By Ernie Palladino
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The Alex Rodriguez saga is supposed to end Monday, at least the punishment part of it.
The ball belonging to Major League Baseball is in Rodriguez’ Red Zone, so to speak. First down and driving. And, if reports are on the money, Bud Selig is going to kick a field goal without even a play-action throw to the end zone.
That’s what this reported 214-game suspension means. Selig, supposedly armed with an incontrovertible mountain of evidence against A-Rod not only for using performance enhancing drugs but for encouraging others to do so and hindering MLB’s investigation into the Biogenesis lab, is going to settle.
Oh, it’s going to hit Rodriguez hard in the pocket, that’s for sure. It’ll cost him around $35 million if the suspension sticks. But he’ll still be able to come back, albeit close to 40, and collect the last $60 million. Even for today’s stars, that’s not a bad payday.
If this is the way it comes down, Selig will have missed a real opportunity to send a real message to the offenders. You suspend somebody for a whole year? Meh! Throw him out for life? Throw the career and the money of an all-time great out the window? That gets people’s attention.
His reasons for leaving the door open to a return will probably relate to the federal challenge Rodriguez could mount. Baseball probably doesn’t want the trouble and expense of a civil appeal and the inevitable reopening of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
But think about this. What has all the negotiating of the past couple of weeks been about, anyway? If baseball had such an open-and-shut case against Rodriguez, as it has long maintained, why talk at all? If Anthony Bosch’s ledgers and notes are as credible as Selig and his people have deemed them, one wonders whether the commissioner would have thrown the book at Rodriguez a lot sooner, or at least a lot harder.
Something about those notes must be scaring somebody in those offices. Otherwise, why let him come back at all.
The upshot of all this may be that Rodriguez never comes back, that he finds it impossible to return to major league form after missing the rest of this year and next. That is immaterial to the overall matter, however. If Selig indeed goes the suspension route instead of chancing a lifetime ban, it will simply prove that he is not truly serious about ridding the sport of PEDs.
He’ll send only one clear message — that baseball will welcome back any offender, no matter how heinous his involvement in PEDs. A 214-game suspension for obstructive activities that would have resulted in a jail sentence had this been a criminal investigation is just not enough.
The reports could be all wrong. The possibility the notation “Lifetime Ban” will appear beside A-Rod’s name when the penances are handed down today still exists. But at this point, given all the back-and-forth communication the baseball office cut off with his cadre of lawyers/henchmen Friday, his punishment will fall short of that.
Then, we’ll continue to hear A-Rod’s claims that baseball and the Yankees are simply out to get his money. Colluding, even, to deprive A-Rod of that valuable contract. In cahoots to keep him off the field the rest of this year and next.
That, too, will be besides the point. But this is what a suspension will foster. There will be no end, and no need for an end, to the string of contradictions the great hitter utters. There will be no admission of guilt from a man who maintains he has done no wrong but has rather been wronged.
If MLB’s evidence against Rodriguez is that solid, that damning, then Selig will do the anti-PED cause a disservice by suspending him for a year and change. He needs to at least take a shot at the end zone, and then deal with whatever aftermath comes down. And if the whole thing collapses, if Rodriguez’ defensive team intercepts, at least the commissioner can walk away knowing he tried.
A suspension is just a field goal from field position at the 5. The easy way out.
Baseball still wins, but not in decisive enough fashion to convince anyone it has truly dropped the hammer on PEDs.
Selig will miss a real opportunity by issuing anything less than a lifetime ban.
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