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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A-Rod, Thanks for Nothing

NEW YORK, AUG 8, 2013  - The revolving door of the Chicago hotel rotated like the very best precision timepiece and out strode Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. While teammates pivoted to their left towards the team bus, Rodriguez turned to his right to a private livery vehicle awaiting to transport the multi-million dollar baseball star to 333 West 35th Street at the corner of 35th and Shields Avenue, undoubtedly taking a short-cut from the hotel to the South Side of Chicago, the baddest part of town.

A-Rod grimaces in return to MLB action Aug. 5 (Getty Images).
Rodriguez. the centerpiece of Major League Baseball's endless attempt to rid itself of the stigma of its very own superstars cheating their way to the upper echelons of on-field statistical success, was finally sentenced to 211 games of suspension from his sport, without pay. The suspension was levied on the darkest day in Baseball's long history of very dark days. On Monday evening, August 5, 2013, the Black Sox scandal of 1919 took its place as the second most gruesome scab on a sport often referred to as the national pastime, an accurate statement as the sport is truly past its time and certainly long past its prime.

Coincidentally, Rodriguez decided to appeal the 211-game wrist slap levied upon him by Commissioner Bud Selig and the lords of baseball just as the MLB schedule-makers and New York Yankees traveling secretaries sent him to play in Chicago, the home of Al Capone, The Untouchables, The Sting and Risky Business. Rodriguez's decision to appeal was contrary to the decisions made by a dozen players who accepted 50-game suspensions for their involvement in the Biogenesis scandal and subsequent evidence uncovered to prove violations and obstruction of Major League Baseball's joint drug prevention and treatment program. The 13 suspensions announced Monday were in addition to the highly publicized 65-game suspension handed down July 22. Braun was the National League's most valuable player in 2011 while three of the MLB players suspended Monday, Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers, Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres and Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers were among the 2013 All-Stars, recently feted at the annual MLB All-Star Mid-Summer Classic.

Since that event which celebrated the very best baseball has to offer - underlined by Yoenis Cespedes' memorable performance in the Home Run Derby and veteran relief pitcher Mariano Rivera's MVP performance in the All-Star game itself - Major League Baseball went from the highest of highs to the lowest depths, arguably in the sport's history and maybe in all of sports history, as only Lance Armstrong's decades-long escapade of performance enhancing drug abuse in the Tour de France could be compared.

While the Tour de France and bicycling might have world appeal with a stranglehold in Europe, only Baseball has its place as the American Pastime, a sport woven so heavily into the American sportsman's psyche, that patrons recount story upon story of how the summer game played its role deep into family lore in nearly every household in the United States. Baseball's influence remains equally and deeply rooted in the Latin American sports world. Of the 14 players suspended in 2013, only Braun and Rodriguez were born in the United States while the 11 others hailed from either Nicaragua, Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez, born in the Dominican enclave of Washington Heights in New York, moved the the island with his family when he was four years old and was reared in the DR and later in Miami, Florida.

But Baseball's black eye from the steroid era seems to have no ethnic nor socio-economic boundaries. Monday's suspensions were levied on minor leaguers, journeymen, role players, utility infielders, All-Stars and superstars. Recent history and subsequent Congressional testimony by MLB All-Stars such as Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmiero, Curt Shilling and Rodriguez, held on March 17, 2005 revealed deep-seeded troubles as it cast the spotlight of guilt and lack of credibility upon an entire generation of ballplayers, many now record holders on the all-time MLB home run hitting list. Throughout all the speculation and innuendo, Baseball attempted to coax Congress and a much smarter sports-loving public audience into the notion that the institution was addressing its issues of drug and steroid abuse in the sport. All the while, Baseball was not thoroughly prepared to investigate nor properly investigate doping programs such as BALCO and Biogenesis which were uncovered through investigative journalists, not by MLB's hierarchy seated in the commissioner's office or at the powerful player's association lobby.

What has become increasingly clear is that baseball has only itself to blame. Commissioner Bud Selig touted the league's joint anti-drug and treatment program as the best in the land, yet inexplicably allowed the tail to wag the dog as Rodriguez made mockery of the system while selfishly distracting his teammates and the New York Yankees organization that pays him some $200 million dollar, albeit reluctantly. Baseball's Commissioner could've easily proclaimed an "indefinite" suspension for Rodriguez, citing his "best interests of the game" authority, thus allowing the season to play on without the spotlights on "A-Rod" and the issue of PEDs. Instead, Baseball has botched the handling of the PED suspensions to epic proportions, dragging them out, dragging the sport through a two-week hell, and thoroughly ruining an entire season of baseball.

Why didn't baseball consolidate all of the suspensions into one announcement to suspend Braun, Rodriguez and the others all at the same time?

Why didn't baseball, badgered by the cloud of steroid and PED usage, signal a date in November 2013 for all to be reckoned with and all to be announced?

With only a baker's dozen suspended, how - on earth - is a curious public or an investigative reporter expected to believe that Selig is dealing with the issue of drug abuse in major League Baseball "once and for all?"

The "what could've been a great season of 2013" with the valiant efforts of players from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox and LA Dodgers now wasted away in Drugville, the high-water mark of Mariano Rivera's All-Star Weekend and the subsequent tributesto his career, like the standing ovation and show of support from the Red Sox Nation at a packed Fenway Park - in a game-deciding, save situation, no less - has now dictated the sorry facts of life to all involved.  The 2013 MLB season has become such a farce and such a colossal Public Relations blunder for Baseball, that it has left this reporter with nothing but an empty feeling of disdain for a sport so deeply loved, it actually hurts as the final period is written on this obituary for MLB 2013.

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