Alex Rodriguez and his attorneys are reminding everyone who will listen that he has never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. The automatic response to this is invariably, “Neither did Lance Armstrong” -- the athlete with whom A-Rod is probably going to be linked forever.
The comparison, though, between the baseball player and cyclist comes all too easy. The most important point in the Armstrong case is being overlooked: The entire case against him was published by the United States Anti-Doping Administration.
But what, exactly, is the evidence against Rodriguez? We were told all day Sunday that Major League Baseball’s evidence was to be presented that night on "60 Minutes." But though we are being told on a score of websites that the evidence is now out in the open, it isn’t. We know exactly as much now as we did last week, which is next to nothing.
For instance, the so-called explosive revelation that there were thousands of text messages exchanged between Rodriguez and Anthony Bosch. Yes, we saw piles of heavily redacted transcripts of text messages, but all we know is that MLB claims that the Blackberry Bosch was communicating with belonged to A-Rod. And even if it did, there is not a single mention of a banned substance. A-Rod’s lawyer says they were discussing nutritional supplements; Bosch says they were using “code words.”
Great -- so where do we go from there? They both can’t be lying, so, as most of the media seems to figure, you have to choose one side or the other. And what do you go by? It’s sort of like the Pete Rose and Roger Clemens cases where, because neither Rose nor Clemens was a particularly nice person, the media chose to take the word of their accusers, no matter how shady they were. And not only did the sports media choose to believe them, they practically put them up as candidates for sainthood.
They can’t do that with Bosch.
Make no mistake. The entire case against Rodriguez comes from Bosch, whose past is so disreputable that there’s not even a question of shades.
Here’s a man who has already been fined for practicing medicine without a license and stands accused of selling drugs to minors. We’re not talking about a doctor gone wrong; we’re talking about a quack posing as a doctor who readily admitted to "60 Minutes'" Scott Pelley that if he hadn’t been caught, he would still be selling banned substances to players. (“Because I love baseball.”)
On "60 Minutes" he babbled incoherently about some magic lozenges that were like candy that Rodriguez sucked on during a game. Supposedly these wonder pills raised his testosterone levels for a few hours, boosting his performance, but were out of his system by the end of a game, when he might be subjected to random testing.
The proof that they worked? In one game A-Rod, after the prescribed sucking, hit a double and scored two runs. Well, that’s good enough for me! I propose this year that every player who hits a double be tested immediately. And by the way, I am not a expert in PEDs, but the only testosterone lozenge I can find is Striant, which according to the website of the Medical Center of South Carolina University, has to be precisely placed under the tongue using your finger twice a day, 12 hours apart. Hardly like popping sunflower seeds in the dugout, as Bosch suggested. Several side effects are listed, but none involve hitting doubles.
Is anyone really buying any of this? As Scott Pelley pointed out to MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred – widely rumored to be the next commissioner -- after he stated that they had evidence for everything, Bosch said, “But he’s told both stories.” (Judge for yourself, here.)
Is MLB pretending to buy it or is commissioner Bud Selig simply desperate to nail Rodriguez? And whether or not the commissioner’s office buys what Bosch is saying, they certainly bought Bosch, who, after they sued him, cut a deal with MLB in which they agreed to pay his legal bills, protect him from any civil liability and pay for his personal security (after he claims he was threatened by Rodriguez “associates”). They also bought evidence, paying at least $125,000 for Biogenesis records they presented to arbitrator Frederic Horowitz. When you throw in the cost of at least 30 investigators they hired, including a former CIA operative, you have to wonder who is going to benefit from this substantial expenditure.
Well, the New York Yankees, for one. Any story about Selig and his actions concerning players should always be prefaced with the facts that he is a former team owner and acts as commissioner under a personal services contract with the other team owners. Stated another way, Selig or any other commissioner of baseball represents his employers; his interpretation of “the best interests of baseball” means the best interests of the owners.
In this particular case, the owners who wield a lot of clout are the Steinbrenners. We have known for some time now that the Steinbrenner family has been struggling to get the team payroll under $189 million, which would provide them with temporary relief from baseball's luxury tax. (We’ll just have to wait and see whether this has anything to do with increasing the team’s sale value.)
Apparently this payroll slashing supersedes putting a competitive team on the field, as Yankee fans found out this past season. And if you examine the current Yankees roster, you have to question whether they have done anything in the off-season that is significant -- other than letting the team’s best player, Robinson Cano, and his New York-class salary go to the Seattle Mariners. Now it appears they have succeeded in dumping A-Rod and his $25 million salary for this season. (The Yankees did spend on free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.)
Did the neutral arbitrator, Horowitz, do his job properly? I think he did. He wasn’t asked to try the case as if his hearing were a court of law but merely to assess the evidence presented by both sides to the best of his ability and render a judgment on the length of A-Rod’s suspension. (In the end, he reduced the suspension imposed by Selig nearly 25 percent, from 211 games down to 162.)
If Rodriguez feels he has not been treated fairly, he must take his case public in federal court. Monday morning, Rodriguez filed a lawsuit against MLB and the players union asking that the suspension be overturned, but he was only allowed to file the suit after a judge ruled that Horowitz’s 33-point decision had to be made public in its entirety and could not be partially redacted. I think ESPN’s legal analyst Lester Munson is correct when he argues that A-Rod stands virtually no chance of having the Horowitz decision reversed.
But this fails to take several other possibilities into consideration. Many have forgotten that Rodriguez has already filed a suit against MLB, accusing them of conducting a "witch hunt" and engaging in "tortious interference" with his contracts and business relationships. Since that seems a fair interpretation of what the Yankees and Bud Selig have indeed been doing over the past year, I think there’s more than a slim chance that A-Rod and his legal team could pull this one out.
A favorable decision probably wouldn’t help his career; Horowitz’s decision likely ends his playing days in organized baseball, and I’m going out on a limb here and predicting that the Yankees will not be inviting him back for any Old Timers games.
But if Rodriguez’s ultimate goal is to finally face his chief accuser, Selig, in court, then let’s bring it on. I think Bosch’s chances in front of a jury are about as remote as A-Rod’s in convincing a federal judge to overturn the suspension.
You will recall that Selig wouldn’t appear before Horowitz during the arbitration hearing (legally he didn’t have to), but the commissioner did find time to field some softball lobs from "60 Minutes." It would appear that both player and commissioner have much to hide. Let’s get them both in court under oath, air all this dirty laundry once and for all -- and find out what’s really in the best interests of baseball.