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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Alex Rodriguez: Requiem for a Heavyweight.

Alex Rodriguez was dealt a baseball death sentence today: suspended for the entire 2014 162 game regular season and the tournament that follows.

Mickey Rooney & Anthony Quinn
After he's knocked out by Cassius Clay in the opening scene in the 1962 movie Requiem for a Heavyweight aging boxer Mountain Rivera is asked in the dressing room by the doctor where he is.  It's a test to determine how badly he's injured.  Rivera provides a poignant, tragic and incorrect answer: "I'm in Pittsburgh and it's raining".  Because of his injuries Rivera is not allowed to continue boxing and ultimately resorts to a clown like persona as a professional wrestler.  The movie ends with Rivera suffering this final humiliation in a ring as he devolves into "Big Chief Mountain Rivera".

It's difficult to sympathize with Alex Rodriguez.  He had lots of talent and has been paid a lot of money.  But even at the age of 38 all he really seems to want is to play baseball.

The ruling in the arbitration case of Alex Rodriguez was complete vindication for Major Baseball League (MBL) commissioner Allan Huber "Bud" Selig.  The other players seem unaware of some fundamental implications.  Buried in his self-serving statement, Rodriguez makes some valid points:
1. Even without a player failing the lame drug tests that the MBL administers, a player can be punished even more than what the collective bargaining agreement specifies.  The commissioner can do pretty much what he pleases.
2. This might actually be the first real attempt to invalidate some big contracts.
3. If it can happen to a star player, it can happen to any player.

I've always been an Alex fan.  But a big part of my support for Alex in this episode were these fundamentally negative actions by Selig:
1. Rodriguez had not played since October 2012 and Selig seemed to be rushing to preclude Rodriguez from playing at all in 2013 and 2014.  That seemed especially cruel.  It was effectively a baseball death sentence for a player who was 38 and recovering from his second hip surgery.  Rodriguez finally played his first game August 5, 2013 while appealing his suspension of eight days before.
2. Why punish Rodriguez so much more than the others, all of whom had been playing in 2013?  Ryan Braun got a 65 game suspension but Braun was OK with that because he was injured.  The other dirty dozen were suspended 50 games and two, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta, even played in the tournament and were welcomed by their home fans.  Peralta later got a $53 million four year contract from St. Louis.

The 211 game suspension seemed too long.  And it seemed mean spirited.

But for all the faults of Selig, Rodriguez is in this situation by his own choosing and he must face it, deal with it and come to terms with it.  Rodriguez lost most, if not all, of his credibility when he lied about his previous use of performance enhancing drugs (PED).  Rodriguez admitted that he had lied only when that was his last resort.  Now he's paying the price.

Alex Rodriguez works as hard and hustles as much as any player I have ever seen.  But those qualities are no longer serving him well.  Maybe he's in denial.  Maybe his pride gets in the way.  It's part of what makes some of them great.  Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens especially seem incapable of showing weakness or admitting flaws.

While simply dismissing Alex Rodriguez as a cheater who is getting what he deserves for the greater good of the game seems appropriate, it lacks understanding.  Alex Rodriguez was a great player.  This is a tragedy for him and for baseball, and by baseball I mean the game not the corporate entity that undeservedly appropriates that word.

So what now for Alex Rodriguez?  He appears determined to fight for his right.  But the right to do what?  Whatever he wants, however he wants?  Those days are long gone.  Alex Rodriguez had the poor judgement and bad advice to bash:
- the commissioner
- the Yankees, his team
- the player's union
- the independent arbitrator BEFORE that arbitrator gave his opinion.

That's a lethal combination of enemies.  No wonder Rodriguez got his baseball death sentence.  What can Rodriguez do in 2014?  After all, what he really wants is to play baseball.  But his banishment extends to most significant American minor leagues and to those in Japan and Korea that cooperate with the MBL.  Rodriguez probably cannot recover his amateur status, if at all, in time to do him any good.  That leaves him with playing for an independent professional league.  Darryl Strawberry did that in the 1990s when he was wandering in the wilderness following banishment for drug use, the kind that reduced, not enhanced, his performance.  Eventually, Strawberry was rescued and rehabilitated by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner who did the same for fellow ex-Met addict Dwight Gooden.  Rodriguez has too much arrogance and too little sympathy to expect any help from anyone.

His best hope is to play in the best league that will have him in 2014, whether in the USA or in another country.  Rodriguez is not yet a man without a country but he could become a man without a team.  Playing on a low level in 2014 would show his genuine love for baseball, not just for the MBL or for tons of money.  It would be a cleansing activity and might elicit some empathy if not actual sympathy.

Rodriguez is under contract to the Yankees through 2017.  He is to be paid:
2014 $25 million (Rodriguez will lose most of that from his suspension); age 38
2015 $21 million age 39
2016 $20 million age 40
2017 $20 million age 41.

Rodriguez was born July 27, 1975 in New York, NY.  Those ages are a little misleading as he will turn older in mid season and be 42 at the end of the 2017 season.

Could Rodriguez  return to New York, his birth place, in 2015 to play baseball for the Yankees.  It's possible.  The Yankees will be obligated to pay Rodriguez for those final three years and it's not likely another team will take him without the Yankees paying a big chunk of that money.  Maybe his original team, the Seattle Mariners, to re-unite him with Robinson Cano.  But other than even more petty vindictiveness by Yankee president Randy Levine, it makes little sense for the Yankees to send Rodriguez  away where he could still achieve significant career milestones.  It was those milestones, especially breaking the career home run record, which prompted Levine to give Rodriguez the new contract that now seems so burdensome.


Rodriguez cannot break the home record and that might be just as well.  Steroid zealots are inflamed by that like no other issue.  But Rodriguez could at least pass Willie Mays and maybe even still reach 700 homers.

Rodriguez could reach:
3,000 hits (needs 61)
2,000 RBI (needs 31)
2,000 runs (needs 81).

After a season in purgatory maybe even Bud Selig would like to see Rodriguez achieve those milestones.  Of course, by then Selig would no longer be commissioner.  That's how far into the future it would be.  Alex Rodriguez must feel like he's in Pittsburgh and it's raining.

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