Alex Rodriguez has always been the ultimate drama queen, so it’s no surprise, really, that it came to this: A theatrical tantrum in the midst of his grievance hearing on Wednesday, ending with him stomping out of the room, right on cue.
I’m not sure if he screamed, “You can’t handle the truth!” but that would have been too rich even for A-Rod, who has spent his career mired in artifice.
This week’s tawdry spectacle in New York, where Rodriguez has been fighting for his baseball life, might beg to be characterized as “rock bottom” for the would-be home run king.
But considering that this circus will likely be transferring to federal court once arbiter Fredric Horowitz rules on Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension some time in January, there’s still the potential for much degradation to come.
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As orchestrated by his team of lawyers and P.R. handlers – brilliantly described by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan as “the army of by-the-hour fix-it flacks with the sorts of fancy degrees he always wanted” – Rodriguez’s outburst directly followed Horowitz’s ruling that commissioner Bud Selig didn’t have to testify.
The fact that Team A-Rod had a statement ready almost immediately blasting MLB and the grievance process and concluding, “The absurdity and injustice just became too much,’’ seemed way too convenient.
Rodriguez then went on WFAN radio to continue his assault on Selig, declaring that his pursuit of Rodriguez “is 100 percent personal” and “he hates my guts.”
In a perverse way, it is a brilliant strategy. For one thing, it allowed Rodriguez to stake claim to the moral high ground, thus providing cover for his decision to abandon the hearing before having to take the stand himself.
Second, it reframed the combatants as A-Rod versus Selig, which is a much fairer fight than A-Rod versus the full weight of MLB’s anti-drug policy. I mean, the commish is not exactly Mr. Popularity amongst the sporting public.
But there are a couple of problems likely to sink Rodriguez in the end. For one thing, the nexus of “Rodriguez” and “moral high ground” is pretty much an oxymoron. It’s hard to believe there’s any circumstance by which he’ll get the sympathy vote, though Rodriguez told ESPNNewYork.com on Friday “I have never had a more positive reaction in the streets.” (This right after he asserted that his legal team “crushed it” in their closing arguments while MLB “had nothing.” )
More important, the Selig attack is ultimately just a diversion. While there are certainly some troubling aspects to MLB’s case against Rodriguez – like paying $150,000 for documents linking Rodriguez to Biogenesis – the fact is that all 13 other players fingered by the same down-and-dirty investigation (including Seattle’s Jesus Montero) all accepted their penalties.
That included Ryan Braun, who had been absolved from a previous suspension via the same arbitration process derided by Rodriguez as a sham. The fact is, arbitration has historically been of great benefit to the players in mitigating what had been the dictatorial power of management.
Rodriguez’s case is partly based on what he claims is the injustice of getting such a stiff penalty for a first offense (his acknowledged failed drug test in 2003 came before baseball’s drug policy was formalized). But union chief Michael Weiner, who died on Thursday, admitted in July that the commissioner is not bound by the standard terms for those who test positive – 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second, lifetime ban for a third.
Because MLB is making its case against Rodriguez without any testing — via what is called non-analytical positives — Weiner said they were free to impose any penalty they wanted. And any player was free to contest it.
Only A-Rod has, and only on Wednesday did he finally, for the first time, declare his total innocence.
“I shouldn’t serve one inning,’’ he said on WFAN.
Even if Horowitz reduces the suspension, as many believe he will, Rodriguez’s people have indicated they will take their case to federal court. A-Rod’s scorched-earth policy already includes lawsuits against MLB, the Yankees team physician and the hospital where he was treated for a hip injury in 2012.
Many legal strategists believe Rodriguez has little chance of prevailing in federal court. But facing an increasingly bleak baseball future at age 38, with his biological clock ticking and his enemies list growing more militant, he has clearly decided to go out, if that’s where he’s headed, with fists flying.
And feet stomping.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry