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When it comes to fighting MLB, Alex Rodriguez not afraid to go dirty

Jeff Passan
Special to Yahoo Sports

 

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Alex Rodriguez will take the witness stand Monday in his arbitration case. (AP)


Of course he went grimy. People inside Major League Baseball on occasion express incredulity at Alex Rodriguez's full-blown assault in shaming the league, seeming to ignore the history of the man on whom they declared war with a bag of cash, a 211-game suspension and every intention of crushing him in an arbitration room.

Lest anyone forget, A-Rod once slapped a ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove. He bleated "Ha!" to hoodwink an infielder. And, of course, he allegedly engaged in a systematic doping scheme knowing it was full well against rules set because he and more than 100 others failed a steroid test a decade ago. All of which is to say: If there is a game being played – if there is a winner and a loser – Alex Rodriguez stops at nothing to win.

Keep that in mind as Rodriguez considers taking the stand sometime this week in his arbitration case winding toward its conclusion. The unenviable job of interpreting any potential Rodriguez testimony falls on arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, who already must consider the credibility of MLB's main witness (a drug dealer who may or may not have sold to kids), the league's documented evidence (paid for in cash from a guy who may or may not have stolen said documents) and baseball's right to suspend Rodriguez for 211 games (an arbitrary figure in the sort of setting that preys on arbitrariness).

Though the case inside the arbitration room amounts to a pair of very simple questions – does Horowitz believe Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs despite no positive test during the period of allegation, 2010 to 2012, and will he uphold the 211 games or lessen the punishment? – Team Rodriguez's tactics have unleashed a damaging counterattack. Now the league finds itself on trial, out in public, where decorum is not only unnecessary, it's considered a weakness.

An anonymous $100,000 to a group that enlisted people to hold signs saying "Bud Selig is a child killer"? Check. A dirty bomb of a lawsuit that laid bare the alleged tactics the league used to procure evidence linking Rodriguez to the Biogenesis clinic? Check. A continued and continuous assault from Rodriguez's latest flack-for-hire, Lanny Davis, a tried-and-true Capitol Hill spinmeister, that only will sharpen the microscope on MLB? Check.

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MLB commissioner Bud Selig has been a target for A-Rod's legal team. (AP)

One lawyer familiar with such arbitration cases believes the tenacity of Rodriguez's outside-the-room attack on MLB actually bodes well for the league. His thinking: Players with strong cases have little incentive to gird themselves against the potential backlash of a suspension unless a suspension – or, in this case, a substantive suspension, since nobody thinks Rodriguez's penalty will be completely nullified – is imminent.

By going on the offensive, Rodriguez has laid the foundation for a response no matter the length of suspension Horowitz levies. The lawyer does not believe 211 games has any chance whatsoever of sticking, if only because the number – a full 162-game season, plus the 49 remaining in 2013 when the suspension was handed down – strays so far from the 50/100/lifetime penalty structure in place for PED suspensions. Never mind that the players' union chief, Michael Weiner, admitted that parameters for non-analytical positives like Rodriguez are not strictly determined in the league's drug agreement; Rodriguez disavowed the union early in the arbitration process, paring down his inner circle to those only on his payroll.

Among Davis, P.R. man Ron Berkowitz and lawyers Joe Tacopina and David Cornwell, Rodriguez assembled a crew to suit his style. They are fighters – Tacopina and the lawyer for Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch nearly came to blows inside the arbitration hearing – and if this one doesn't work out to their liking, there is a great expectation inside the game that they'll simply pick another one.

Whether a massive federal lawsuit against the New York Yankees, the players' association, MLB and whomever else Rodriguez feels like roping in can stick is dubious. His lawyers would suggest the whole thing was rigged from the start, that among the Yankees' negligence – he's suing their team doctor already, too – the union's lack of support and MLB's witch hunt, this was a kangaroo court. Of course, the league's collective-bargaining agreement uses a grievance-based arbitration system to handle such matters, and unless Rodriguez could impugn Horowitz, a well-respected veteran arbitrator, he likely would have no case.

What's left, then, is a Pyrrhic victory for MLB. When Selig went into legacy-preservation mode, turned PEDs into his administration's most vehement priority and started sinking millions of dollars into the policing of them, this day became more a matter of when than if. Plenty of players throughout the Biogenesis investigation questioned the tactics of the league – the threats, the strong-arming, the perceived bullying. Only one came to the table with a half-billion dollars worth of contracts in the bank, a spot high on the all-time home run list and a reputation beyond salvage.

It was bad enough to piss off the guy who hates losing. The guy who hates losing, has the means to fight it and doesn't mind getting a little dirty? That's an invitation to disaster.

Such is the Catch-22 for MLB. When it didn't do enough, Congress hauled Selig and others to Capitol Hill and shamed them. Today it's getting crushed for doing too much, exposed by A-Rod, the very person they might have gone to underhanded means in the first place. At least now we have a better sense of how a $9 billion business conducts its furtive affairs – and it's not pretty.

Here's the truth: Baseball isn't the Three Little Bears, looking to get its porridge juuuust right. Fact is, the league knew exactly who it was dealing with, and it made a choice: For the greater good, it would traffic in the muck with him. Because with just the right mix of money and righteous indignation from an athlete – see: Armstrong, Lance – that's where doping cases go. They're ugly, and they're dirty, and they're a disaster for any sport that tries hard to balance fairness with the impossible ideal of eradication.

After years of relative painlessness – of watching their only loss, Ryan Braun, later roll over and eat a 65-game suspension – baseball has run into the worst sort of prosecution: the one against someone who feels like it's a persecution. And Alex Rodriguez, never one to change, is doing what he knows best: fighting, grimy as he can.

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