The ritualistic rage at Alex Rodriguez feels less like justice than a public stoning, and it’s Exhibit A that the moral crusade against performance enhancement is as unhealthy as the thing it purports to correct. Whatever Rodriguez’s transgressions, is he really so much more culpable than any number of the people he played with or for, including baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who makes his living off the sweat of other men’s bodies and whose apparent idea of justice is to use the threat of a lifetime ban as a publicity tactic?
A-Rod is either deserving of a lifetime ban or he’s not. He may very well have done everything he is accused of, but what we have here isn’t a genuine assessment of his offenses but rather a squeeze play by Selig, an attempt to pressure A-Rod into forgoing his due process. Whatever the evidence against Rodriguez in the Biogenesis affair — and it may be significant — the commissioner is unmistakably less interested in a fitting penalty than he is in shutting up A-Rod — and at the same time bolstering his own weak reputation on PEDs.
Selig and A-Rod’s attorneys are discussing a “settlement” according to reports. A settlement? The word is an apt description of how this commissioner operates: What’s most important to him is not the health of players but the health of revenues. Last year Selig bragged on the “Mike & Mike” radio show, “I said to the owners, ‘Look, guys, in the end you can judge me by asset values. Because in the end, that is really the sum total of everything we do.’ ”
A-Rod is the perfect defendant for a show trial. He is despised alike by spittle-flecked hecklers behind the plate who scream at him for not hitting in the clutch and by solemn self-appointed keepers of the emerald chessboard’s sanctity for admitting four years ago to PED use during a three-year stretch with Texas from 2001 to 2003. He’s an incurably self-conscious phony who incredibly still insists he’s “a role model,” an awkwardly hapless stumbler who is always getting caught, whether frequenting a shady clinic or letting Cameron Diaz feed him popcorn on camera like Cleopatra taking grapes from a love slave. He is a tone-deaf egotist who never understood the deep resentment he engendered by being baseball’s highest paid player and then not producing astronomic numbers. The reaction to him by fans and critics has always been excessive to the point of disturbing. My friend Joe Posnanski wrote maybe the truest thing ever about A-Rod and his audience: He gives them “guilt-free hate.”
But none of that is reason to ban him for life. It’s one thing to scorn and ridicule him and another to align him with the Chicago Black Sox. We can’t know what the evidence against A-Rod is because the commissioner hasn’t produced it. The armchair judge searches in vain through A-Rod’s career for the whopping numbers that suggest he committed some grave act of distortion at the plate, the smoking gun statistics that he got some kind of unnatural power boost from steroids.
The Web site Sabernomics once ran the math on the years he admitted taking PEDs and estimated they were worth a little more than one home run a season to him. Over the past two years, the 38-year-old clearly has been in decline, averaging just 17 home runs and batting .274, and this season is coming off his second hip surgery. Whatever A-Rod was doing with Biogenesis, it wasn’t working.
If A-Rod committed some sweeping act of malfeasance by impeding an investigation — if he genuinely deserves to be thrown out of the game forever — then it should be an open-and-shut case. Instead we have “negotiations” over whether he gets a lifetime ban vs. a 15-month suspension? This is a rational choice? Hardly. The gulf between those options suggests the commissioner is as bent as A-Rod is accused of being. If Selig can force A-Rod to make a deal, then we never have to see whether MLB’s evidence would hold up in arbitration or a court room.
Does A-Rod really deserve to be dealt with so much more harshly than any of the other 14 players reportedly caught using Biogenesis products, including two-time loser and liar Ryan Braun, who accepted a 65-game punishment? Or is his real offense failing to express the convenient meek acceptance that will make Selig look authoritative and spare him more bad publicity? Is he a convenient whipping boy for a commissioner eager to punish a star player but never owners or executives who operate out of the light?
According to the New York Daily News, MLB officials have told Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch they would cover his legal expenses, indemnify him against litigation and put in a good word with any law-enforcement agencies if he cooperated with the investigation. Before Bosch made his deal with baseball, he tried to get money out of Rodriguez. All of that puts the commissioner in bed with a steroids dealer and semi-extortionist.
The steroid hysterics will holler that nothing matters but A-Rod’s guilt; all the rest are technicalities. Yes, A-Rod is lawyering up and may fight his case on technicalities — and what’s wrong with that? Technicalities matter: They exist to keep people from being railroaded, and they are the entire difference between adjudication and show trials. Otherwise what we get feels uncomfortably like judges writing confessions for defendants and forcing them to sign under threats of the gulag. Insisting on due process is not the same thing as protecting or coddling cheaters.
Without it, the whole anti-doping fight smacks of the worst hypocrisy. Among the things made obvious by Biogenesis is that baseball’s drug testing is failing: It’s not catching people or especially deterring them. Recently, researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia produced a paper calling current drug controls in sports “largely for show.” Professor Maciej Henneberg, one of the study’s co-authors, said in a statement, “It appears that anti-doping policies are in place more for perception.” Maybe A-Rod’s real offense is exposing that.
For more by Sally Jenkins, go to washingtonpost.com/jenkins.