The baseball world is waiting for the long anticipated release of the names and penalties to be assessed against MLB players who obtained performance enhancing drugs from the Miami clinic, Biogenesis. None of the players failed drug tests, as all charges are based on non-analytical positive evidence such as oral testimony, emails and records obtained from Biogenesis.
Alex Rodriguez is the most well known of the players, but Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers shortstop, is thought to be one of them and the Tigers have already traded for a replacement, but back to ARod. This is the most interesting case as he admitted steroid use while with Texas and has been accused of such behavior before the Genesis deal. He is said to have recruited players for Biogenesis, which is another crime, as they say.
ARod could face a lifetime suspension, so he is trying to negotiate with MLB for a lesser sentence. It was said today, that MLB is not negotiating so much with ARod as they are negotiating with the Yankees. This raises interesting issues that I find troubling. The evidence is in and MLB has it. It must apply the rules to all players and do so without inquiring of the player’s team as to what it wants to achieve. For example, say the Yankees say “we want him for the rest of this year, but want his remaining $100,000,000 contract blocked for life.” That would mean that MLB would suspend Arod for life, but, because he can appeal his suspension, he could play next week. Similarly, other teams may want the player, Peralta, for example, could appeal a suspension and finish the season, or accept a fifty game suspension and be eligible for post season. The timing of this is not by chance!
If Arbitrator Horowitz upholds a life time suspension, both the Yankees and MLB win. If he limits the suspension to a year, for example, ARod wins, and MLB’s drug testing program is impeded as to future suspensions. In this decision, the Arbitrator will look at other lifetime bans, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, for gambling, for example. I believe that gambling is an attack on the underlying integrity of the game and is the most serious offense against the game as that directly effects the outcome of the game, and has a negative impact on fans who want to trust the outcome is legitimate. This is not to diminish the PED effect, but the Arbitrator will also look to other drug cases, Steve Howe for example, where a lifetime ban was overturned by Arbitrator Nicolau, because MLB did not offer drug treatment. (Howe’s drugs of choice were primarily cocaine and marijuana.)
There is another factor in the ARod case. The Commissioner has power to by-pass the appeals process and suspend for life “to protect the integrity of the game.” Here the risk is that a court (or an arbitrator, I will have to check the proceedural rules) will find the penalty excessive and over turn it.
Furthermore, and this may be the most important factor, is that taking away a player’s appeal rights that exist in the basic union contract is to invite war with the Player’s Association which had been compliant with the suspensions as long as suspension appeal rights were not limited. This could be very damaging.
All in all, this will be a very interesting week. ARod will appeal if suspended and play for the Yankees this week or he may negotiate a deal and accept a lesser penalty. That case will then control drug penalty cases in the future. The Commissioner will be very careful as well, as his power is at risk. Maybe it is better to save that for gambling cases in the future.
MLB is now taking a strong stance against drug use, and, as Henry Aaron is thinking, it is about time.