Major League Baseball wanted to “get” Alex Rodriguez on steroid charges in the worst possible way, and that’s pretty much what it accomplished.
Today, the much-reviled A-Rod writhes in the coils of an unprecedented punishment — a full year’s suspension. He now hopes, almost certainly in vain, to convince a federal judge that last week’s arbitration ruling was born of corruption.
The ruling was less corrupt than bizarre. But it — or, more accurately, the process that led to it — carries the very real risk of doing more harm than good to the goal of combating performance-enhancing substances in baseball.
MLB touts its drug-testing program as the most rigorous in pro sports, which it may well be (the bar, frankly, isn’t very high). But the Rodriguez suspension doesn’t come out of the program, or even out of the Joint Drug Agreement between MLB and the players union. It arises out of a slimy investigation that involved paying witnesses and buying stolen documents from a shadowy person named “Bobby.”
The JDA calls for a ladder of penalties: 50 games for a first offense, 100 for a second offense, lifetime ban for a third. It doesn’t allow for plea deals and does demand confidentiality. The idea: Scrub or star, violators are to be treated equally.
One struggles to fit this 162-game penalty (plus postseason) into that format. The ruling, unsealed when Rodriguez filed his federal lawsuit, cites the 2007 Nefti Perez suspension for amphetamine use as precedent for “stacking” penalties. The arbitrator held that Rodriguez had been proven to have used three different performance-enhancers over a sustained period; thus he was given three first-time penalties (150 games), plus another dozen on the basis of overall non-cooperation.
It’s an odd conclusion. Fifty games for a first violation would be understandable, especially since the other players identified in the Biogenesis investigation were likely on a similar regimen and no stacking of penalties was sought. Or, if one really buys the three separate violations approach, a lifetime ban would be understandable.