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Friday, August 02, 2013

"Rodriguez should push back. He may have more support than he thinks." Willam C. Rhoden, NY Times

8/1/13, "Baseball’s Bullying Makes It Tempting to Root for Rodriguez," NY Times, William C. Rhoden

"Funny how Major League Baseball can make you root for the villain. Commissioner Bud Selig’s heavy-handed approach to the investigation of Alex Rodriguez has almost turned Rodriguez into a sympathetic figure. And that’s difficult. 

Rodriguez, the Yankees’ star third baseman, has been linked over the last few months to Biogenesis of America, the now-defunct Florida anti-aging clinic suspected of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs. 

According to people briefed on the negotiations between Rodriguez and Major League Baseball, Selig has discussed several options, ranging from a lifetime ban to a suspension that would begin this season and end after next season. Rodriguez has never been known as a player who cares about anyone besides himself. But if there were ever a time for A-Rod — and the once-powerful players association — to step up and fight the impending suspension, that time is now. Rodriguez should challenge the credibility of the evidence. If Major League Baseball has compelling evidence, force the league to show it.

There are no vials of evidence. There are no eyewitnesses to Rodriguez’s alleged performance-enhancing drug use. Investigators have the word of two questionable characters connected to Biogenesis, one of whom, the former owner, Anthony Bosch, once impersonated a doctor. Investigators may indeed have compelling evidence — phone records, shipping receipts, e-mails. If they do, A-Rod and the players association should force those investigators to reveal what they have gathered. 

This exhaustive investigation is less about A-Rod and performance-enhancing drugs than about power and control. Major League Baseball is attempting to impose its will on high-profile players by possibly circumventing due process to make an example of them. 

The Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun was suspended without pay for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policy in connection with his link to Biogenesis. Braun did not challenge the evidence and went down without a fight, agreeing to lose the rest of this season’s salary. 

Braun made a pragmatic choice. The Brewers owe him money — lots of money. He signed a five-year, $105 million extension. He is injured, and his team is in last place. Braun got off on a technicality last year, and this year baseball was not going to rest until it got Braun. It made sense for Braun to accept the suspension and come back next season refreshed, healed and, of course, repentant. 

A season-and-a-half suspension would be a career-ender for A-Rod, who turned 38 on Saturday. Beyond that, allowing Rodriguez to be bullied into a suspension sets a terrible precedent and weakens the players association’s ability to fight owners on the next big issue. 

Four years ago, Rodriguez acknowledged using performance-enhancing substances while he was with the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003. He has denied using them since. A-Rod has never flunked a drug test. How could the players association allow Rodriguez to be kicked out of baseball and remain credible? 

The aggressive pursuit of Rodriguez fits into baseball’s recent patterns of demonizing unpopular players and casting them as the faces of the P.E.D. epidemic. 

Fifteen years ago, baseball enjoyed its banquet years, with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa vying for the single-season home run record. Baseballs were flying out of stadiums, and turnstiles where whirling at a record pace. 

Baseball life was lush. 

We know now — and I suspect some baseball executives, managers and players knew then — that the chase was fueled by steroids. Major League Baseball and Selig in particular have made a show out of hunting down high-profile players. The process is selective. 

McGwire, with Selig’s blessing, was hired as the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach. Andy Pettitte, who admitted to using human growth hormone, pitches every fifth day for the Yankees. 

A-Rod is baseball’s latest villain. Not so long ago, he was being hailed as the knight who would save us from Barry Bonds. 

You might ask, Aren’t you interested in getting steroid users off the field? Frankly, that is not an issue that keeps me up at night. 

When a thug on the street uses a gun to commit a crime, when a junkie is picked up for using drugs, the cogent question is, How are guns and drugs allowed to flood the community? 

Similarly, baseball, beginning with the commissioner, should want to know about these distribution networks. Instead, baseball puts on parades. The commissioner is fond of the dog-and-pony-show approach. Rather than working with players to identify manufacturing and distribution networks, baseball works with Biogenesis-like drug dealers to hunt down high-profile users and trots them out before a cheering public. 





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