Alex Rodriguez Reuters

The Arbitrator’s Decision: Creatively Counting to 150


I’ve received a copy of the complaint Alex Rodriguez has filed in federal court seeking to overturn the arbitration decision against him and naming the MLBPA as a defendant as a result of their alleged failure to advance and aid in his defense. A full copy of the documents can be read here.

I have skimmed past the initial complaint allegations — many of them are repeats from his previous lawsuit against Major League Baseball and we’ll get to those in due time — and have gone down to the arbitrator’s decision in order to try to understand the basis for Rodiguez’s 162-game suspension. The breakdown: 150 games for violating the Joint Drug Agreement and 12 games for obstructing Major League Baseball’s investigation.

Following a lengthy recitation of the facts, the overview from the arbitrator is short and sweet:



The fact of a violation is laid out fairly painstakingly via the arbitrator’s review of the facts, as provided by Anthony Bosch and his records. Multiple contacts between Bosch and Rodriguez over a period of three years, during which Bosch provided multiple banned substances to him. How many? Three distinct ones, which becomes important to the penalty:


Why is three important? Because each side and the arbitrator agreed that the standard 50 game/100 game/lifetime ban penalties only apply when there is a SINGLE violation, as evidenced by an actual positive drug test. When there is a pattern of use — say, of three substances across three years, the Commissioner can use “just cause” penalties and use his discretion:


This is where I take issue with the arbitrator. Section 7(A) is not purely limited to a single positive test. It says this:

A player who tests positive for a Performance Enhancing Substance, or otherwise violates the Program through the possession or use of a Performance Enhancing Substance, will be subject to the discipline set forth below. (emphasis mine) 1. First violation: 50-game suspension; 2. Second violation: 100-game suspension; 3. Third violation: Permanent suspension from Major League and Minor League Baseball.

I would think that A-Rod is in the “or otherwise violates” camp and that 7(A) is still in play. 7(G), the just cause provision he moved under, is not invoked unless the violation is “not referenced” in section 7(A). I’d argue that “otherwise violates” is referenced there, but the MLBPA and A-Rod appear to have conceded the matter, so there we are.

But even the arbitrator seems uncomfortable with giving Selig a blank slate. He tries to look at the “guideposts” of the 50/100/life matrix in section 7(A) and sort of retrofit A-Rod’s drug use on to it. It’s a long passage, but it’s AMAZING. He says 7(A) doesn’t apply, so we go elsewhere, but if 7(A) DID apply, we’d be able to stack up 50-game penalties against A-Rod because he used three things:


Never mind that the Neifi Perez case did not involve HGH or testosterone, it involved stimulants, which are treated quite differently. Never mind that other Biogenesis players — specifically Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera — were not given multiple levels of discipline because, according to baseball, they already did their time, as it were.  This seems remarkably shaky to me. It is a new way of approaching drug discipline that just so happens to achieve Major League Baseball’s desired result of a lengthy suspension.

Major League Baseball actually argued for a lifetime ban here, saying that if A-Rod had three distinct offenses he’d get a 50, a 100 and a lifetime stacked on top of each other. That actually makes more sense to me. After all, if a player who got a 50 game test suspension last year tested positive for a different substance tomorrow, he’d get 100 games. There would not a be a 50 game suspension because it is a different substance, which is what the arbitrator is basically doing here. In essence, the arbitrator is going lighter on A-Rod than the logic he actually subscribes to would have him do. It would at least be intellectually consistent for him to ban Rodriguez for life.  The arbitrator was obviously loathe to do that. But if the logic train he followed drove him off a cliff, maybe he shouldn’t have followed that logic train in the first place. Maybe he shouldn’t have tried to invent his own standard.


As for A-Rod’s attacks on Bosch’s credibility, the arbitrator was not impressed. He took notice of the fact that Bosch was a scumbag who sold drugs, lied about his credentials and contradicted his own story multiple times in the runup to the hearing. But, even with that in mind, Bosch’s testimony was corroborated and was not contradicted:


Much of the corroboration came via text messages between Rodriguez and Bosch. Blackberry text messages. The richest player in the history of baseball uses a Blackberry. Think about that for a bit.


Major League Baseball has spent a lot of time and energy trying to establish that A-Rod obstructed the investigation, sought to buy or destroy evidence and, if you believe Bosch himself on “60 Minutes” last night, tried to threaten and intimidate him or, at the very least, tried to shoo him out of the country for a while.  The arbitrator did not buy most of this, it seems. He focused instead on A-Rod denying he knew Tony Bosch and trying to get Bosch to lie:


I think it’s safe to say that Major League Baseball’s claims of A-Rod’s awful obstruction were greatly overstated. And, in light of what MLB did to obtain evidence, it acted in a far more shady manner than A-Rod did.


There was a brief discussion of the confidentiality violations of the parties. Leaks to the media and press conferences and things during a process that is supposed to have everyone quiet and respectful of what is, by design, a secret proceeding.  The arbitrator basically threw up his hands here, noted that both sides did it all the time, that he couldn’t do anything to hunt down the leaks in anything approaching a timely manner and that, ultimately, it didn’t matter because the leaks and things did not affect his decision.

That actually seems pretty smart. No one did well in this department.


So that’s the first pass here. It’s hard to disagree with the arbitrator’s finding of some violation. It’s clear that the obstruction evidence presented by Major League Baseball was not terribly persuasive to him, as it amounted to only 12 games on top of the 150-game suspension. Finally, it’s clear to me that the 150-game suspension was based on, at the very least, a unique interpretation of the Joint Drug Agreement.

I believe, ultimately, that Major League Baseball will win the lawsuit A-Rod filed today as his best arguments are one of interpretation of the Joint Drug Agreement, and that is not enough to cause a court to overturn an arbitration. But I do believe that the arbitrator’s interpretation of the JDA was unsound and that the result — suspending Alex Rodriguez for a long time — was the tail that wagged the dog of his legal interpretation.  That’s what Major League Baseball wanted. It’s what the arbitrator felt he should get.  And he found a way to make it happen.

A way I do not believe anyone else ever considered before. Or, for that matter, should have.

Champagne after a loss? Why not?

Astros Wild Card

There was some hockey person last week arguing about how it was silly or untoward for baseball teams to celebrate clinching wild cards or other, less-than-championship-level accomplishments. Calling it bush league or lacking in act-like-you’ve-been-thereness or what have you. I can only imagine what he’d say about the Astros celebrating with champagne following (a) winning a wild card; and (b) losing the game which immediately preceded the celebration.

But screw him. Seriously.

I used to think that way. Indeed, if you search the HBT archives I’m sure there’s a post or two in which I disapprove of teams engaging in multiple champagne celebrations. But I was wrong about that and I’ve changed my mind on the matter over the past year or too. And on some other matters as well, all for the same reason: athletes are people just like us, not some avatars for our machismo and our fantasies. They’re people who have spent their entire lives devoted to their calling and do it under a lot of pressure and in the face of a lot of criticism and expectations from others. Why on Earth would anyone deny them their happiness upon the realization of an accomplishment?

This is even more true if you’re one of those misguided souls who erroneously believe that sports actually is separate from real life and believe them to be supremely and impossibly important. Even if you’re right — and you’re not — wouldn’t that give the athletes an even greater incentive to celebrate accomplishments? Funny how those people who who act as if sports is life and death would deny athletes their joy for defying death, as it were.

My view on the matter now is that if a guy hits a homer he should be able to celebrate it. If a pitcher strikes a guy out, he should be able to celebrate it. If a team makes the playoffs, no matter how low their seed and no matter the manner in which the accomplishment is achieved short of their competitors going down in a plane crash, they should be able to celebrate if they so choose.

So enjoy your hangovers this morning, Houston Astros.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights


Diamondbacks 5, Astros 3: The Astros lost but, in the course of the loss, they learned the Rangers won and that was all Houston needed to clinch the wild card. No better way to evade beat writers’ questions about what went wrong out there than to be in the process of getting roaring drunk and thinking about playoff baseball, right? And come back in a bit, as I’m going to have a post up later in which I explain why it’s totally cool for a team to have a champagne celebration after clinching a mere wild card. Which some people think is lame.

Rangers 9, Angels 2: Cole Hamels was supposed to be a pickup for 2016 but, in his final start of 2015, he pitched the Rangers to the division title with a complete game. Adrian Beltre‘s homer and three RBI and the Angels’ craptastic bullpen, which uncorked a six-run seventh inning, didn’t help.

Orioles 9, Yankees 4: Joe Girardi whined a bit about having to start this game at 3pm, saying that an all-important game 162 shouldn’t be decided in long shadows. Hey Joe: if you had won either Game 160 or 161 on Saturday this game wouldn’t have mattered to you. Or if you had used your roster in a manner that suggested some manner of urgency, which you didn’t do in any of the games in this series against Baltimore, it wouldn’t have mattered either. And, of course, it ultimately didn’t matter thanks to the Astros’ loss. Wild Card game in the Bronx tomorrow. Viva long shadows.

Dodgers 6, Padres 3: Clayton Kershaw faced 13 batters in his final tuneup before the playoffs. He struck out seven of them. Yeah, gonna say he’s tuned up nicely. That gave him 301 strikeouts for the year. Before yesterday baseball had not had a 300-strikeout pitcher since 2002, when both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it.

Braves 6, Cardinals 0; Braves 2, Cardinals 0: After a span of 24 winless starts stretching back to May 17, Shelby Miller finally gets a win. This is exactly the sort of thing which should set him on the right track and really help him in his next few starts.

Oh. Wait. Damn.

Phillies 7, Marlins 2: The game didn’t matter a bit in the standings but it mattered for Dee Gordon, who went 3-for-4 with a homer and a double and ended the season with a .333 average and the batting title thanks to Bryce Harper‘s 1-for-4 in the Mets-Nats game. Gordon bomes the first NL player to lead the league in batting average and stolen bases (.333/58) in the same season since Jackie Robinson did it in 1949. Which, wow.

Pirates 4, Reds 0: 98 wins and the Pirates are still playing a one-and-done game on Wednesday and needed this win just to clinch home field for that game. Man, the NL Central was rough this year.

Rockies 7, Giants 3: Down 3-0 in the ninth, the Rockies rallied for seven. Pretty sure the entire 2015 Rockies highlight reel will just be a quickly-burned DVD of that inning.

Tigers 6, White Sox 0: It was a year to forget for Detroit, but at least it ended with a young pitcher acquired in a mid-season white flag trade pitching a nice game. The pitcher was Daniel Norris who allowed one-hit over five innings. The outing allowed the Tigers to think a bit about the future.

Indians 3, Red Sox 1: And on the last day of the season the Indians move above .500. What a weird year for them. Such a talented team which had so many issues putting it together in the first half and, later, when it mattered most.

Cubs 3, Brewers 1: Chicago ended the regular season with a three-game sweep in Milwaukee and forced the Pirates to win one for home field advantage in the wild card. Regular season momentum doesn’t really mean much in the playoffs, but if it makes the Cubs feel better between now and Wednesday to say they have it, all the better for them.

Royals 6, Twins 1: Like I said: momentum doesn’t much matter, but on the off chance it actually does, Johnny Cueto has to feel OK, having allowed one run over five innings. We’ll forget for a second that it came against a deflated, recently-eliminated, spit squad Twins lineup.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2: After the game Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon tossed his cap into the crowd. Which is fine as it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be needed it next year. Not that I can act all smug given that I was one of those loonies who though the Mariners would make the World Series.

Mets 1, Nationals 0: Like Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom was merely tuning up for the NLDS. He’s running just fine too, having tossed four shutout innings with seven strikeouts. They were no-hit innings too, actually, but it’s not like Terry Collins was going to leave him out there for that sort of thing with the playoffs looming. Curtis Granderson‘s eighth inning solo shot was the only scoring. The Nationals, finally, have been put out of their misery and can go home and wonder about what in the hell happened to them this season.

Rays 12, Blue Jays 3: Mark Buehrle was supposed to come in and pitch two innings to get his 200 for the year and then retire. Which would’ve been a neat thing for him given that he’d tossed 200+ innings for 14 straight years before that. He couldn’t escape the first inning, though, as first the Jays’ defense and then his ability to get dudes out disappeared. Oh well. One crap inning doesn’t negate a first-ballot Hall of Very Good career.

And with that another regular season is in the books. Another season of 8, 12, or (usually) 15-game days. Of flipping TV channels or radio stations or clicking between websites and between games. Games which, compared to the other 2,400 or so that happen during a season, mean nothing. But mean everything. Games which can be enjoyed and savored for a bit if your team won and enjoyed and easily forgotten if your team lost. The easy listening soundtrack of the past six months now fades away and in its place comes a 30-day burst of hardcore intensity.

And it’ll be a lot of fun. The playoffs are the point of it all, right? Assuming, that is, baseball has to have a point. Maybe it does, but it’s an assumption that, the older I get, is less and less necessary for me to hold in order for me to enjoy it.

Thanks for another good season, everyone.