The chase has ended with Bud Selig getting his man. And in doing so, Major League Baseball's commissioner tied up a mighty big loose end on what was already a mighty impressive legacy.
If you're not caught up, the "chase" we're speaking of is the chase: The one after New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. It reached a conclusion on Saturday.
Almost two months after the arbitration hearings over the 211-game suspension MLB initially hit A-Rod with ended, the league announced that arbitrator Fredric Horowitz had settled on a 162-game ban as an appropriate punishment for Rodriguez's involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
To be sure, 162 games is less than 211, a punishment MLB said Rodriguez earned by obtaining performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis and by obstructing the league's investigation of the clinic.
But 162 games is still almost more than 100 games more than what Ryan Braun got for his involvement with Biogenesis. It's also the largest non-lifetime ban in MLB history. And Rodriguez stands to lose most of his $25 million salary, not to mention the $6 million he's owed upon hitting his 660th career home run.
In other words, Horowitz's ruling is still a huge victory for MLB and, indeed, Selig himself.
And this victory should be final. A-Rod unsurprisingly revealed via Facebook that he's taking the dispute to federal court now. But by all accounts, there's where he'll face an uphill battle.
As Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs has pointed out on more than one occasion, collectively bargained arbitration processes are protected by federal law, and a court may only intervene when an arbitrator “dispenses his own brand of justice."
There's no ignoring the obvious. Since Horowitz decreased A-Rod's penalty, Rodriguez and his legal team have their work cut out for them in convincing a federal judge that Horowitz went off the rails.
So, in all likelihood, A-Rod won't be seen on an MLB diamond in 2014. And every day Rodriguez doesn't lace up his spikes will be another day for Selig to breathe easy knowing the most troublesome outlaw of his reign was brought to justice by his own hand.
He'll surely consider it another victory in a long line of victories. Rightfully so.
Selig has certainly been good for MLB's business. According to Maury Brown of BizofBaseball.com, baseball's revenues were less than $1.5 billion in 1995. In 2013, the league's revenues exceeded $8 billion. Despite whispers to the contrary, baseball is in a golden age.
The success is well-deserved. Baseball has a fine product on the field, with competitive balance being one of its top strengths. In the last 13 years, only the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals haven't made the postseason. And while the dual wild-card system has yet to produce a champion, four wild-card teams have won the World Series since the first year it was established in 1995.
The product isn't just great on the field, as 21 new ballparks have opened since Selig took office in 1992. Relative to the ballparks that used to populate the baseball landscape, all are great places to see a game.
Selig also deserves his share of the credit for what's happened since the strike of 1994-1995. If that was a crime largely on Selig's hands, then the peace between MLB and the Players Association ever since has been a significant measure of redemption. Some will forever view the strike as the black mark on Selig's legacy, but he's done his part to wash it away.
Just as he has with the other notable black mark on his legacy: the steroid era. To this end, what happened on Saturday could prove to be the last swipe of Selig's squeegee.
It's impossible to apologize for the role Selig played during the steroid era. He turned a blind eye to what was going on, allowing a dark corner of baseball's history to materialize. Much of his work since then, however, has involved making sure it never happens again.
Starting with an initial system of testing and penalties in 2005 that was immediately toughened in 2006 and might soon be strengthened yet again, a league with a rampant performance-enhancing drug problem has become a league with the toughest PED policy in American team sports.
"This sport is cleaner than it's ever been," Selig insisted in July, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN).
Given that steroids and amphetamines, two drugs of choice for ballplayers for decades, are now banned, he's probably right. And yet, it must have been hard for many to take Selig's word for it. A big reason—if not the biggest reason—for that was the loose end.
You know. That pesky A-Rod guy.
On the one hand, Rodriguez was your garden-variety steroid-era villain. He admitted in 2009 that he had juiced up at the tail end of the steroid era from 2001 to 2003, a span in which he benefited to the tune of 156 homers. His admission, naturally, came after his denial in 2007 of ever having using PEDs, his own finger-waggy Rafael Palmeiro moment.
The difference between A-Rod and the other chief steroid-era villains, however, is that he didn't fade away with the era itself like Mark McGwire, Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. While they trickled out of the game, A-Rod remained.
The message from his presence to Selig: "It's not history yet, Bud. Neener neener."
But Rodriguez was also more than your garden-variety steroid-era villain. It can be said that the steroid-era guys tried to cheat baseball itself, but nobody tried to cheat the system quite like A-Rod did.
When the Miami New Times reported on Biogenesis and the dealings of clinic director Tony Bosch last January, it noted that Rodriguez was mentioned in the clinic's documents starting in 2009 and continuing on through 2012. A-Rod was acquiring and, presumably, using PEDs for a period of four years in which he managed to evade MLB's PED policy.
This message: "You'll never catch me, Bud. Neener neener."
Until he did.
In October, A-Rod referred to Selig's pursuit of him as a "witch hunt," according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. And he was right, as it didn't take a fly on the wall to know that Selig was hell-bent on punishing Rodriguez, Braun and everyone else (in that order) once the opportunity presented itself.
Doing so was about more than just revenge for A-Rod's 2001-2003 juice-fueled explosion and Braun's victory-by-technicality in arbitration following a failed test for testosterone in 2011. Punishing the players on his radar would be a way for Selig to send a message:
If you're thinking about cheating, don't think we need testing to catch you.
To have his revenge and send this message, Selig effectively decided to fight fire with fire. If the Biogenesis guys wanted to play dirty, well, then, so would he.
The New York Times can tell you all about the shadiness of the league's tactics in building cases against Rodriguez, Braun and the others and about how much of these shady dealings were focused directly on digging A-Rod's grave. Once the league had what it figured was enough for a huge penalty, it then dipped into the gray areas of the CBA and Joint Drug Agreement to make it happen.
A witch hunt, indeed. But for all that can be said about the slippery slope Selig's witch hunt might lead to, let's acknowledge the reality that it did produce witches. Including, of course, the particularly nasty one.
And as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports was quick to point out, it's not just Selig who has tied this witch to the stake:
For all the Selig-is-a-menace talk, remember: Fred Horowitz, an independent arbitrator, saw enough to warrant 162 games. That's significant.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 11, 2014
It will go into the books that Selig didn't exactly play fair in going after A-Rod. He'll certainly forever begrudge Selig for that. Surely many others will too.
The larger message of this chapter of Selig's legacy, however, will be that the ends justified the means. Horowitz ruled that dirt isn't any less valid even if it's dirtily acquired dirt, and he gave A-Rod what both that dirt and Selig said he deserved: a punishment unlike any before it.
The black mark of the steroid era is still there on Selig's legacy. Right next to it, though, is the toughest PED system around and the pelt of steroid-era villain who thought he could get around it. These things will do for a solid trade-off.
It's here where we re-acknowledge that, while the race is over, it could still be ruled to have been a sham. Maybe A-Rod will get lucky and convince a federal judge that he's an innocent man, in which case he'll be the one toasting a grand victory.
If Selig's victory is upheld, however, he'll surely be smiling at the possibility that he just ended A-Rod's playing career. At the least, he'll enjoy a nice, quiet A-Rod-less year before calling it a career at the end of 2014.
The townspeople won't all be saying kind things about Selig when he inevitably rides off into the sunset. He has his share of critics now, and he'll probably have those critics forever.
Many others, though, will choose to recognize the good things he did. Looming large among those will be the things he did to clean up the sport, including that one time he caught a menace who fancied himself uncatchable.
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