think this is as close as MLB or any sports organizing body can come to getting it right. The arguments that have been presented against it are selfish and weak. Mike Francesa had callers complaining about it yesterday.

One said that he didn’t want to have to wait for a challenge to be upheld or rejected before celebrating if Derek Jeter hits a game-winning single to win game seven of the World Series. I don’t think he’s got anything to worry about regarding the scenario he presented considering that the Yankees aren’t making the playoffs and Jeter is building a lavish home on the disabled list. As far as the spontaneity, it’s far better than the umpire getting the call wrong and having a respectable career sullied for it as Don Denkinger did for his gaffe in the 1985 World Series between the Cardinals and Royals with the Cardinals losing their chance to win a title.

Another caller complained that the manager-umpire arguments wouldn’t be as prevalent or intense. I don’t think there will be that great a decrease in the number of ejections and probably slightly fewer arguments. If you watched Bobby Cox for his entire managerial career, you’ll know that the vast majority of his record number of ejections came as a result of arguing ball and strike calls. That’s not reviewable and will still be fodder for great debate until MLB takes the next logical step and implements a universal strike zone and forces the umpires to adhere to it. The human element will still be in baseball, but it won’t result in calls so badly blown that teams wind up losing because of them. The number of managers who put on a great show as Lou Piniella, Earl Weaver and Billy Martin used to are gone. And trust me, there will still be enough mistakes made that arguments will happen.

This system won’t take a lot of time, it won’t interfere with the game, and it will make the calls more accurate. It’s not 1960, 1980 or even 2000. Baseball was so resistant to the implementation of a logical replay system that they did nothing to contradict the reputation of the game as stuck in a different century—the 19th. The bottom line is that no matter what they did, there would be a percentage of people who would complain about it for its own sake. They’ve made the game better with this decision. That’s all that counts.

Now, to do something about getting the DH put into the National League. Then we’ll be in business.

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Jack Clark’s Albert Pujols PED Accusation

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Jack Clark’s accusations about Albert Pujols being a PED user were based on third-hand evidence from a source that has vehemently denied Clark’s claims. Clark was fired from his radio gig amid the backlash.

The baseline points between Clark’s allegations and the lack of evidence need to be separated. Clark shouldn’t have gone on the air and come up with these unfounded declarations of Pujols’s guilt, but would anyone be shocked if it came out tomorrow that Pujols is a PED user who patronized a more discreet clinic than Biogenesis? Or if he was smart enough to go to the Dominican Republic to get his boosters while paying in cash so there’s no paper trail?

Pujols went from a nondescript 13th round draft pick of the Cardinals to this era’s Joe DiMaggio. Today’s public, jaded by the continued lies and betrayals of the game’s stars, would not be surprised in the least if Pujols was outed tomorrow with legitimate proof of his guilt.

As far as we know, Pujols has never failed a test nor been caught with evidence of having cheated to achieve his greatness. Because he was drafted late and turned into an all-time great isn’t a reason to accuse him. It is suspicious, however, that Pujols was a skinny kid, roundly ignored coming out of the draft and blossomed into the best hitter of this generation. There have always been questions surrounding Pujols’s stated age of 33. Is it out of the question that he was a PED user, lied about his age and is better at covering it up than anyone else?

The above-linked piece from HardballTalk calls Pujols’s denial “forceful,” “specific,” and “different” from those that usually come from athletes. Pujols threatened to sue Clark. Are the denials more forceful, specific and different than Rafael Palmeiro jabbing his finger in front of congress? Than Alex Rodriguez? Than Ryan Braun? I don’t think so.

The public is quick to accept any player’s guilt with PED use because it’s become standard operating procedure to lie, lie, lie and hope it goes away only to be found guilty and issue a terse statement of admission with faux contrition. Fans and media are inherently skeptical of the achievements of any player. When one has the first pick of the first round draft pick bona fides like A-Rod, it’s more likely that that level of player will achieve A-Rod’s heights without drugs. Except he didn’t. For Pujols, the disbelief is more stark because of the transformation he underwent physically, analytically and in his performance. He was skinny and became huge. He wasn’t a prospect as an amateur and every team passed him by for thirteen rounds. He became a future Hall of Famer with video game statistics. Considering the number of players who’ve been caught, questioning Pujols is perfectly reasonable.

Clark was wrong for saying it the way he said it, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely wrong that Pujols used PEDs. He might have. We don’t know.

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Michael Kay’s Barbie Versatility

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

barbiepic

Barbie was such a popular and profitable doll because Mattel constantly came up with new accessories, venues and themes. Michael Kay is having a similar transformation, but it has more to do with trying to deal with the stages of grief that are accompanying the Yankees’ downfall than appealing to the masses. As always, the center of Kay’s universe is key. That center is Kay himself and his self-concocted connection to the Yankees’ unassailable greatness.

Let’s take a look at the different forms of Michael Kay that are manifesting themselves as he comes to grips with reality.

  • “Disappointed Dad” Michael Kay

Robinson Cano doesn’t hustle.

Were you aware of this?

It’s only become a problem recently because the team isn’t winning and a new object of anger must be found. Picking Cano is a bad idea. Cano’s lackadaisical baserunning isn’t going to abate because Kay and his booth cohorts suddenly realize that he runs at about 60 percent speed and rip him for it. Criticizing Cano for getting thrown out at second base on an attempted double as happened on Monday night and Kay noting that Brett Gardner hustles out of the batter’s box as a pointed fact/dirty look won’t help either. Cano doesn’t run hard and has no intention of running hard in spite of manager Joe Girardi’s subtle digs and fan complaints that are slowly reaching a climax.

You know what they’re going to do about it? Nothing. You know what Cano’s going to do? He’s going to take it easier over the final two months of the season.

While Kay went into a deranged and idiotic rant against the Mets when Jose Reyes bunted for a base hit and pulled himself from the final game of the season to clinch the 2011 batting title—ironically over Ryan Braun—Kay began his monologue on the subject with a “from day one” attack on the Mets as if they could do any more about Reyes’s decision than the Yankees can do about Cano. Reyes didn’t steal many bases over the second half of that season because he didn’t want to reinjure his hamstring and further reduce the amount of money he’d get on the open market. Reyes signed a contract worth $106 million, validating his behavior. Cano is looking for a contract for more than twice what Reyes got and will probably get it. With the Yankees going nowhere, he’s not going to risk injury so close to that dream’s fruition.

If Girardi, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, general manager Brian Cashman and any other prominent Yankee figure speaking to Cano about his lack of effort hasn’t done the trick, it’s disturbing that Kay is so egomaniacal that he thinks his commentaries and collateral shots will spur an epiphany in Cano at this late date. Kay folding his arms like Tom Bosley in Happy Days and shaking his head forlornly will be roundly ignored by a player like Cano, who clearly doesn’t care what anyone thinks about his effort or lack thereof.

Following Tuesday’s loss, Kay watched the Yankees file out of the dugout and said something to the tune of them having to “go into the clubhouse and think about it” as if they were naughty children being placed into time out. They’re not thinking about it. They lost. They know where the season is headed and are behaving accordingly. After the game, they went for drinks, dinner and whatever else players do to amuse themselves and are not listening to a scolding from Kay.

  • Memory lane Michael Kay

As the losses pile up, references to the decade-old glory days are appearing during YES telecasts. During the series in Chicago, Kay and John Flaherty spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the 2003 ALCS win over the Red Sox. We heard more talk about Aaron Boone than we’d heard in the past five years combined. Why? Is it because the current on-field product is so repugnant that all that’s left are memories?

This is similar to the dark times of Yankeedom from 1965 through 1975 and from 1979 to 1992 when the team was a dysfunctional, rudderless, horribly run non-contender. “Remember when” is considered the lowest form of conversation and, in this instance, nobody other than the sympathetically delusional Yankees fans and apologists want to talk about anything but the past because the present and future is so hellish that they’re trying to smother it out by reliving 2003. Incidentally, 2003 was a year in which the highlight was the ALCS win because they were upset in the World Series by the Marlins. Inconvenient facts are, well, inconvenient to the narrative of “historical greatness.” That historical greatness was backed up by luck and money. These are two things that are in short supply for the Yankees right now.

They could just as relevantly talk about Babe Ruth. The same amount of luck it took for the Yankees to purchase Ruth from the Red Sox is evident in the fortuitousness involved in the circumstances of a 22nd round draft pick Andy Pettitte; a 24th round draft pick (as an infielder) Jorge Posada; a pitcher they nearly traded in Mariano Rivera; a shy and quiet Bernie Williams; a retread managing loser like Joe Torre; and for owner George Steinbrenner to be suspended at just the right time to prevent them from trading all these young players for veterans and repeating the 1980s cycle to nowhere. It was so long ago that it might as well have happened 100 years ago rather than 20.

  • Bitter and jealous Michael Kay

This Kay changes to shades of green, carries a dull sickle and features a dino buddy (sold separately). During last night’s game—another loss to the last-place White Sox—Kay gave the out-of-town scores and when he got to the Mets, he spoke of Matt Harvey’s complete game shutout over the Rockies. Rather than say something positive like, “Wow, that Harvey’s something,” it became another backhanded compliment by pointing out that it’s amazing what Harvey’s doing for a Mets team that is nine games under .500. Leave it to Kay to take a Mets positive and pee on it in a pathetic attempt to mark a territory that’s no longer his.

It’s a time of panic for Kay and the other Yankees sycophants. Not only are the Red Sox turning around their own disastrous season from 2012 with a likely playoff spot, but the Mets are putting together the foundation for a contender led by a pitcher whose performance and mound demeanor are nearly identical to Roger Clemens in 1986. The Mets—the METS!!!—have attributes the Yankees don’t. They have significant young players contributing with more on the cusp of the big leagues and they have money to spend this off-season. Having to accept these facts will take time and the snippiness will grow worse as he travels the road of denial.

  • Osmosis cool Michael Kay

Dress it in bellbottoms, sort of behind the times but with a “what’s the difference?” shrug.

Kay is the epitome of the guy who shows up at the party without anyone knowing who invited him or how he gained entry. Why is he on the YES Network? Because he roots for the Yankees. One of the reasons I didn’t want him replaced when his contract was up and his return was in question was that YES was likely to find someone worse, so it’s better to stay with the devil you know. Why is he on ESPN in New York? The station wants to attract Yankees fans who are looking for even more homerism than they get from Mike Francesa. He’s the guy who couldn’t play but managed to find a job in which he gets to hang around with the cool kids like Jeter and, through osmosis, hopes that some of their cool becomes part of him. Instead, he’s just a gadfly and hanger-on like a part of the entourage whose presence wouldn’t be missed.

  • Mouthless Michael Kay

Nobody wants to hear it. Nobody wants to hear the caveats, preceded by “I’m not using this as an excuse” despite the fact that the mere use of the phrase says, “Yes, I’m using this as an excuse” when talking about injuries and age and whatever other reason for this mess is proffered. The same logic that was used when the team was riding high in April and May fits now, except in the wrong direction. They were winning with the likes of Vernon Wells contributing mightily. Now they’re losing because Wells fell back into being the player he was for the past three years. It wasn’t “Yankee Magic.” It was a brief renaissance that couldn’t possibly continue. It has nothing to do with the “rich tapestry of history.” It has to do with a short run of good luck that ran out. You can’t say how great Wells and Lyle Overbay were early in the season and trash them now. It doesn’t work that way.

They don’t have the money to spend to buy their way out of their issues, don’t have the young players to trade for immediate help, and their front office doesn’t have the ability to function in an atmosphere when they don’t have $50 million more to spend than their next closest competitor. Kay’s lashing out and whining won’t change that. These are the results you see when these factors are in place and no one, not Kay, not Steinbrenner or anyone could fix it with the speed at which it’s expected to be fixed.

This is reality. These are the Yankees.

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A-Rod’s Reputation Contributed To The Harshness Of His Penalty

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If Alex Rodriguez had an off-field reputation like Joe Mauer, would he be suspended for such a draconian amount of time? There’s a sense of, “because it’s A-Rod” surrounding the 211 game suspension that Major League Baseball has handed down on him that it begs the question of whether it would have happened in a similar way if it was someone else.

This is the equivalent of the Rockefeller Drug Law in its undue and selective harshness. As many times as he’s been “caught,” A-Rod technically didn’t get caught by MLB prior to this and is being treated as if he did. He admitted his use, lied about his use, made a fool of baseball, embarrassed the Yankees and has repeatedly flouted any attempts to clean up the game, but the genesis of this suspension is to punish him and use him as an example. Essentially they’re saying to other, lesser players, “We’ll do this to the biggest names in the game, so we’ll definitely do it to you as well. Lay off the drugs.” It’s also a message to the fans, media, politicians and everyone else that MLB is “serious” about a cleanup even if it’s mostly for appearances.

A-Rod’s somewhat like a criminal mastermind to whom nothing would stick and the circle has closed in on him through design that MLB eventually “got” him by careful manipulation of the system to achieve that end. It was either talk and agree to a plea deal or get the toughest punishment MLB can muster and still get through the legal process without an overturn and extended period of time in court. MLB can use semantics such as “best interest of the game” and reference A-Rod stonewalling, lying, vacillating and refusing to cooperate to justify the eventual decision to toss the book at him, but they still have to look in the mirror and share a large segment of the blame for PED use.

If Bud Selig played ignorant to steroids from the time he became commissioner to the day he was humiliated and looked like a doddering figurehead in front of congress, it’s in the same semantics-laden ballpark as A-Rod’s logical defense. I’m hard-pressed to believe the Selig is anything more than a rubber stamp commissioner and just as clueless as to the actual goings on in the game even though he’s spearheading the “get tough” attitude on a culture whose proliferation he turned a blind eye to and even went so far as to tacitly encourage it until it no longer suited him and his bosses—the owners.

The argument could be made that Ryan Braun has been far more damaging to the game’s reputation than A-Rod. It was Braun who behaved as the innocent victim when A-Rod acted like A-Rod. Yet it’s Braun who gets the light sentence due to a plea agreement and A-Rod who’s refusing to back down and getting suspended for an entire season-plus.

211 games is a ridiculously long sentence and if there is still room for an agreement while winding through the appeals process, A-Rod should request something akin to a yearlong suspension that would put him out from now through next year’s All-Star break. He’d be eligible to return in July, get half his 2014 salary and the episode would be over. Regardless of any agreement or legal fight, A-Rod’s next few days as a Yankee are likely to another sordid chapter in the shotgun marriage that hit the rocks midway through and stayed there.

As much of a problem as A-Rod has been, his acts don’t warrant a suspension four times as long as most others are getting. The biggest star with the largest salary gets the worst punishment and had A-Rod acted like a classy professional throughout his career and not an ongoing freakshow, the penalties might have been more in line with the misdeeds. It’s only because it’s A-Rod that the penalties are so crushing and he should fight them because as much as he’s brought it on himself, he doesn’t deserve this devastating a penalty for doing something that a vast number of athletes have been doing under wink-and-nod approval from the game itself.

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Ryan Braun Has Highly Offended Me

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The easiest thing to do with the latest Ryan Braun saga is to go into a logical mode and say he did something that anyone else would’ve done, got very rich and only got caught because baseball has suddenly decided to do something about an issue that they winked and nodded at less than ten years ago. Or you can go to the other side, go into the idyllic world of fantasy where all athletes are clean-living paragons of sportsmanship and act like Braun just kidnapped your children while starving your dog and committed a Bernie Madoff-level fraud.

Did he lie? No more than most any other athletes or even people you’ll run into who, when cornered, will do something similar to what Braun did. Braun passionately proclaimed his innocence and then came up with a tersely and inadequately worded statement acknowledging the all-encompassing “mistakes” that could mean anything from parking in a handicapped spot to biting the heads off live parakeets. Is this something new in sports? In the world?

It can be parsed, dissected, criticized, ridiculed and bashed, but Braun was doing something that many other players were doing or would do if they had the opportunity. He just got caught. He won an MVP while using PEDs, but other players have won awards and made a lot of money doing the exact same thing. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put on a show for an entity in Major League Baseball that was still recovering from the 1994 strike and canceled post-season and helped the game grow stronger with the use of steroids just like bodybuilders and athletes do. Roger Clemens “defied” age. Players who couldn’t play and were organizational filler were suddenly All-Stars. Why is it now something over which Braun is being treated about as badly as Aaron Hernandez is? This groundswell and group mentality is idiotic and if you actually believed he was clean, idiotic is the operative word.

Stop listening to what ballplayers say because it’s made for public consumption or done out of blatant self-preservation. Braun tried to save himself, did for a while, then got caught again and has copped a plea. The over-the-top response is pure self-righteous garbage and it should be ignored just as fervently as the statements players like Braun make saying how “innocent” they are. Braun’s morals and life code are not a concern of mine and I’m not sure why they would be a concern of anyone else either. Then again, I don’t speak the language of “ridiculous.”

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John Rocker Tells A Truth No One Wants To Hear (Especially From Him)

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There’s no difference between what John Rocker said and what baseball as a whole did regarding performance enhancing drugs. Rocker’s recent comments elicited a rehashing of his behaviors when he was playing the wrestling bad guy. The entire genesis of “Rocker is an idiot” stems from his ill-advised interview in Sports Illustrated. Because Rocker said some offensive things then doesn’t automatically make everything he says meritless. If it were a former baseball owner, a respected player, a broadcaster, an agent, or a writer who came out and said the same things Rocker said, would it be seen as blatant honesty or Ann Coulter-style, absurd over-the-top salesmanship?

Rocker said the following while appearing on Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan:

Honestly, and this may go against what some people think from an ethical standpoint, I think it was the better game.

At the end of the day when people are paying their $80, $120, whatever it may be, to buy their ticket and come watch that game, it’s almost like the circus is in town.

They are paid to be entertained. They wanna see some clown throw a fastball 101 mph and some other guy hit it 500 feet. That’s entertainment. You’re paying to be entertained.

Was there anything more entertaining than 1998—I don’t care how each man (Sosa and McGwire) got there—was there anything more entertaining than 1998?

Nowadays Rocker’s a guest on radio shows only because they realize that whatever he says will be twisted out of proportion because of the new politically correct sensibility against PEDs. Never mind that the owners, the players, the media and the fans were all holding hands denying the reality that the home run records set by Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and the resurgences from pitchers long past their sell-by date like Roger Clemens came about due to drug use. Since Rocker said it, it has to be treated with revulsion. The only problem is that he’s right.

After the 1994 strike that wiped out the playoffs and World Series, blew away Tony Gwynn’s last chance at hitting .400, ruined Matt Williams’s run at the home run record and essentially demolished baseball in Montreal, the sport went into overdrive to replenish fan interest. Whether or not there was a tacit decision to ignore PED use or a whisper campaign to encourage it probably depends on whom you’re talking to or about. Commissioner Bud Selig acts as if he had no clue what was going on; the players were looking to get paid; the front office people had to sign players they knew were using to keep their jobs; the owners couldn’t care less; the media turned their heads; and the fans came back to the ballpark to watch the players hit dingers and shatter records. If no one’s innocent, everyone’s guilty.

It was only when the moral outrage started based on the self-aggrandizing investigation of Jeff Novitzky that got the ball rolling on exposure of PED use in sports. By then baseball had no choice but to put up a front of ignorance and take steps to “clean up” the game. It’s still ongoing with the current Biogenesis investigation threatening to be the newest in a string of baseball’s attempts to be dictatorial against one of the most powerful and committed unions on the planet. To meet their current ends they’re willing to run the risk of another collusion verdict in the inevitable lawsuits to be filed by Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and all the other players named in the records.

To imply that Rocker is wrong in his assertion that it was a show MLB was putting on to entertain the fans and make a lot of money is contrary to the facts. His statements were not based on wringing the last vestiges of attention from his infamy.  He was telling a truth that no one wants to hear or admit.

It’s simple to dismiss Rocker as a bitter fool by pointing to an entirely separate incident that happened over thirteen years ago. What happens when someone who’s not perceived as a bitter fool says the exact same thing? Then will it be seen as someone bringing forth contentions that all of baseball, the media and the fans loathe to admit: they got a thrill out of seeing all the records falling and balls flying out of stadiums. In their statements, baseball acts indignant at the PED use. In their actions/inactions, they were in on it and, in fact, encouraged it.

Say what you want about Rocker as a person, but his statements are dead-on. Because no one wants to hear them, especially from him, doesn’t alter their accuracy.

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MLB PED Suspensions and Collateral Attacks

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The ESPN.com report saying that Ryan Braun refused to answer questions from Major League Baseball regarding Biogenesis is a non-story as far as I’m concerned. Was anyone expecting Braun or any other player to fall at the feet of the investigators and beg for mercy? This is especially true with a player like Braun, who embarrassed MLB by winning his appeal from his failed test in 2011 and then took the step of maligning the tester and accusing baseball of pursuing him unjustly. With Braun, this the equivalent of the government not being able to get Al Capone for his business practices, but getting him for tax evasion. A sufficiently motivated authority is going to find a way.

MLB must feel sufficiently comfortable with their freedom in the Basic Agreement to suspend players for performance enhancing drug use without a failed test as evidence to move forward and worry about any consequences later. Safe in the knowledge that there might be collateral benefits for the greater good (as they see it), they’ll risk it. While the players will have lawyers and multiple prongs of defense strategies planned, perhaps MLB is willing to gamble on losing a long court battle to have the hammer hanging over other players’ heads saying that even if they don’t fail a test, their associations can lead to them being suspended. That might function as a deterrent.

What has to be answered, however, is if there is a true decision on the part of everyone in positions of power in baseball to stop PED use. MLB can issue suspensions and put forth the pretense of a hardline on drug use, but until teams stop paying players who are caught having used PEDs, these players will still try to circumnavigate the rules to improve their performance and paychecks. If, for example, MLB clubs manage to put it into player contracts that the agreement will be voided if there’s a PED suspension, there might be some movement on player PED use.

The key question will be if players like Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Bartolo Colon and anyone else on the list would accomplish what they did without the drugs. The argument could be made that the drugs were the impetus to them being paid and if the drugs weren’t used, then their performance and paycheck wouldn’t be what they are. Braun’s and A-Rod’s contracts are so massive that a suspension and potential for voiding that contract would stand a greater chance of precluding the drug use than the mere threat of getting caught, negligible suspensions and short-term public floggings they’d take. In the players’ minds, at worst they might not play up to the levels they did with drugs, but at least they’d get paid. The suspensions don’t matter all that much, but the money does. With the money in jeopardy, players will be reluctant to go the PED route.

It may be that MLB is trying to tear at the root of PED use with these suspensions while simultaneously ignoring that it was MLB itself that helped plant it to begin with. They’re trying to cage the monster they created and with the clever manipulation of the rules, they might just do it.

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From North Dallas Forty To Biogenesis

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Major League Baseball’s ham-handed investigation into the Biogenesis Clinic and the players who might have been involved in PEDs after being named as clinic clients is an attempt to appear as if they’re on top of the situation done in a way similar to how the National Football League would’ve done it. Except the way in which MLB is handling it is the way the NFL would’ve handled it in 1970, not 2013.

The tour-de-force account of how the NFL operated back then was the 1979 film North Dallas Forty as the protagonist, Phil Elliot is struggling through injuries and the refusal to “play the game” and the “game” isn’t football—it’s going along to get along, taking shots of painkillers, playing injured (different from playing hurt), being used and willing to be used to fill the masochistic need to play the actual on-field sport.

In the movie, the North Dallas Bulls with their megalomaniacal and exceedingly wealthy owner, iconic and cold-blooded coach, and hard-partying teammates (*wink wink* at the “similarities” to the Dallas Cowboys) prepare for the next week’s game. Early in the film, Elliot experiences a break-in at his home and catches the perpetrator in the act who threatens Elliot with a gun and flees. In the penultimate scene, the break-in was revealed to have actually executed by a private eye who had been hired by the club to get dirt on Elliot with the complicity of the league to catch disposable, independent-minded players like him smoking pot and using an excess of painkillers in order to exploit the violation of league rules not to pay their salaries when they’re dumped as Elliot eventually was. Left out of the equation was that Elliott was smoking pot with the team’s star quarterback, but the club couldn’t very well function without the star quarterback and cutting Elliott filled the dual function of sending a message to the rest of the team that they’d better behave or suffer the same fate of not only being cut, but also having their reputation sullied throughout the league and face a suspension for drug use if they didn’t do as they’re told.

Elliott’s quote regarding his marijuana use, “If you nailed every guy in the league who smoked grass, you wouldn’t have enough players left to field the punt return team,” still resonates today in every sport and with every drug—performance enhancing and otherwise.

MLB is trying the same type of thing sans the illegalities (that we know of) with the Biogenesis case in their over-the-top show of trying to extract information from the head of the clinic Anthony Bosch to the degree that they’re paying him and, according to other potential witnesses, “bullying” with threats and empty promises of help in a legal case if they cooperate. The problem for MLB is this when thinking about the tactics similar to those used in North Dallas Forty: the movie was from 34 years ago and it was adapted from a book published 40 years ago about the way the game was run in the 1960s.

And that’s what MLB is doing. They’re using methods from the 1960s to garner information in 2013.

The problems with the way in which MLB is reportedly running this investigation is manifold and goes far beyond the Cold War-era strategies. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that this Biogenesis clinic was used by players in today’s NFL and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who was at the top of the hill in this new scandal instead of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Would the entire structure be handled differently? Better? More competently?

Selig is essentially seen as a doddering figurehead whose main job descriptions is that of a functionary. It’s not far from the truth. His performance as commissioner has been a byproduct of what is good for the owners’ pockets rather than what is promoted as good for the game. While the PEDs were rampant throughout baseball and were used with the tacit approval of everyone in an effort to draw fans, restore the game’s popularity following the 1994 strike, and accrue money for the owners and players alike, there was Selig with a faraway gaze either clueless as to the reality or willfully ignoring it. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

Selig’s performance in front of Congress along with the players who showed up that fateful day was humiliating in a myriad of ways. From Rafael Palmeiro’s finger-wagging lies; to Sammy Sosa’s “me no speaka the Inglés”; to Mark McGwire not being there to talk about the past; to Curt Schilling clamming up after his yapping for days before and after the fact, baseball has never acquitted itself well when self-preservation came to the forefront at the expense of stating the facts.

Has baseball improved since then? Has Selig gotten the message? Let’s just compare Selig with his NFL counterpart Goodell. Only people inside baseball’s front office know how alert Selig is to the Biogenesis investigation or anything else. Perhaps it’s a matter of, “Don’t tell me what I don’t want to know so I don’t have to lie about it later.” But this is an indicator that MLB should’ve tossed someone overboard when the entire PED scandal initially broke to send the message that a new sheriff was in town and things weren’t going to be done the old way. And I use old in every conceivable context of the word when discussing Selig. That would’ve meant that Selig had to go a decade ago, and he probably should’ve.

Would Goodell be so disengaged to not know every aspect of what’s going on with an investigation of this magnitude? Would he not take steps to control the message and how it’s framed as politicians—like Goodell and Goodell’s father Charles, a former United States Senator from New York—do and did? This is the fundamental difference between MLB and the NFL. Goodell is smooth, smart, and cagey. He’s available yet insulated; touchable but unknowable; protected and in command. Selig on the other hand is cadaverous and scripted, but unable to follow the script; he’s anything but smooth and the disheveled clothes, $10 haircut and bewildered countenance that was once somewhat charming lost its luster as he had to get to work to restore the game’s validity. What makes it worse when having a figurehead as commissioner is that baseball doesn’t appear to have taken steps to place competent people behind the scenes to pull the levers to keep the machine greased and running well. It’s people charging headlong into each other and having the bruises to prove it.

If Goodell makes the implication that the witnesses will be assisted in a criminal investigation as was alluded to in the ESPN piece linked above, you can bet that the NFL and Goodell himself will have the connections to follow through on the promise.

MLB? What are they going to do about it? Are they even capable of helping anyone? Would they know who to call and would that person even take the call as he would if he heard, “Roger Goodell is on the phone,” instead of “Bud Selig is on the phone,”?

Not much thought was put into any of this going back to allowing of players to get away with PED use and then the about-face due to public outcry, the banning of substances and the potential fallout of doing so. They want to clean up the game, but keep it entertaining to the fans. Did it ever occur to them that the reason that so many man games are being lost due to injury stems from the tendons and ligaments becoming weakened from carrying the extra muscle built through chemical means? That players can’t play 150 games and toss 225 innings and maintain performance without chemicals? That they aren’t going to be able to beat out a dribbler on the infield in August by chugging cups of coffee and cans of Red Bull as they would from their trusted amphetamines (greenies)? That the risk/reward for players like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera and anyone else whose name was caught up in Biogenesis was such that there was no reason not to do it?

What’s 100 games in comparison to the half a billion dollars in contracts—just for playing baseball alone and not counting endorsements—A-Rod will have made once his career is over? What’s 100 games in exchange for Braun’s MVP and the minute risk (Braun’s just unlucky, arrogant and somewhat stupid) of getting caught? What’s 100 games in exchange for a slightly above-average talent like Cabrera being given a contract for $16 million almost immediately after his humiliating suspension and public lambasting?

Until MLB does something about the laughable penalties, players will keep trying to navigate their way around the tests and punishments because it’s worth it for them to do it given the likelihood that they’ll get away with it.

Attendance and TV ratings are down all around baseball. In large part it’s because the fans who jumped on the bandwagon at the excitement of the home runs have little interest in watching Joe Maddon outmaneuver Joe Girardi with tactical skill. They want homers and if they’re not getting them, they won’t bother to watch. This new “get tough” policy is falling flat not just because of the maladroit manner in which it’s being implemented, but because there’s no integrity behind it. The owners are interested in one thing: the bottom line. Many are as blind as Selig was to the PED use and only came around when the evidence was plunked on their desks with the widespread demand to “do something” about it to “save the game.”

Using the 1960s as a guideline for running the Biogenesis investigation in 2013 forgets that back then, there wasn’t the constant flow of available information with real time stories, opinions and criticisms appearing immediately and going viral. Back then, MLB would’ve been able to get in front of the story using friendly, like-minded reporters who were willing to do the Max Mercy thing from The Natural and “protect” the game. In other words, they would protect the people who owned the game against the ephemeral presence of the players who come and go and who were using drugs to undeservedly place themselves in the stratosphere of legends that was once rightfully limited to Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Bob Feller. Now there are bloggers, reporters and networks gathering information as it comes in. It can’t be controlled.

For MLB to put forth the pretense of being all-in for the Biogenesis investigation is the epitome of wasteful hypocrisy. They can pound on doors, stand on rooftops and proclaim their commitment to stopping PED use. They can threaten, cajole, demand and make empty promises, but that’s not going to alter the reality that the changes to the game have to be foundational and not a self-serving attempt to clean up a game that has been infested from the top to the bottom due in large part to the inaction of MLB itself.

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