The Hammer Falls
MLB issued its suspensions today for Alex Rodriguez and twelve other players, most notably this year’s All-Stars Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz and Everth Cabrera and also Phillies set-up man Antonio Bastardo, who hadn’t previously be named in connection with the Biogenesis America scandal.
Alex Rodriguez, of course, received the longest suspension, 211 regular season games (the rest of this year’s regular season games as of the suspension’s effective date Thursday, August 8th, and all of 2014) including any post-season games the Yankees may play in 2013 or 2014. More on ARod’s punishment below.
The other twelve have apparently all agreed to fifty game suspensions effective today in exchange for foregoing their rights to appeal. This means that they will miss the rest of the 2013 regular season, but will be available to play in this year’s post-season if any of their respective teams make it. This most likely will only affect the Tigers’ Peralta and the Rangers’ Cruz.
In fact, the loss of Peralta and Cruz to their teams as they battle for the post-season in tight races seems like a bigger penalty and a bigger deterrent to future steroids use than the 50-game suspensions, which the evidence now indicates isn’t enough to prevent large numbers of players from becoming PED cheats.
It’s also worth noting that, except for Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, all of the players suspended are Latin American born. Aside from the fact that these players all likely have some connection to the Miami area, it doesn’t seem surprising that players coming from what are very likely poor backgrounds in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Nicaragua have relatively less to lose and more to gain by using PEDs. If they don’t make their money in baseball, they don’t have as many career options as American-born players.
As for ARod and Braun, players who use steroids to become the best players in the game obviously reap enormous rewards in terms of contracts, endorsements and fame. Now that they’ve been caught, they’ll still get most of the financial rewards, but their reputations have been ruined, even more so than the first generation of ‘roiding stars who used when PEDs weren’t formally banned from the game.
Hopefully, ARod’s and Braun’s shame will convince more players of this class that the risks of using PEDs to their reputations are greater than the rewards of the enhanced performance. However, these risks didn’t deter either Rodriguez or Braun, who had to have seen what happened to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero and the rest of the first generation cheats.
The problem is that too many elite athletes have a sense of privilege, entitlement and invulnerability, either that the rules don’t apply to them, or, even if they do, that they will get away with it just so long as they just keep performing at a high level. It’s a disease that doesn’t only apply to elite athletes: Anthony Wiener, Elliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton and the financial excesses and utter shamelessness of the titans of Wall Street and the captains of industry over the last decade are all examples. At least ARod’s and Ryan Braun’s narcissism hasn’t risen to the level of Aaron Hernandez.
Back to ARod’s suspension — MLB’s arguments so far for the length of this suspension are apparently based on ARod’s alleged (1) use of multiple different kinds of PEDs, (2) use of said PEDs for multiple years, (3) referral of other players to Biogenesis America, (4) obstruction of MLB’s investigation, either by attempting to or actually purchasing Biogenesis documents and/or by refusing to answer questions regarding his use of PEDs received from Biogenesis and also from Dr. Anthony Galea, a known prescriber of human growth hormone (“HGH”), in 2009.
ARod’s suspension will be subject to appeal to impartial arbitration — not surprisingly, Bud Selig wasn’t willing to instigate a major fight with the players’ union by claiming the right to suspend Rodriguez without appeal under the “best interests of baseball” clause in the collective bargaining agreement. ARod will be able to play until the arbitration case is completed.
One article I read said that an arbitrator’s decision could take as little as 45 days, but I very much doubt a decision will issue that soon. This will be a time-consuming case, as MLB will likely introduce every piece of evidence it has to build an air-tight case, and ARod’s attorneys will spend his riches to pursue every possible defense and challenge to MLB’s evidence.
My guess is that we won’t get an arbitration decision on ARod’s suspension until early next year. Even then, the legal fight might continue into the 2014 season, if either side decides to appeal the arbitrator’s decision to the courts. How exactly the 211 game length of the suspension will be effected by the games ARod plays until a final decision is rendered is unclear, although, as I’ve written before, I don’t that MLB can make a 211 game suspension stick.
For example, I’m not sure how MLB could prove that ARod received HGH from Dr. Galea back in 2009. MLB didn’t have enough evidence then to discipline ARod. Even if MLB has a mountain of evidence that Rodriguez received PEDs from Biogenesis America, none of it constitutes evidence he received HGH from Galea years earlier. There are also statute of limitations/laches issues if MLB tries to impose discipline for ARod’s conduct for which discipline was not imposed when knowledge of ARod’s association with Galea become known to MLB.
Also, even if the evidence shows ARod received PEDs from Biogenesis for a period of two or three years, I’m not sure how that would be substantially different than a single failed drug test, which brings only a 50 game suspension. Failing a drug test does not reasonably mean that a player used PEDs only one time.
Instead, under MLB’s drug testing policy, all players are tested randomly once during the playing season. Further, some players are randomly selected for a second test, which can happen at any time during the calender year. The upshot is that players who are careful about when they cycle on and off PEDs may well go years without testing positive on the rare occasions when they are subjected to testing.
All in all, even though MLB did not seek to ban ARod for life, I think the imposed discipline is too ambitious. From what I’ve read, I suspect that ARod may well have agreed to a suspension of 100 to 125 games, i.e., the rest of 2013 and the first 50 to 75 games of 2014. Instead, Commissioner Selig is sick and tired of ARod, and he’s swinging for the fences on discipline.
I still can’t see an arbitrator imposing more than a 100 game suspension under any circumstances, and I think the most likely discipline the arbitrator will impose is the 50-game suspension for a first-time positive test.
MLB would be better served using the publicity and further caused, not only with the general public but also with the many players who aren’t using steroids, to seek to open the current drug testing policy with the players’ union, both to require more drug testing (at least two random tests a year for each player, one during the season and the second at any time during the year) and getting stiffer penalties for first and second offenses.
My guess is that the players’ union would probably accept first-time suspensions of 75 to 80 games and second-time suspensions of 150 to 160 games, at least so long as the Biogenesis suspensions are fresh in everyone’s mind.