It was always just a matter of time before Alex Rodriguez was going to go careening off the rails.
It finally happened on Wednesday, and A-Rod would have everyone believe that he had no choice. What else is a man supposed to do when he's being subjected to a clearly crooked trial?
Want some advice? Here it is: This is just the latest in a long line of moments when it's really not a good idea to take what A-Rod is pushing at face value.
Shall we get caught up? Yeah, let's get caught up.
A-Rod was in New York on Wednesday for the latest grievance hearing filed over the 211-game suspension Major League Baseball handed him in August as a result of the Biogenesis investigation. Rodriguez was hoping that MLB commissioner Bud Selig would be forced to testify. Fredric Horowitz, the arbitrator in the case, declined to force him.
Cue A-Rod reaching his breaking point.
As reported by Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York, Rodriguez slammed his hand down on a table, shouted a few choice words, and promptly stormed out of the room.
The statement issued soon after Rodriguez's fiery departure broadcasted that he was fed up with an "abusive process" that is "designed to ensure that the player fails." The punishment levied against him is "unprecedented and totally baseless." It's all "absurdity and injustice" and a "farce."
A-Rod kept banging the drum in a surprise interview with WFAN's Mike Francesca later in the afternoon, on multiple occasions referring to the process as "disgusting."
Also this: “I’m done. I don’t have a chance. You let the arbiter decide whatever he decides. My position doesn’t change. I didn’t do it.”
If A-Rod wanted to keep it short, he could have just repeated what he apparently shouted at MLB chief operating officer and appointed league representative Rob Manfred: "This is [bleeping] bull[bleep]!"
Ah, good old A-Rod. It felt like it had really been too long since he provided some great theater. He made up for the long period of nothingness on Wednesday. And then some.
But as much as Rodriguez would have everyone believe that the hearing's fiasco was some sort of final straw, some sort of ultimate signal that he's playing a rigged game...well, it really wasn't.
This is a complicated case. Lots of ins. Lots of outs. Lots of what-have-yous. But the whole point of the process is simple.
On one side is MLB, which has the burden of proof that A-Rod committed violations worthy of a 211-game suspension. On the other side is A-Rod and his defense.
To do that, there have been two options available to them.
Option 1: Prove that the league's evidence is nothing but a pile of lies and that he's therefore not deserving of any suspension. This would be the "Let the man go free!" route.
Option 2: Concede whatever legitimate evidence MLB does have, but argue that it doesn't warrant such an unprecedented punishment. This would be the "OK fine, but he's not that guilty!" route.
If you listen to Rodriguez, the second route is moot. According to him, he's innocent all the way.
A-Rod had been dancing around proclaiming innocence for a few months, but Francesca got him to finally deny, on the record, all the charges against him. As CBS New York summarized:
Rodriguez vehemently denied any wrongdoing in the case, including saying that he’s not used PEDs at all since 2003. He also denied having leaked documents about Ryan Braun to Yahoo! Sports, calling that accusation by Major League Baseball 'laughable' and 'disgusting.' Finally, he denied any obstructing of justice during the course of this case, one of the several reasons given by MLB to give Rodriguez the biggest drug-related suspension of all-time.
"I shouldn't even serve one inning," said A-Rod at one point.
Alright, let's say Rodriguez truly believes he's innocent and take it for granted that his people have already outlined how and why he's innocent. The following question arises: If they feel they've adequately argued Rodriguez's innocence...then why do they need Selig to testify?
If Rodriguez is innocent, then his 211-game suspension has been built on invalid evidence. Exactly what motivated MLB to raise the number so high is therefore a moot point.
If A-Rod has already effectively argued his innocence, then bringing in Selig to testify would only succeed in giving A-Rod the opportunity to thumb his nose at the commissioner. If this is where the proceedings are, it's no wonder Horowitz said no. There's no point in making the whole charade an even bigger circus.
But now let's assume that Rodriguez is lying about being innocent and totally undeserving of any suspension at all. If this is the case, then the best he can hope for is to knock his suspension from 211 games down to something much more reasonable.
There was a moment during Wednesday's interview with Francesca that Jim McCarroll, the attorney who accompanied Rodriguez, had the floor for a few moments. Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs noticed that he let something slip:
The exact quote, according to Jesse Spector of the Sporting News, was: “They’re making up numbers."
And this, of course, is true.
The penalty for a first-time PED offense under the Joint Drug Agreement is 50 games. A different sort of bar was set when Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun was suspended for 65 games, which MLB justified on the basis that he had violated both the JDA and the basic agreement.
That's what MLB is going after A-Rod for, too.
So for all intents and purposes, the precedent for his punishment is 65 games. There's quite a bit of distance between that and 211 games. For Horowitz, whether or not Rodriguez is deserving of the precedent being shattered to such a staggering degree is a matter of how strong MLB's case against him is and how it fits with the JDA and CBA.
What it's not is a matter of who's motivated by what.
Said A-Rod about Selig on Francesca's show:
For this guy — the embarrassment that he’s put me and my family through — and he doesn’t have the courage to come see me and tell me this is why I’m going to destroy your career? And I have to explain this to my daughters everyday?
Is Selig out to get Rodriguez? The best answer to that question is this: Heck, what do you think?
But that's neither here nor there as far as this process is concerned. While it may be a battle between A-Rod and Selig in spirit, practically it's a battle between A-Rod and MLB. And for that battle to be carried out, the commissioner need not be present.
"In the entire history of the Joint Drug Agreement, the Commissioner has not testified in a single case," MLB said in a statement. "Major League Baseball has the burden of proof in this matter. MLB selected Rob Manfred as its witness to explain the penalty imposed in this case."
In Manfred is the reasoning that led to the 211-game suspension. He's there to feed that reasoning to Fredric Horowitz, and he's also there to be cross-examined by A-Rod's people. If they want to shoot down the thought process behind A-Rod's suspension, they've had the opportunity to do so through Manfred.
So why get so upset that Horowitz declined to get Selig involved?
Well, if Horowitz doesn't reach the conclusion that A-Rod and his team are hoping for, then it will be off to the courts for another appeal. The difference is that this next appeal would have to prove that there was a conspiracy against Rodriguez that resulted in an unfair process, which is essentially what A-Rod and his people are trying to prove now.
By making something of Horowitz's unwillingness to call Selig in, the strategy appears to be to paint a picture of Horowitz as MLB's puppet that can be used as an exhibit down the road.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports pointed out a major complication, however: This is Horowitz's first MLB case. He doesn't have any sort of history of being biased in MLB's favor. In an article about Wednesday's events, Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs granted that making something of Horowitz's decision could work out in A-Rod's favor down the line. It's "not likely" that it will, though.
A-Rod spent much of the hearing trying to convince everyone that he's being victimized by an "abusive," "disgusting" process that had reached a new low. What really happened is that he stormed out of a process that was doing what it had been doing: giving him a forum for him to discredit the punishment that's been levied against him.
That's all this grievance process ever promised to do for him. If it's his punishers he wants to discredit, he'll get that chance in the next round.
That's where this has been headed all along. Rather than a penny that forced A-Rod off the rails, what happened on Wednesday was really just another stepping stone.
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