August 6, 2013

YANKEES THIRD baseman Alex Rodriguez has broken a raft of records over his 20 years in professional baseball. He batted in at least 100 runs in 14 seasons; his 10-year, $275 million contract was the largest ever in baseball; and, as of Monday, he has been given the most severe punishment ever for using performance-enhancing drugs, a 211-game suspension that, if upheld, will keep him off the field through all of next season. Twelve other players accepted 50-game suspensions, which will allow them to be eligible to play in this season’s playoffs.

What made A-Rod, again, so different?

Technically Mr. Rodriguez’s case is still under review; the star is pursuing an appeals process, which will put the matter before an arbitrator sometime in the next few weeks. A separate federal investigation is ongoing, too.

But Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig reportedly has stacks of evidence — e-mails, text messages, phone calls — showing that Mr. Rodriguez worked with Biogenesis, a now-defunct Miami clinic that reportedly offered sports stars performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod had admitted to using certain performance-enhancing substances between 2001 and 2003. But he has offered no acceptance of guilt or hint of remorse for the conduct alleged on Monday, which apparently occurred between 2010 and 2012.

If that were all, a 211-game ban might be an excessive punishment. But, as in the case of Lance Armstrong, Mr. Rodriguez’s accusers say they have evidence of worse misdeeds. MLB officials believe that A-Rod also encouraged others to go to Biogenesis. Then he apparently attempted to foil MLB’s investigation. It’s not the mere accusation of drug-taking that is so disheartening, it’s the prospect of serial misconduct, manipulation and evasion.

Even if an arbiter sustains Mr. Rodriguez’s guilt and punishment, the third baseman still will be in line to make another $61 million off of his monstrously large contract. In anticipation of the suspensions, A-Rod nevertheless seemed to explain away the investigation against him as some conspiracy by Major League Baseball and the Yankees to deny him salary. Instead, he should count himself lucky that his and other baseball contracts are exceedingly generous; if the charges against him stick, the Yankees would have a moral reason, if not the legal right, to cancel his contract entirely.

If there is an upside to the A-Rod saga, it is that it highlights a changing culture in professional baseball. Rank-and-file players are increasingly rejecting performance-enhancing drugs and those who use them. Future players will be healthier, and the game more honest, for it.