Alex Rodriguez Reuters

A-Rod’s lawsuit: dropping bombs, but maybe he has a grander tactical plan

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I finally finished reading A-Rod’s lawsuit against Major League Baseball.  If you haven’t read it, go here. It may be one of those most over-the-top, Earth-scorching lawsuits I’ve ever seen. Certainly in a sports context.

It’s Alex Rodriguez attempting to put Bud Selig and Major League Baseball on trial for Collusion against free agents in the 80s, the Steroids Era — which A-Rod claims was largely authored by Bud Selig — and generally for trying to destroy Rodriguez’s career, reputation and earning potential. It did so, he claims, by paying off witnesses, leaking the details of the Biogenesis investigation to the media and singling him out as the target of a vendetta. The complaint reads like acid in places, is hilarious in others and basically attempts to put baseball on trial for everything bad it has done since Selig has been around.

But so much of that is just noise and red meat for the press. A lawsuit is only as strong as its legal claims, and it’s worth noting that the legal end to all of these allegations is pretty small: two simple legal counts for tortious interference. One in which he alleged that Major League Baseball’s actions have caused him to lose out on business and endorsement deals and another in which he alleges that Major League Baseball is trying to interfere with his contract with the Yankees.

As we noted back in March when MLB filed its tortious interference suit against Biogenesis and again when San Jose sued MLB on tortious interference grounds back in June, such claims are often hard to establish. In order to prevail, you have to show the following:

  • that you had a contract with a third party (or that prospective contracts were in the offing);
  • that the defendant knowingly induced the third party to break the contract;
  • that the defendant had an improper motive or means for doing so; and
  • that you were harmed by such actions

In the Biogenesis suit, MLB’s harm, as stated in the complaint, was laughable. In the San Jose suit, San Jose’s contracts are imaginary, not real. In this case A-Rod can make valid claim to real contracts — his Yankees contract chief among them — and harm that will result from his suspension. But what I’m struggling with is how he will establish Major League Baseball’s improper motive and means.

Even if we think MLB has overreached — which I do — MLB has been acting and continues to act in furtherance of a valid drug enforcement regime. In collecting evidence, issuing discipline and suspending players, MLB has been fulfilling its legal obligations under the CBA, so the very act of the proceedings against A-Rod are, at least on the surface, valid. Maybe they secretly harbor a vendetta, but they have total deniability of that in saying that their motive here is to police PED use by baseball players.

So then we go to means. As A-Rod’s lawyers so helpfully remind everyone at paragraph 37 of the complaint, I personally think that the way in which MLB has gone about gathering evidence is bogus. The main tool they used — the Biogenesis lawsuit — is clearly a sham, designed to get documents and not actually redress injury.  But that’s just my view. The court handling that case has validated the suit by refusing to dismiss it and by continuing to let major league baseball collect evidence and depose people. I think the court was wrong to do so, but it’ll be hard for A-Rod to get this court to rule that an active lawsuit is a tortious act in and of itself.

So then we get to the leaks. Again, I think there have been all kinds of loose lips in this case, but how will A-Rod establish that Major League Baseball has violated the confidentiality provisions of the CBA and JDA? Calling reporters to the stand and having them explain who at MLB told them what? We’ve seen that kind of drama before. Reporters will not burn their sources. And even if they did, are we really so naive as to think that only MLB has leaked things? I think we can confidently say that lots of different parties with lots of different agendas have leaked things. As such, it’d be hard for A-Rod to get a lot of traction here.

A final hurdle — although it may very well be a threshold issue in this case — is whether a court should actually hear this case in the first place. The JDA and CBA say that disputes between Major League Baseball and players should take place in arbitration. Obviously this suit is A-Rod’s way of saying that he no longer has to do that because MLB, in his view, has misbehaved. But a court may not buy that and may refuse to hear the case, saying it’s a matter of arbitration. If that happens, the lawsuit ends before it begins and A-Rod is back in the arbitration room every day.

What’s more — and this could loom pretty significantly — the players union itself, who is A-Rod’s nominal defense in the arbitration, has a vested interest in protecting the integrity of the arbitration process. The MLBPA, therefore, may feel obligated to break with A-Rod now and tell this court it shouldn’t hear the case because the arbitration must be respected. This would be a very big deal.

Which — now that I think about it — could be A-Rod’s plan. Well, his plan in addition to simply excoriating Bud Selig and Major League Baseball in as loud a voice as possible. The plan is this: Force his union representation to take a stand against him. That, in turn, blows up the arbitration which cannot go on if the union and league are now on the same side of a critical issue. With the arbitration in limbo, A-Rod and MLB are back to square one, A-Rod is eligible to play and there is no basis for denying him his paychecks. If such a thing were to happen, MLB may not want to proceed with a new arbitration. It may try to reach out to make a deal.

All of that is wild speculation, of course. But this is a wild case. And with it the Biogenesis matter, which we thought was nearing its end, may still have many twists and turns before its final resolution.

Columnist calls for Sammy Sosa to “come clean.” He probably shouldn’t.

15 Sep 1998:  A silhouette portrait of Sammy Sosa #21of the Chicago Cubs taken in the dug-out as he looks across the field during the game against the San Diego Padres at Qualcomm Park in San Diego, California. The Cubs defeated the Padres 4-2
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Yesterday Sammy Sosa — quite ridiculously — compared himself to Jesus Christ. The idea: he has suffered greatly since retirement, having been shunned by the Cubs and disparaged by the baseball establishment and . . . well, I don’t know how that makes him Jesus, but forget it, he’s rolling.

Today, predictably, a Chicago columnist does what columnists have been doing for years with respect to guys suspected of PED use: argues that Sosa should “come clean” if he wants to come in from the cold. Here’s David Haugh of the Tribune:

The game welcomed back Barry Bonds and McGwire from steroid exile after both separately acknowledged their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. Fox Sports employs Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to PED use during his career. The door back to baseball is open for Sosa, but only if he follows the same path his contemporaries from the steroid era did. The Cubs have made this clear to Sosa, in no uncertain terms, yet he continues to paint himself as the victim.

This is not accurate. Bonds has never “come clean” about his PED use. He was in litigation over it until 2015 and wasn’t giving any confessionals about it. When the Marlins hired him he said nothing. He made allusions to being “an idiot” in an interview last summer, but that was clearly focused on his cagey attitude, not his drug use. There was no deal with the Marlins that his job was prefaced on his “coming clean,” and he never did.

The same can be said for McGwire. Big Mac was hired by the Cardinals as a hitting coach on October 26, 2009. His acknowledgment of PED use came months later, just before spring training in January 2010. While it may be plausible that the Cardinals told McGwire that they would not hire him absent a confession of PED use, that’s not how it tracked in real time. At his hiring, John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt each said there was no set blueprint for how McGwire would proceed as far as his public statements went and they allowed him to control the timeline. His confession seemed to be very much a function of heading off spring training distractions and questions from the press which would have access to him everyday, not some precondition of his employment.

But even if we grant the apparently erroneous premise that Bonds and McGwire “came clean” to return to baseball’s good graces, such a road map is of no use to Sosa. He’s not looking to coach or, as far as we know, even be employed by a club. If the study we talked about four years ago remains accurate, coming clean about PED use makes an athlete look worse in the eyes of the public than those who deny. Ask David Ortiz how that works. It likewise will do nothing for his Hall of Fame vote totals. Ask McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro how that works.

Sosa may be engaging in some unfortunate hyperbole, but as far as can be determined, he’s not asking for a whole hell of a lot. He’s not asking for a coaching job or to have his number retired or for them to rename Wrigley Field after him. He’s asking to be acknowledged as a part of Cubs history. He’s asking for the same kind of treatment other retired greats receive from time to time. A first pitch? A public appearance or two? Some minor role as a team ambassador? The bar for that isn’t very high.

The Cubs, who benefited greatly from Sosa’s production — and, necessarily, by whatever juicing Sosa did to achieve it — aren’t being asked to do much. Just to be decent to a person who is an important part of their history. That should not require that Sosa give a weepy interview about steroids which will serve no one’s purpose but the tut-tutting media. A media which, if McGwire’s example is any guide, will still slam Sosa if he comes clean and claim that his confession wasn’t good enough and his contrition wasn’t genuine. If he does confess, bank on that reaction. Bet the mortgage on it.

All of which makes me wonder if it’s the media, and not the Cubs who are the ones who really want to see such a thing.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.