The MLBPA’s official statement on the suspensions of the Biogenesis players is something I can totally agree with: the 50-game suspensions make sense given that all involved were first time drug offenders who agreed, when they chose not to appeal, that MLB had the goods on them. But Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension is crazy and it should be reduced.
It’s crazy for a number of reasons.
One simple argument is that A-Rod is receiving discipline for the first time under the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA). The JDA calls for suspensions of 50 games, 100 games or life. A strict constructionist of the JDA could very easily say that A-Rod, as a first offender, should get 50 games, full stop. Now, I’m not naive. I don’t think that argument will necessarily work. Indeed, the head of the union himself said, for some reason, that the 50-100-life rubric does not apply to Biogenesis cases. I’m not sure why he’d admit that, but I do feel like if that argument had any weight it would have been made a lot more forcefully before now. Still: it’s not an argument I’d abandon if I was A-Rod’s lawyer.
A more compelling argument: 211 games is the most arbitrary number imaginable, and arbitrators of employer-employee agreements tend not to like arbitrariness.
The Joint Drug Agreement employs a unit of measurement for drug discipline: games. MLB may make an impassioned and persuasive case that Alex Rodriguez was a horrible wrongdoer, but they clearly chose this discipline based on how long they wanted to see him gone — this season and all of next — and simply calculated how many games that covered. In this sense it was entirely arbitrary and made little effort to match up the severity of the acts with the severity of the punishment. If it happened last week he’d get 217 games? If it happened next week he’d get 205? For the same conduct? It speaks to an unreasonable standard of discipline, even if it happens to go after unreasonably bad behavior.
Let’s talk about that behavior. A-Rod’s Biogenesis case has been the subject of countless leaks over the past several months, and most of those leaks have spoken non-specifically of awful, awful things. We don’t know how awful. Maybe it’s really, really bad! Obstruction of the investigation. Maybe some sort of luring of other players to Tony Bosch’s clinic. We really don’t know. But we do know that for 211 games to stick, those acts have to be more than four times worse than some other player’s drug use, right? That’s how MLB got to its arbitrary number, right?
I don’t know what MLB’s evidence is, but I do know this much: the historic pattern of A-Rod coverage has been to take what he actually did, multiply it by about a million times in terms of severity and report it as the worst thing that ever happened. Puffing up A-Rod’s evil works with tabloid readers, talk radio callers and the “A-Rod is the devil” folks, but it’s unlikely to work well with an arbitrator. So if that pattern is happening once again, it may be a much closer case than many are portraying.
None of that means Alex Rodriguez didn’t do anything wrong. None of that means that Alex Rodriguez will succeed on his appeal. But from where I’m sitting, Major League Baseball’s 211-game suspension looks hard to defend, and it’s hard to blame Rodriguez for going after it on appeal.