Monday, August 5, 2013

Is this some kind of joke?

Earlier today, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, which is the governing organization for Major League Baseball, issued suspensions to thirteen MLB players, most notably including Alex Rodriguez, for their roles in a scandal regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs provided through Biogenesis, a now-closed South Florida designer drug clinic.

Most of the players receive 50-game suspensions, consistent with MLB's drug policy for first-time offenders, and have agreed to waive the appeals to which they would ordinarily be entitled under the terms of the players' union's collective bargaining agreement, persumably in exchange for leniency.

The exception is Rodriguez, who was suspended through the end of the 2014 season, a total of 211 games and who did not waive his right to appeal.  Rodriguez, ESPN reports, will be allowed to play while his appeal is pending.

My initial reaction to this news, at least as it pertains to Rodriguez, is that this must be some kind of joke.

First, a little background on the scandal that led to today's suspensions:  Documents from the Biogenesis clinic that implicated a number of MLB players were leaked by a former worker to the Miami New Times, which published an investigative report some months ago.  MLB officials, who of course have no subpoena power, managed to convince the director of the closed clinic to cooperate by threatening him with a lawsuit over his interference with MLB's rules and drug policy.  MLB's access to those records led to the identification of today's suspended players, and at least one other, as clients of Biogenesis who received PEDs from the clinic.

I am inclined somewhat toward leniency toward players who used PEDs that were not on the banned substances list at the time they were used, or who perhaps unwittingly used such substances as everyone was turning a blind eye--a sort of "first steroids era" that included players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and to a lesser extent, Barry Bonds.  Those guys will not be in the Hall of Fame, in all likelihood, because they chose to engage in what might be described as moral-but-not-illegal cheating.  By the time steroids came to be addressed by MLB, those guys were largely out of the game anyway.

But now that Baseball has a regime for testing and a structure for punishment, I have very little tolerance for people who more-or-less openly flout the rules. 

MLB's reaction to those players' rulebreaking is incomprehensible to me.

Consider Ryan Braun.  Braun won the 2011 National League MVP award.  Shortly after that, it became public knowledge that a urine sample he provided in October of that year had tested positive for extremely elevated levels of testosterone, which only could have originated through the use of a PED.  MLB suspended Braun for 50 games.  Braun appealed, claiming that the technician who collected the sample on a Friday had failed to deposit the sample with FedEx to be sent to the laboratory on the same day it was collected.  Braun suggested that the technician had tainted the sample while holding it over the weekend, even though there was no evidence of tampering.  Braun's appeal, held before a three-arbitrator panel, was successful; the suspension was overturned.

A few weeks ago, however, when it became clear that Braun had been a client of Biogenesis, had lied to MLB, and had lied during his prior appeal, Braun had a sudden pang of conscience (or a vision that the hammer was about to be dropped on it) and reversed course, agreeing to cooperate with MLB's investigation and accepting a 65-game suspension, through the end of 2013.

Braun will lose a few million dollars in salary for missing those games, and he's lost at least one endorsement deal.  To most people, that would be a big pill to swallow, but Braun keeps the rest of his contract, and the next one will almost certainly be richer.

Alex Rodriguez will lose considerably more money from his suspension, but he will still have $60 million left on his $275 million deal when he is eligible to return in 2015, unless the Yankees can find a way to void his contract.

I've had my beefs with the job Bud Selig has done as Commissioner--most notably, I find giving home-field advantage to the league that wins the All-Star Game to be horrible--but this one takes the cake.

If I were the Commissioner, Braun would have received a minimum 3-year ban, and Rodriguez would be out for life.  Both would be free to appeal, but neither would play while his appeal was being heard.

Rodriguez's behavior in particular is simply inexcusable.  First, he is an admitted prior steroid user.  Second, he stonewalled MLB's investigation into his role in Biogenesis, lied about his involvement, and made the process much harder than it had to be.  He offers MLB no assistance; he can't or won't implicate otherwise unknown cheaters.

MLB has all of the evidence necessary to justify a lifetime ban in the best interests of baseball.  It has no incentive to go easier on Rodriguez than a lifetime ban.  And giving him less than the maximum punishment for impugning the integrity of the game sends a signal to other players that MLB is a paper tiger.

If Rodriguez had agreed to a 211-game suspension without an appeal, I could live with that. But what is the point of giving him less than he deserves if he is simply going to fight it?

PEDs are out of control even where there are strong regimes working against them--see Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones and Tyson Gay (geez, Tyson, really?).  Now that MLB has made it clear that it's ready to give players a great deal even if the players are going to fight, it has virtually no chance of stemming the tide.  It's a joke.

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