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Would MLB risk labor peace just to nail A-Rod?

Rodriguez's accusers may be bought and paid for, but so are his attorneys. Until the evidence is out, we can't assess who is telling the truth -- but we can assess the risk that Major League Baseball is taking.

Is an overbite a sign of PED usage?
Is an overbite a sign of PED usage?
Jared Wickerham

When it comes to the statements made by Alex Rodriguez's attorney, Joseph Tacopina, in the New York Times this weekend, the key passage referred to Tony Bosch: "They are stuck with a witness, to put it mildly, who has no credibility."

Tacopina is correct that Bosch's testimony has been bought and paid for, but we should also remember that so is Tacopina's advocacy. "I want nothing more than to cross examine Bosch. I would love to. I would do it for free. I won't bill Alex for that." As long as favors are changing hands, no one's motives are pure.

That said, there is probably one motive we can dispense with. While the Yankees might be thrilled to be relieved of some or all of Rodriguez's remaining salary (though if he hits as well as he has in this year's small sample, would they? Should they?), while $100 million might be a lot of money to them, it's nothing in the context of Major League Baseball as a whole. The 30 big-league teams have something like $3 Billion in player-salary commitments at the major-league level. The $28 million Rodriguez is due in 2013 represents not quite one percent of that total.

The sanctity of guaranteed player contracts is of utmost importance to the union: You sign that piece of paper, you get your dough. There are well over a hundred years of owner malfeasance going into that position. Think of Eddie Cicotte being promised he would get a bonus for winning 30 games, then being benched after #29. Think of Mickey Mantle being told he wasn't entitled to a raise after 1957 because he didn't win the triple crown for a second year in a row. In 1954, Ted Williams hit .354/.513/.635. The Red Sox cut his salary by $18,000. Think of countless players getting hurt in the service of their clubs and then being summarily cut.

For all its other accomplishments -- free agency, arbitration -- guaranteed contracts are the Players Association's signature accomplishment. Players have a right of due process in employment that has escaped most other workers in this glorious land of ours -- tenured teachers are the other major exception, and that right is under assault nationwide for reasons both well-intentioned and not. Anything that smacks of a contract being voided and the Players Association will go to the mats, and rightly so.

Parenthetically, this is the reason why you have never heard of a club terminating a contract because of a violation of the so-called "morals clause." This clause may come into play if a player rides the top of the Empire State Building, strips naked, and runs around the observation deck waving his genitals while shouting, "I'm having Satan's baby and naming him Adolf," but even then he'd probably collect his money because while what he did certainly would be offensive to community standards, having a nervous breakdown is a disabling injury, no matter how disgusting. This actually came into play in 1971 when 1970 batting title winner Alex Johnson was suspended without pay by the Angels for, among other things, lackadaisical play and bizarre behavior, which included accusing a teammate of holding him at gunpoint in the locker room (which turned out to be true). The Players Association filed a grievance arguing that Johnson should be reinstated and placed on the disabled list. Major League Baseball fought it because, as far as I can tell at this great remove, (a) it thought that If Johnson won all players would declare themselves mentally unable to play and collect free money and (b) Johnson was black. The arbitrator found for Johnson.

Whereas MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig correctly perceive they have a lot riding on public perception of a clean game, they have as much or more riding on keeping the labor peace. Their understanding of the Players Associations sensitivities informed the way they've handled the Rodriguez matter. Whereas the Collective Bargaining Agreement gives the Commissioner the power to take a grievance "involving the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of baseball, the Commissioner may, at any stage of its processing, order that the matter be withdrawn" from the grievance procedure and render summary judgment. That didn't happen here, presumably because MLB would prefer that the Players Association feels that their hard-bargained right of due process is respected.

(Jared Wickekerham)

Now, it would hardly be surprising if so reactionary an organization as baseball did something so self-defeating as to acknowledge the Players Association's rights with one hand while trampling them with the other, but the former posture may suggest that Tacopina's assertion (echoed elsewhere) that MLB has acted the "thug" during its investigation may be overblown. If Baseball can be shown to have coerced or influenced witness testimony, then the Players Association would have grounds to file an unfair practices complaint with the federal government. And whereas the National Labor Relations Board is a castrated and (until recently) understaffed entity, that's still not a road MLB should want to risk going down. It's just not worth it.

If the value of this industry is maintained but one PED cheat escapes justice, you gladly make that exchange. If an extra $100 million is sacrificed to keep an entity worth a billion dollars (the Yankees) or many billions of dollars (MLB) running, you push that bale of cash out the window and watch it flutter down onto the sidewalk with a big grin on your face.

Again, it's possible Baseball isn't thinking this way because the history of Major League Baseball as an entity is that of a bunch of individually smart people getting together and collectively lowering their IQ by 100 points. See Collusion, see Johnson above, see a million other things. As former Braves owner Ted Turner supposedly said, "Gentlemen, we have the only legal monopoly in the country and we're f-----g it up." It's always possible that someone within MLB's power structure has gone Captain Ahab on us and sees Alex Rodriguez and his contract as the Moby Dick of this story, in which case someone is going to end up with some major-league egg on their faces.

If not, though, for all his and his flacks' deriding of MLB's actions as publicity stunts, that someone is going to be Alex Rodriguez.

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Bosch's attorney rejected payment from A-Rod

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