Thursday, August 8, 2013

THE WRATH OF PONTIUS BUD

"The Anglo-Saxon race is peculiarly subject... to spasms of paroxysmal righteousness... [which result] in trial by passion, by terror, by prejudice, by hate [and above all] by newspaper"-- William Dean Howells 

"All men are Jews"--- Bernard Malamud

211 games, really?  Major League Baseball has sentenced Alex Rodriguez to a suspension that would prevent him from playing until the season he turns forty and that effectively would end his baseball career and MLB claims it has meted out a sentence that is fair, reasonable, and in accordance with the MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program (the "JDPP").   

Has the Commissioner's Office lost complete sight of the principle of equal treatment under the law or the axiom that the punishment should fit the crime?  Did Alan "Bud Selig" completely forget the judiciously calibrated disciplinary regime the JDPP enacted-- 50-games for a first-time violation; 100-games for a second infraction; a life-time suspension for a third offense.   What grievous crime could Rodriguez possibly have committed to warrant such a draconian punishment?  More importantly, on what basis, does the Commissioner's 211-game sanction rest other than punitive whimsy?  Its vaporous authority and arbitrary length indeed reeks of ulterior motive-- the wish-fulfillment of a Commissioner eager to heap all the blame for a drug epidemic on the shoulders of one player and to extenuate his own connivance in over twenty years of hypertrophied statistics that profited him and his former cronies in front-offices throughout the sport.  

Ever since that day in 2000 when Scott Boras inveigled Tom Hicks to sign the slugger for $252 million dollars and to distort forever the marketplace for free agent contracts, Alex Rodriguez has become baseball's eternal bete noire.   For in the Yankees' vain third-baseman--  a wayward fool desperate to please perhaps but hardly an cunning villain-- Alan "Bud" Selig, the Mass Man Par Excellence, nonetheless has found the ideal scapegoat to tar for guilt we all bear-- the game and its fans alike.  Guilt our culture bears collectively, in fact, for willful blindness to its own opportunistic core, for valuing performance over honor, for elevating profits over integrity, for worshiping athletes as gods instead of recognizing them as gifted but eminently mortal men and finally, for our relentless hunger for that extra edge, whether legal, moral, or even prudent.

Perhaps, Pontius Selig is hubristic enough to believe that by crucifying A-Rod-- by subjecting his career to a slow and asphyxiating death-- America's pastime not only can purge itself of its drug-addled past but it can redeem a nation awash in drugs designed to boost productivity, to arrest the aging process, and to improve performance.  Viagra, HGH, and Adderral to Botox, Creatine, and Jacked.   And a man named A-Rod shall arrive among us and shoulder our griefs and carry our sorrows and suffer for our transgressions.  

Don't forget that once upon a time, not long ago, right around the year A-rod made his Major League debut in fact, back when labor strikes and owner greed has prostrated the sport and fans shunned it, performance-enhancing drugs restored America's pastime to life.   Dramatic home run chases, bloated offensive statistics, and the rejuvenation of beloved but aging superstars attracted millions to the ballparks, set new attendance records, garnered lucrative new broadcast contracts, and spurred new revenue sources in advanced media. And overseeing it all sat Milwaukee Bud, the Midwest's favorite Ford dealer, flattering himself for resurrecting the sport and preening for the cameras.  Evidently, what he didn't bargained for was the backlash that would ensue when Jose Canseco constrained the people to see what we suspected all along but dared not to admit.  The Baseball Gods we all revered were simply fallible men no less prone to the quick fix than the rest of society.  For chemical wizardry, new, more potent designer drugs had eclipsed the amphetamines baseball players had feasted on for decades and made them bigger, stronger, faster.   But no one wants to hear that their God is just a little man behind the curtain equipped with the latest ingenuity modern science can supply.  The people clamored for blood.   Remember Caesar, you have a duty to please the people.  Crucify Him.  Congress intervened.  The owners and player's union finally found religion, agreed to the JDPP in 2006 and incorporated it into the League's collective bargaining agreement.

But now Pontius Bud threatens to vitiate the JDPP despite its proven record in identifying drug users, punishing offenders, and stemming the tide of PED use, if not entirely eliminating it.  His office offered all the other players implicated in the Biogenesis scandal a 50-game suspension, with the exception of Ryan Braun who already had tested positive once before for banned substance.  Selig even commuted the sentences of Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon to time-served.  Why does Alex Rodriguez deserve a sanction four times as severe?  Because he lied about it?  Well, Melky Cabrera fabricated an entire internet to conceal his drug use.  Because A-Rod didn't roll over when Major League Baseball decided to appoint a director of the Secret Service to spearhead its Starr chamber?  Or rather, he exercised his right to defend himself, like Braun did last year and he only received a 65-game sentence.   No, A-Rod's punishment smacks of some tyrant's edict contrived out of thin air because Pontius Bud has an illusion to protect-- the illusion that home run records compiled across centuries of rules changes, modifications to mound height, variation in the ball's composition, contracted stadium dimensions, racial exclusions, and human evolution still enshrine some kind of timeless, sacrosanct totem of merit.   And for this illusion, A-Rod must pay.  The Commissioner has to foreclose A-Rod's pursuit of Mays', Ruth's, Aaron's, and Bond's home run milestones, so we all can forget the little man behind the curtain.   Admit Alex that you are not the King of Baseball, says Pontius Bud.  Or else suffer the penalty of death

Let's hope Frederic Horowitz can restore sanity and justice as MLB's appointed arbitrator for players' grievances has done so often in the past.   Below are four precedents in which an arbitrator has curbed draconian sentences handed down by the Commissioner's office.   Anyone of which would warrant granting A-Rod clemency as well.

1) In 1984, KC Royals' Willie Wilson was convicted for attempt to purchase cocaine.   Kuhn suspended him for one (1) year.  The Arbitrator reduced his suspension to one (1) month. 
2) In 1984, Commissioner Kuhn suspended Pascual Perez for cocaine possession from Opening Day through May 15th.  Arbitrator Richard A. Bloch commuted Perez' suspension to April 29th 
2) In 1986, SD Padre LaMarr Hoyt committed three separate drug charges.  The Padres terminated his contract. Commissioner Ueberroth suspended him for one year.  The Arbitrator reinstated his contract and abridged the suspension to 60 days.
3) In 1991, Vincent banned NYY Steve Howe for life.  Arbitrator George Nicolau reinstated Howe after he'd served about 120 days of the sentence.
4) In 1995, Milwaukee's Bud ousted then SF Giant Daryl Strawberry for 60 days beginning April 25, 1995 (Opening Day in the strike-truncated season).  The SF Giants released him before Strawberry's salary arbitration hearing and maintained accordingly that they owed him nothing.   Arbitrator George Nicolau ordered the SF Giants to pay him $125,000.  The Yankees signed Strawberry on June 19, 1995.

2 comments:

karl ortmertl said...

Great work. I agree with your disdain for Selig. The A-Rod thing reeks of Bud conspiring with the Steinbrenners to get A-Rod off of the books for 2014 so they could get under the 189 million cap. The 211 games comes from 162 games in 2014 plus the remaining games in 2013 at the time of the suspension. How convenient!. One could easily write a book on Selig's duplicity and remarkable propensity for self service. How do you make a man commissioner who, as a used car salesman in Milwaukee, spearheaded a group of Milwaukee-ans to spirit teams away from such places as Chicago and San Francisco before finally stealing one away from Seattle in 1969? Thus causing a law suit leading to the creation of the expansion Mariners eight years later. That Selig is given credit for baseball's resurgence in the Nineties is the ultimate irony. It was he, leading a group of reactionary owners, who almost ruined the game with the 1994 strike that cost the sport a World Series. What brought the sport back from the brink were: the drug induced home run feats, of McGuire, Sosa and Bonds that Selig conveniently turned a blind eye to at the time; retro ballparks, which Selig had nothing to do with; the resurgence to the top by the Yankees, whose success lifts the entire sport tremendously in many ways - and whose success was exactly what the myopic Selig was fighting against with the strike; and, of course, parity - which was gained not thru Selig's proposed draconian salary cap proposals, but conversely because there were no such self imposed limits. Selig had nothing to do with any of the success. We could go on and on about Selig. How he subverted the interleague play thing by insisting that the Brewers join his beloved National League, thus unbalancing the leagues (this was finally fixed in 2013 with the Astros move to the AL) and causing a cockamamie interleague schedule. How he helped his buddies Henry and Loria move franchises around at the expense of Montreal retaining a franchise. An unselfish commissioner would have helped Montreal get their downtown ballpark instead of subverting the process to help a couple of his buddies use major league funds to help with their acquisitions.

karl ortmertl said...

To add another thought to the A-Rod thing. Who says his contract was a bad one?
The first notion to square away, which obvously eluded Cashman and the Steinbrenners, is that A-Rod was supposed to be productive until he was forty two years old.
These long term contracts, from a buyer's point of view, need to be separated into two parts: acquisition cost and salary cost.
For example, after 2007 when the Yankees signed A-Rod for ten years and roughly 300 million at the age of thirty one, A-Rod had, you would figure, six good years ahead of him. The salary part of his contract is six years at 30 million a year.
The last four years of his contract can be looked at as acquisition cost. 120 million amortized back to 2007 dollars coming out to roughly 90 million.
The thing that Cashman and the Steinbrenner's never seemed to get thru their heads is that last four years were the cost of acquiring A-Rod, in this case from himself, not salary - as you couldn't assume any productivity for those four years.
Posed differently, let's say the Cardinals owned A-Rod's six year thirty million dollar a year contract and they decided to put him on the market. How much would you have paid for the best player in baseball at 31 years old at the time?
The answer is that the Yankees paid 90 million in deferred 2014 -2017 dollars.
The fact that the Yankees didn't put that money away somewhere as a separate fund not to be counted as salary means that they don't have a clue about the real underlying process of what is going on. If they had bought A-Rod from the Cardinals for 90 million, that money would have been spent in 2007 and we wouldn't be worrying about A-Rods salary in 2014-2017.
But we are. Because Cashman and the Steinbrenners bought A-Rod on layaway and now they have to pay the 2014-2017 salary. Only now they don't want to. You would think that Cashman and the Steinbrenners lived in a trailerpark for all they know about finance.
This, of course, leads back to the suspension where Cashman and the Steinbrenners want to renege on their obligations by coming up with this bogus drug suspension.
By the way, A-Rod has more than paid for his contract already.
A-Rod's presence in the Yankee lineup won them a World Series in 2009 and got them into the playoffs in 2010-1012, not to mention keeping them somewhat competitive in 2008 and 2013 non-pennant winning seasons.
Calculating A-Rod's Wins Above Replacement and subtracting that from their actual win totals in 2010-2012, you see that the Yankees in those years would have been precariously close to missing the playoffs. On top of that, WAR assumes an average replacement, but the Yankee farm system has not produced anything close to average, so the WAR number there would be hightr and put them out of the playoffs.
But there's a bigger reason why the Yankees wouldn't have made the playoffs in 2010-2012 without A-Rod - lineup synergy. WAR has no way of calculating what affect A-Rod's presence in the lineup has on others in the lineup.
As we saw in 2013, Cano came to life when half an A-Rod was in the lineup. Swisher batted second all of those years and got countless fastballs, which he murders, in hitters counts because pichers would rather do that than have Swisher on with A-Rod looming. That lineup synergy alone for just Cano and Swisher alone is more than enough to tip over the scales. The Yankees would not have made the playoffs in 2010-2012 without A-Rod. His 30 million a year contract was a bargain in those years. On top of that, they wouldn't have won the 2009 series without him. Ka-ching again. Not to mention A-Rods, along with Jeter's, star qualitiy that fills the stands both at home and on the road and gets the Yankees a plethora of national TV games each year and you see how A-Rod, including the acquisition fee, has paid for his contract in spades.
Not a terrible contract. A great contract. Just think of where the Yankees would be, or rather where they wouldn't be, if he hadn't been in the lineup since 2008.