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Defending Alex Rodriguez

 
Defending Alex Rodriguez
No curveball here. Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster is a coward.
 
He tried to be a tough guy by slamming embattled New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez with a fastball (after first throwing behind him), hitting A-Rod’s elbow and back, even though that doesn’t take a lot of guts while playing on your home turf, with your catcher there to protect you.
 
But then Dempster showed his true color --- yellow --- by not even having the courage to admit that what he did was intentional because of Rodriguez’ alleged use of steroids. Too scared to man-up, Dempster instead cowered behind the-ball-got-away-from-me line.
 
It seemed a pathetic attempt to make it into Red Sox lore, hoping to be revered by Red Sox Nation as a new hero in the long-running saga between the two teams.
 
That didn’t happen. 
 
Instead, Rodriguez took him to school in his next at-bat, crushing Dempster --- both his pitch and his ego --- by launching a titanic home-run to dead-center, fueling a comeback that saw the Bronx Bombers light him up for seven runs in just five innings. 
 
A-Rod got his payback, and Dempter, who took the loss, got spanked in front of millions. If you want to compete with the big boys, you gotta learn how to play in the tall grass.  But Ryan Dempster is still in the sandbox.
 
In a season turned upside down, justice prevailed in Boston that night.
 
 
*****
 
Is Alex Rodriguez --- owner of a $252 million contract, possessor of immense talent, and now, a “cheater” according to Major League Baseball for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) --- defendable in any way?
 
Based on Baseball’s extremely disturbing past regarding its steroid policy --- it didn’t even have one until relatively recently --- how could he not be? Baseball’s hypocrisy and selective witch-hunts during the Steroid Era are more than enough to withhold condemnation at this point.
 
Despite what has always been America’s favorite pastime  --- piling on every time a celebrity gets in hot water, while often ignoring facts and the rule of law --- one should still be considered innocent until proven guilty. That goes for a court of law, the court of public opinion, and yes, even baseball.
 
So let’s get beyond the media hype and take a sober look at the situation:
 
1) Rodriguez is one of 13 players recently suspended by MLB for using PED’s.  The other 12 are currently serving 50 game suspensions. A-Rod, whose suspension is a whopping 211 games (almost a season and a half), is the only one appealing.
 
2) He is playing pending his appeal. The fact that several ballplayers, such as Boston’s Jason Lackey, are whining about Rodriguez being on the field just shows their ignorance. This isn’t a favor to A-Rod, but the official rule.
 
Lackey complained, “How is he still playing? He obviously did something... It’s pretty evident he’s been doing stuff for a lot of years.”
 
Which brings up the most troubling aspect of this whole affair.
 
3) Alex Rodriguez never failed a drug test, nor did the other 12.  That bears repeating. Despite being tested often, possibly in excess of 20 times per year, and having clean results each time, these players were suspended anyway, ostensibly because their names were in a log at the now-defunct Biogenesis steroid clinic in Florida. One of the charges leveled at Rodriguez was “his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years.”
 
Even for The Omnipotent One --- Commissioner Bud Selig --- this one is disconcerting.  How he can accuse A-Rod with “use and possession” despite Baseball’s own tests coming up negative remains a mystery.
 
(Rodrigues faces other charges, such as attempts “…to cover-up his violations ... (and)… to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation.”)
 
4) Does that mean A-Rod didn’t take PEDs?  No.  He may have been one step ahead, using chemical agents which mask steroid use. Just like an arms race where new weapons are created to defeat the enemy’s defenses, there is big money behind the quest to stay ahead of doping tests.
 
Is it within Baseball’s purview to issue such a suspension despite no hard drug-test evidence? Based on its new doping agreement, yes, but it begs the question: Is it really wise to come down so hard on one of the game’s premier players based primarily on word-of-mouth testimony from compromised individuals who were getting severely pinched already?
 
Too many are hailing Selig’s decision to suspend without positive test results as a good thing. Yet it smacks as inherently unfair, and yes, un-American. That’s like getting nailed for speeding despite no radar evidence just because you’re driving a sports car, or getting busted for robbing a bank because you have a lot of money in your pocket. 
 
It’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove.  And that fundamental principle must be protected as all costs, no matter how much someone is detested.
 
5) A-rod, like Barry Bonds, is an easy target.  First, he is a Yankee, which alienates half the country, mostly out of jealously because the Yanks are the most storied team in sports history. Second, his contract is worth a quarter-billion dollars. Even among baseball’s millionaires, there is still envy of the richest guy in the neighborhood.  Finally, A-Rod is perceived as arrogant and aloof --- an egomaniacal guy easy to dislike. Fine. But that doesn’t make him guilty, or at least any guiltier than anyone else. 
 
People with immense public stature will always be subjected to rumors and innuendo. That doesn’t mean the accusations aren’t true, but it doesn’t mean they are, either.
 
Bonds was also disliked, which was reason enough for the media and Selig to chastise him as a cheater as he chased the homerun record, even though 1) there was no hard evidence against Bonds, and 2) using PEDs weren’t against baseball’s rules anyway. Judging someone on their personality, and not the facts, is the slipperiest of slopes.
 
6) Dempster has no guts, but Baseball has no brains. While clearly at odds with Rodriguez, it should have issued a stern “hands-off” policy to every team. Any foul play and it’s an immediate 20-game suspension.  You can’t have it both ways: stating that PEDs set a terrible example yet overtly allowing players to execute vigilante justice because they don’t like Rodriguez or baseball’s rule that allows him to play --- all for something that thus far is only alleged, not proven.
 
Dempster should have been ejected immediately and suspended, but wasn’t, which gave MLB yet another, completely avoidable, black eye.  And calling him a “hero,” as a Boston sports-radio wannabe DJ did, just exacerbates an already enflamed situation. 
 
*****
 
A-Rod’s appeal means that Baseball’s evidence will soon be made public. And since the Commissioner’s Office had reportedly threatened Rodriguez with a lifetime ban if he appealed, it will be interesting to see how strong their case really is.
 
Until the outcome is official, we must rise above personal feelings and hearsay, resisting the urge to judge and condemn before all the facts are known.  Otherwise, America’s Game will have nothing American about it.
 
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at CF@FFZMedia.com
 

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