In the wake of Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension being reduced to 162 games, he said that he plans to appeal the decision to federal court. This is not unexpected, but I also believe that it will be a waste of his time and his money.
Arbitration is chosen by parties for the express purpose of avoiding litigation. Courts are well aware of this. And in order to not undermine the integrity of arbitration awards, they very, very rarely overturn them. Indeed, The Federal Arbitration Act provides the grounds for review of an arbitration decision. Such review is limited to overturning awards obtained by corruption or fraud. Or where the arbitrator himself is shown to be corrupted or to have engaged in misconduct of some kind or has shown a “manifest disregard for the law.” Federal courts do not look at the facts and evidence anew and substitute their judgment for that of the arbitrator.
If there was any doubt about this at all, one merely peruse the trilogy of seminal decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court on the matter — Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co, Steelworkers v. Enterprise Car and United Paperworkers v. Misco — and they can see how tall and steep a hill A-Rod has to climb:
Federal courts should decline to review the merits of arbitration awards under collective bargaining agreements . . . The question of interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement is a question for the arbitrator, and the courts have no business overruling his construction of the contract merely because their interpretation of it is different from his.
Collective bargaining agreements are governed by the Labor Management Relations Act. Under the LMRA, review of an arbitrator’s decision is even more limited. Courts cannot look at the case anew to decide if the collective bargaining agreement was followed or if the evidence was misinterpreted. They may only overturn the decision if the arbitrator clearly abused his authority and went way, way out on a limb. It’s hard to see A-Rod making that case here, even if a 162-game suspension seems a bit . . . random. Or, more to the point: calculated to have A-Rod gone for a certain length of time as opposed to reflecting the actual severity of the offense.
So go ahead, A-Rod: sue in federal court if you want. But you will waste your money. You will likely not get any help from the union — which, when MLB made noises about appealing the favorable arbitration ruling Ryan Braun received following his 2011-12 suspension, strongly stated such a move was ill-advised — and, most importantly, you will almost certainly lose.