Bud Selig

Winners and losers of the Alex Rodriguez arbitration decision

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This wasn’t just about A-Rod and Bud Selig going to head to head. There are a lot of winners and losers here. Some are people. Some are documents. Some are ideas and ideals. Let’s look at the immediate fallout:

Winner: Major League Baseball: The league wanted A-Rod gone through 2014 and, in all likelihood, believe that means he will be gone for good. That’s what the 211-game suspension was all about in the first place and, with the exception of those 40-some games A-Rod played last year, they’re getting what they wanted. Barring an absolute miracle, A-Rod will not see a baseball diamond until 2015.

Loser: A-Rod: Obviously. The suspension he’ll now serve is far closer to the original 211-games he was given than whatever number he either wanted or would have accepted in some sort of deal. There have been various reports regarding whether there was ever really a chance of a deal being struck, but it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have agreed to 162. He loses the 2014 season, $27.5 million and, unless he stays in great shape and convinces someone to take a chance on him in 2015, he may have played his last game as a major league baseball player.

Winner: Bud Selig: The Commissioner has tried, for many years, to declare either an end to The Steroids Era in baseball (that was the idea behind the Mitchell Report and the adoption of drug testing) or at least to put someone’s face on baseball’s performance enhancing drug problems other than his own. With nearly a year of negative headlines about A-Rod and the other Biogenesis-implicated players and now with this suspension, Alex Rodriguez will be that face. Bud Selig can and likely will declare victory here. And, deserved or not, history will agree with him.

Loser: Baseball’s Drug Testing program: At least as it was originally intended to be and as most drug testing advocates believe a good drug testing and punishment system should function. Zero tolerance. Automatic penalties. No room for human judgment or mercy or consideration. An athlete tests positive? He’s gone. For a set time that everyone knows about beforehand.  With the A-Rod decision bringing us a suspension that was clearly engineered to meet human desires (i.e. to have A-Rod gone through the end of 2014), and was clearly based on Major League Baseball’s subjective judgment of how bad A-Rod behaved as opposed to whether this was a first, second or third offense, we are in a new world. Now that baseball has seen that it can get away with suspending players longer than 50 games a long as they claim that the player was somehow uncooperative or evasive, why wouldn’t they try to do it more often?

Winner: The New York Yankees. They may not crow about it because it would look unseemly, but you can bet your life that they are jumping for joy at the Yankees offices today. That’s $27.5 million off the books for this season and, possibly, a shot at getting their payroll under $189 million, which will help them out in the luxury tax department. Even if that doesn’t happen — signing Masahiro Tanaka, for example, could kill those hopes — it’s a lot of money saved. Also: the uncertainty surrounding whether or not A-Rod can play or not is over. This is the first season in at least two, but maybe more, that the headlines shouldn’t be dominated by Alex Rodriguez.

Loser: The MLBPA: In some ways this was out of its control, as Alex Rodriguez swept aside their defense in favor of his own legal team, but this is a defeat for the union all the same. No matter how much Bud Selig denies it, there was an effort to make an example of A-Rod here, and unions exist in part to prevent that sort of thing from happening to its members. The union was basically powerless in that regard. It’s hard to see, if MLB wants to go after someone like this again, how the union can stop them.

Winner: Alex Rodriguez’s attorneys: Sure, they lost the arbitration, but they made a lot of money in the process. And got a lot of publicity. And, if A-Rod truly intends to appeal to federal court — which I believe would be foolish — they will make even more money.  Why would he do that? Because, I’m guessing, they’ve convinced a man with more money than savvy that he has a better chance than he does. Lawyers want to win, but they also want to get paid, and A-Rod money will be covering boat payments and mortgages on vacation homes for his legal team for many, many years.

Dee Gordon apologizes, is reinstated from PED suspension

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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The Miami Marlins have reinstated second baseman Dee Gordon from his suspension.

Gordon, of course, has missed the last 80 games while serving his drug suspension. He’s coming off a minor league rehab assignment and will be the everyday second baseman for the contending Marlins. He was hitting .266/.289/.340 with three doubles, two triples, five RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases in 97 plate appearances when he was popped. He was replaced by Derek Dietrich, who hit a nice .275/.366/.398 with 22 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 314 PA in Gordon’s absence, so don’t expect a tremendous upgrade at second down the stretch, even if they get a nice upgrade in the utility and depth department.

To make room for Gordon, the Marlins designated utilityman and sometimes hero Don Kelly for assignment. Sad jams.

UPDATE: Gordon issued a video apology on the eve of his reinstatement:

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimized his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.