The suspension of Alex Rodriguez is personal. No, it’s about past bad actions. No, it’s a way to void his obscenely large contract. No, it’s about the integrity of the game.
Theories have been flying around for weeks, both about Rodriguez’s possible punishment for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal and the reasons for that punishment. Monday, neither of those questions was put to rest. Rodriguez was suspended through the 2014 season — but he will appeal it, meaning he was able to play for Yankees on Monday night. The reason for his punishment — 211 games, compared with 50 games for 12 others involved — is still being hotly debated.
But it’s simple: He broke the rules.
Now he has joined the Yankees in Chicago, bringing with him both his luggage and baggage, along with the three-ring circus he attracts. Hiding out or displaying shame or remorse is not Rodriguez’s style. Besides, innocent until proven guilty applies to millionaire sports stars as well as regular folk.
Yes, he certainly looks guilty. It seems reasonable to assume MLB would not consider such a severe punishment if it didn’t feel it had the evidence to ultimately prevail. Did MLB make a deal with the devil to get that evidence? Yes. But many criminals far worse than former Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch have negotiated far better deals than the one he got from baseball. Plea agreements, like the presumption of innocence, are part of our legal system. I’ll save my outrage for, say, first-degree murderers bargaining their way to manslaughter. A-Rod’s people tried to make a deal with baseball and failed. Bosch did not.
Rodriguez was the 14th player suspended in the scandal. Ryan Braun got 65 games, and some wouldn’t mind seeing him sit out for the entire 2014 season as well. Unlike Rodriguez, he actually failed a drug test, got off on a technicality, proclaimed his innocence all the live-long day, then got caught again. Ugh.
But unlike Braun and others, A-Rod shows no signs of backing down. That attitude — hubris or righteousness, depending on your point of view — is one reason Rodriguez is such a polarizing figure. He is loved or reviled — mostly the latter — with few people falling somewhere in between as his game has decayed and his rather weird personality (if you can call it that) has emerged.
To his credit, Rodriguez has 647 career home runs; just four players have more. Sadly, some of his were hit while using performance-enhancing drugs, calling into question yet another line in the record book. He needs 13 to catch the great Willie Mays, which would have been one argument Commissioner Bud Selig could have made to invoke the “best interests of the game” clause and ban him for life. (It wouldn’t have held up, but it might have felt good.) Home runs aside, his detractors point to his poor postseason performances, notably in the past three years, when his batting averages were .120, .111 and .219. However, the Yankees need hitting, and they aren’t out of the AL wild-card chase. Manager Joe Girardi has said he planned to play the third baseman as soon as he was able.
When Rodriguez, who turned 38 last month, signed a 10-year, $275 million contract in 2007, he drew a large target on his pinstripes. New York still owes him $114 million, and even if he serves an unpaid ban through 2014, the Yankees will owe him $61 million. Sports is rife with examples of people who have been paid a lot of money to just go away, but that’s a whale of a parting gift, even for the deep-pocketed Yankees.
But it’s unfair to be angry at A-Rod over the money, just as it’s crazy to feel sorry for the Yankees for being on the hook for it. No one forced them to give him that deal, any more than anyone forced Rodriguez to walk through the doors of Biogenesis.
It is clear MLB is fed up with A-Rod; you can almost hear the league’s front-office personnel grinding their collective teeth. Selig’s motives are far from pure — and he’s far from my favorite person in the sports pantheon — but he is saintly compared to Rodriguez, who has showed a repeated indifference to the rules of the game and an inability to understand that he should — and could — get by on his not inconsiderable natural talents.
His contract, his oddball personality, even his refusal to kowtow to Selig and his bunch — none of those is a reason to punish Rodriguez. His complete lack of remorse or even understanding of the damage he has caused the game and his willingness to put his children, his remaining fans and his teammates through the spectacle of a protracted legal fight also aren’t reasons to punish him, tempting though it may be.
No, the reason to punish A-Rod, and the reason he’ll be booed relentlessly during his appeal, is that he broke the rules and got caught. Not everyone gets caught, but not everyone breaks the rules, either. Rodriguez must be punished. It sounds simple because it is simple.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.
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