Sunday, August 04, 2013

Baseball Tightens Up

Arc of ARod:  Straight Down
Tomorrow, the news reports promise, will be the long-awaited announcement of suspensions for baseball players implicated in the Biogenesis scandal.  Thirteen players, including three whose names have not yet been circulated, are expected to receive suspensions.  Several of them are minor leaguers. One, maybe two, maybe more, will decide to appeal their suspensions--which will allow them to continue playing until the appeals are decided--while the others will accept what is expected to be 50-game suspensions, the current standard for first-time offenses.  With one exception....

The advantage of accepting the suspension now is that the majors' regular season has almost exactly 50 games left, so if their teams are not in the running, it's a good time to take a hike.  That was the thinking of the 14th man, Ryan Braun, when he accepted a sixty-some-odd game suspension for getting caught the first time, but with some aggravating circumstances, one would assume.  (There was no disclosure of the evidence.)  Braun bailed on a bad season, personally and for his team, and avoided the harsher penalty which is believed to be coming down on The Big Name.  Two other major leaguers of note who may be suspended are Jhonny Peralta (spelling correct) of the Tigers, whose imminent loss led their pennant-contending team to trade with their hated rivals in Boston and Chicago to get a shortstop; and Nelson Cruz of Texas (a division and wild-card contender), who the rumors made his team, the Texas Rangers, desperate to find a hitter--so desperate, perhaps, that the price went beyond what they would pay.

Some of those accused, who have had regular testing and never failed, may be tempted to challenge the word of the Biogenesis snitch, who is the main source of the evidence against the players. (One asks:  if this guy is so knowledgeable and trustworthy, is he telling Major League Baseball the chemical composition of their secret sauce and how to detect it?)

Alex Rodriguez is the big fish that MLB is trying to bring in. There were ominous threats of a lifetime suspension for him, and there is still some possibility that MLB could announce his suspension for other than mere drug abuse, for conduct damaging to the game, which would prevent him from going on the field.  He could, and surely would, appeal that, too.  He has admitted previous steroid use, and the Biogenesis snitch has reportedly deposed himself to the effect that he personally administered performance-enhancing drugs (PED's) to ARod.  By that measure, it could qualify has a second offense (100 games, I think), plus he is accused of recruiting others (some of those lesser names may have fingered him), and generally of not cooperating with MLB's drug investigations.

Coincidentally, or not, Rodriguez is scheduled to come off an injury to his hip that has sidelined him from the beginning of the season.  Monday, his Yankees come to Chicago to play the White Sox.  On the one hand, the team could use him:  After a strong start despite numerous injuries, they have faded and are, at best, a longshot to make the playoffs now.  Derek Jeter came back at short after a similarly long injury and immediately got hurt again.  Similar stories for Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, though Granderson is now back in action.  It would be a great turnaround for ARod if he were able to come back, play well, and help rally the Yanks, but that would be hoping for a lot.  There are too many problems, and his presence potentially only creates more.

I would expect the White Sox fans to be hostile to Rodriguez, all the way up to throwing things on the field at him.  On the other hand, the White Sox come home after a disastrous road trip in which they lost their last seven games.  Even weakened, the Yanks are more likely than not to win tomorrow, ARod or no.

Supposedly, ARod, while maintaining his innocence or whatever, was also indicating through his people that he would accept a deal if it were not too severe.  The story now is that he will be suspended through the end of the 2014 season, a total of 214 regular-season games, and if he does not accept the suspension, it will be imposed in full once his appeals are denied.  Rodriguez is 37 years old, with five years and a lot of money still guaranteed on his contract (though he would not be paid during his suspension), so there is a lot at stake for him and for the Yankees.  Voiding his contract would be too favorable to the Yankees, who protest their innocence but were probably not too averse to ARod's making "special efforts" to try to recover sooner from his injuries, in this year and past years.  His 647 homers make him fifth all-time, behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays.   At one time he seemed a cinch to pass all of them; now, I'd bet, it's only Mays that he will catch, and the Hall of Fame--also at one time a certainty--seems now an impossibility.

I think the tide has gone out on the question of whether PED's can or will be tolerated in baseball, by the leagues, the teams, the players.  The next step will be at the next players' contract negotiation, or even sooner, to make all guaranteed contracts forfeitable for second offenses on them (probably not first offenses, as there is too much chance for a false positive or accidental or incidental offense).  There will be more chapters in the saga of human sports drama and the attempt to achieve superhuman results, but, baseball hopes, it will come with other sports from now on.

After listening to the old farts in the health club talk about how they can't stand baseball anymore, I just have one question:  what about football?  Don't tell me that the sport is clean--the evidence is apparent, and to the contrary.  It just doesn't have the clean reputation that baseball seems to have lost, but for some reason people hold it to a different standard.

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