Alex Rodriguez

Posnanski: Fair or unfair, Major League Baseball making example of Alex Rodriguez

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WASHINGTON — Yes, there were lots of questions (at least 211 of them) Monday after Major League Baseball suspended a bunch of players and Alex Rodriguez for taking performance-enhancing drugs, but one question kept echoing.

Question: How many times over the last dozen years do you think Bud Selig looked jealously across the field toward those National Football League suits?

Think about how many different ways Selig has tried to tackle this PED scandal over the years.

— There was the PIDE (Pretend It Doesn’t Exist) Era. That led to disgrace, ignominy, a tainted home run record, another tainted home run record, another one after that, a dressing down from the U.S. Government, a few thousand yottabytes of bad publicity and an empty Hall of Fame ceremony. So that didn’t work too well.

— That was followed by the MCTIS (Most Comprehensive Testing In Sports) Era, where everybody seemed to think the game was dirty but the Commissioner bragged anyway about how proud he was about the way the game was cleaning itself up. This coincided with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens trials that produced almost nothing, fewer home runs and absolutely no confidence that baseball had anything under control.

— Finally, we moved into the GAROD (Get A-Rod) Era, also known as Fryin’ Ryan, in which Selig and baseball folks put on their deputy badge, loaded the single bullet into the gun, did some investigatin’, and fired serious suspensions at former MVP Ryan Braun, good players Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz, a bunch of other guys and, mostly, Alex Rodriguez, who they slammed with a 211-game suspension because, um, I think because it’s a primorial prime number.*

*Look it up! I did!

And what will be the reaction to this? Will people say: ‘Good for baseball! Cleaning up the game! I think it’s much cleaner now! I’m more of a baseball fan today than I was yesterday!’

No.

Will people say: ‘Good for Bud Selig! Yeah, maybe he was a little bit clueless or entirely negligent in the early days of the steroid scandal but he’s made up for that by punishing these cheating ballplayers and, especially, for coming up with some crazy suspension number for Alex Rodriguez that probably won’t hold up in appeal!’

No.

What will people say? Most of them will say nothing at all because they’re studying for their fantasy football draft.

Yes, how many times has Bud Selig looked across the way and grumbled bitterly about professional football. The NFL has 330-pound offensive linemen who can lift forklifts. The NFL has 250-pound linebackers who move faster than Porsches. The NFL has running backs who can sprint like Usain Bolt, then stop instantly like the Road Runner from the cartoons. And so on.

Meanwhile, if a baseball player hit four home runs in a week, Twitter is dancing with steroid allegations.

The NFL drug tests will get a few players here and there, though few stars. The punishments will be a handful of games. And generally speaking, nobody seems to care too much (or at all) about any of it. Some players have been hurt by players who were found to be using steroids – there seems almost no outrage about any of it. As more than one baseball official has muttered over the last few years: “How does football avoid all of it?”

The answers always seemed too pat to me. I’ve heard it said that the difference is record-keeping – baseball’s records are cherished while nobody cares about football records. I’ve heard it said that the difference is familiarity – fans feel like they KNOW baseball players while football players are hidden behind facemasks and under armor. I’ve heard it said the difference is the violence – football players have to endure so much pain and brutality, that it would be almost cruel to deny them PEDs just for survival.

MORE: Subdued A-Rod: ‘I’m fighting for my life’

I have another theory, but first it’s worth taking a moment to discuss Baseball getting A-Rod. It’s worth noting that for all the talk about steroids, MLB has rarely actually caught anybody. They never punished Barry Bonds (unless you believe the owners colluded to keep him out of the game at the end), never punished Roger Clemens, never punished Mark McGwire. Jason Giambi admitted using – no suspension. Gary Sheffield said he might have unknowingly used – no suspension. Andy Pettitte admitted using HGH twice … no suspension. The list goes on and on.

There are good reasons Baseball did not suspend any of these people by the way – but it still paints a picture. And the picture is of a bunch of kids trying to sneak into the ballpark without paying, and the helpless ticket guy (representative of MLB) trying to grab as many as he can, while shouting in a funny Irish accent: “You … little … squirts … get back here … oh … when … I … get … my … hands … on … you!” And in the end the guy catches one, holds up him by the scruff of his neck, and says, “I’ll make an example of this one, I will.”

So Baseball wants to make an example out of A-Rod, and he’s the obvious choice because almost nobody likes him. Well, he brought that on himself. He’s pompous, a bit delusional, strange, certainly a cheater, certainly a liar, and anyway not good enough anymore to have many Yankees fans in his corner.

When a governing body can unload on a wildly unpopular figure they tend do so with gusto and fury and all measure tossed out the window. So Baseball floated the crazy idea of a lifetime ban, cut off negotiations with A-Rod’s people, talked about keeping him off the field in the best interest of baseball and then slammed A–Rod with a suspension four-times longer (and many millions more expensive) than the others. None of it exactly seems “fair” – the guy used steroids to become a better baseball player, like many others; he didn’t torch a village — but when it comes to A-Rod, how many people care about fairness?

“Hit Da Roid!” the New York Daily News cover advised Rodriguez.

“Just Go!” the New York Post said a bit more succinctly.

So, at the moment, most people figure to side with Baseball no matter how big a suspension they give A-Rod. If they ruled that A-Rod should be imprisoned in the Tower of London, it would probably get 73 percent approval rating. But now the court shifts away from public opinion. The appeal process will probably take a while, allowing A-Rod to play. Baseball’s case against A-Rod might rely heavily on Biogenesis’ Tony Bosch, who isn’t exactly Walter Cronkite in the credibility department. They will have to make a strong case that what A-Rod did was SO much worse than what the others did. Maybe they have the goods. Maybe they don’t.

In other words, it could all still lead to another pie in the face for Bud Selig and baseball.

And this stuff never happens in football – at least not with performance enhancing drugs. My theory on that: There’s a fundamental difference in the way many people watch baseball and football. People watch football as pure spectators. Oh we get into the game. But I know of very few people who watch a football game and think, “Oh, I could see myself out there.” People may gripe when a quarterback takes a bad sack or a receiver drops a ball over the middle or a linebacker misses a tackle. But you don’t often hear them say: “Oh man, I could have done better than that.”

But in baseball, many people are more than spectators. Here in Washington at this Nationals-Braves game, for instance, I just saw Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche botch an easy ground ball. And the thought popped into my head before I could stop it: I could have made that play. Of course, I couldn’t have made the play – but I will never convince my mind of that.

I never once see a receiver have the football and his body forcibly separated by a kamikaze hit from a safety and think: “Oh, I would have held on to that.”

That’s baseball. There’s a closeness to the game that baseball fans feel, a connection to the field, a memory of a diving catch made in Little League, a lingering feeling of a softball home run, a sense that if one or two things had gone right that it might be me out there. The players out there are stand-ins for our own baseball fantasies. We want them to entertain our delusions. That’s not necessarily fair, but that’s the game.

Bryce Harper reportedly wants a $400 million extension

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after hitting a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports the Nationals are “balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension” and are thus prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season.

What would make the Nationals balk? According to Nightengale’s source it’s a deal that “will exceed 10 years in length and likely pay him in excess of $400 million.”

That might seem crazy given historical norms and given that Harper is coming off a disappointing season, but if Harper returns to anything close to his 2015 form in which he won National League MVP honors while hitting .330/.460/.649 and hit 42 home runs, $400 million is going to seem quite reasonable. That sort of production was not some crazy fluke for a guy with Harper’s talent, after all. And he’ll be 26-years-old when he hits free agency, which is far, far younger than your typical free agent. Indeed, he’ll be entering what have, historically, been the prime years of most superstars’ careers.

The closest comp to star hitting free agency at that age was Alex Rodriguez, who was 25 when he signed his first $250 million deal following the 2000 season. Top big league deals going from $250 million to $400 million in the space of two decades is not really all that crazy when you think about it. Especially when you realize that, between 2001 and 2018, baseball revenues will have increased by a factor of three, assuming current growth holds.

UPDATE: My first thought after reading all of this was “I wonder if the Nats leaked the $400 million thing, whether it was an actual demand or not, in order to turn the PR in their favor if they deal Harper?” Question answered:

At least one quarter of the Today’s Committee owed Bud Selig a solid

Bud Selig
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OXON HILL, MD — The 16-member committee that voted Bud Selig and John Schuerholz into the Hall of Fame — the “Today’s Game” Committee — consisted of the following members: Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bobby Cox, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Pat Gillick, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton, and Frank Thomas, major league owners/executives Paul Beeston (Blue Jays), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Phillies) and Kevin Towers (Reds); and media members/historians Bill Center, Steve Hirdt and Tim Kurkjian.

That’s certainly a venerable list of names. A quarter of that electorate, however, could be characterized as having a pretty notable conflict of interest when it comes to Bud Selig. At least if anyone cared about things like conflict of interest when it comes to baseball.

Whatever the case, two of those 16 guys became owners — and even more wealthier as a result — due to his affirmatively choosing or approving them to join sports’ most exclusive club. Two others were personally chosen by Selig to assist him over the years, raising their profile and importance in the game and giving them resume pieces that will one day be part of their own Hall of Fame cases.

  • Royals owner David Glass: Became the Royals CEO and Chairman in 1993, right after Selig became the acting commissioner. Glass was a key ally for Selig’s efforts to impose a salary cap and take a financial hard line in negotiations with the union, which eventually led to the 1994-95 strike. In 1999-2000 he became the full owner of the Royals after Selig personally stepped in to stop a bid for the club by a competing ownership group and is thus widely refereed to as Selig’s handpicked man. Glass is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served for decades.
  • Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.: Bought his club in 1995, after Selig had taken over and thus would not be a baseball owner without Selig’s approval. DeWitt was a point man for Selig on a host of his pet projects, including the Wild Card and interleague play. He likewise led the charge for revenue sharing and other potentially divisive financial matters which tended to be in the interest of smaller market clubs, the sort of which Selig himself championed when he was a mere owner. DeWitt chaired the committee to find Selig’s successor, which eventually served to validate Selig’s desire to have his hand-picked choice, Rob Manfred, succeed him.
  • Phillies President Andy MacPhail: Selig’s handpicked choice for the labor negotiating committee in 2002 which, at the time, continued speculation that MacPhail would one day be on the short list to succeed Selig. A few years before that MacPhail was public in saying that Selig would be the right choice to become permanent commissioner at a time when many were concerned that a team owner assuming that role was a conflict of interest.
  • Former President of the Blue Jays, Paul Beeston: In the late 90s, Beeston resigned as president of the Toronto Blue Jays following a successful reign to accepted baseball’s newly created position of president and chief operating officer. The move was widely seen as a means of giving Selig a top lieutenant — a defacto deputy commissioner — which would help him smooth his transition from acting commissioner to permanent commissioner. Many thought at the time that if Beeston was not hired for that gig, Selig may have declined the full-time commissioner’s role. Selig was described in the press at the time as a strong admirer of Beeston’s. In 2014, Beeston reflected glowingly on Selig’s legacy, saying, “I absolutely admire him on this steroid thing.” Beeston is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? No. Baseball is a small world and Bud Selig existed in it for a long, long time, so having a relationship with Selig was pretty unavoidable for almost anyone with any sort of profile in the game. No technical rule or historical baseball norm was violated by virtue of this vote or the composition of the committee itself. Indeed, the old Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame was widely seen as a group of good old boys voting their old friends. Worth noting, perhaps, that that iteration of the Veterans Committee was abolished precisely for that reason, but I suppose we’ll leave that go for now.

I wonder, however, what the vote totals would have been for some of the other candidates if 25% of their electorate consisted of people who owed personal and professional debts to them the way Selig’s electorate owed him. Maybe Barry Bonds’ agent could get a Hall of Fame vote? Roger Clemens’ mechanic? Mark McGwire’s interior designer?

I suppose we’ll never know.