Arbitrator Hits Alex Rodriguez with Record 162 Game Suspension
It’s being reported this morning that arbitrator Fred Horowitz will impose a 162-game suspension, plus the 2014 post-season, against Alex Rodriguez in connection with ARod’s alleged receipt of steroids from Biogenesis America.
I am shocked with the length of the suspension, in that I had predicted that, based on past precedents, Rodriguez would get at a maximum a 110-game suspension, which was roughly the suspension Steve Howe received for his seventh suspension for using recreational drugs in 1992 — Howe was initially banned for life, but an arbitrator later reduced the penalty to what ultimately amounted to 109 games. [However, further investigation indicates that Howe was effectively banned for the entire 1984 season for an earlier drug offense.] At the end of the day, Rodriguez’s use of PEDs provided by Biogenesis America still amounts only to a first offense of baseball’s joint drug policy, so I am extremely surprised that the arbitrator would issue such a long suspension in light of the long history of player suspensions since the first collective bargaining agreement came into effect in the late 1960’s.
Arbitrator Horowitz’s written decision hasn’t been published yet, so there’s no way to know exactly why he concluded a 162-game suspension was justified. We’ll have to wait and see on that. However, it seems likely he accepted MLB’s argument that ARod intentionally interfered with MLB’s investigation of Biogenesis America. It also seem likely that Horowitz was extremely put off by the defense ARod’s team proffered at the arbitration hearing and the fact that ARod dramatically abandoned the hearing when the arbitrator ruled that commissioner Bud Selig did not have to testify.
The reports I’ve heard suggest that ARod’s defense at that arbitration hearing consisted solely, or at least almost entirely, of a complete denial of all charges of steroid use and lacked strong arguments to the effect that even if Rodriguez’s steroid use was proven, he could be given only a 50-game suspension based on the plain meaning and intent of the joint drug agreement. Such a defense seems likely given Rodriguez’s epic levels of denial, and the fact that the team of high-priced lawyers he hired seemed determined to pursue an all-or-nothing, scorched-earth strategy. In short, ARod was cruisin’ for a bruisin’, and it looks like he got that bruising but good.
ARod has already stated his intent to appeal through the courts, but it will be an uphill battle to overturn the arbitrator’s decision to say the least. The American judicial system, based on a trio of 1960 U.S. Supreme Court decisions called the “Steelworkers’ Trilogy”, long ago decided that in labor disputes between unions and management binding arbitration is the appropriate method of settlement. As such, courts are loath to overturn an arbitration decision, even if the arbitrator gets the facts or the law wrong, unless the arbitrator’s decision is the product of corruption. Courts don’t want to get into the arcane world of labor disputes (labor arbitrators have more experience in this area than judges), and the theory is basically that the parties (management and the union) have contracted to be bound by the decision of an arbitrator the parties have jointly selected, right or wrong.
Obviously, a 162-game suspension is a clear win for Bud Selig, MLB and the New York Yankees. The Yankees will save $25 million in 2014, which they will presumably now throw at Masahiro Tanaka.
It’s also a clear loss, not just for ARod, but also the players’ union, which is now confronted with a new precedent that players can be stuck with suspensions much longer than 100 games for wrongful conduct. The problem for the players’ association is that bad litigants often make for bad law, and ARod was certainly not the player or the personality-type the players’ association would have chosen to arbitrate a suspension of this length.