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Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Score another win for Alex Rodriguez

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

If you're keeping score at home, score Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, as a big win for Alex Rodriguez.

A walk-off home run, even.

Think about it: He gets to play for the rest of the year.

He gets to collect every penny of the $28 million the Yankees owe him for 2013, and maybe, another $6 million on top of that if he somehow manages to hit 13 home runs to catch Willie Mays, the first of the five bonus clauses in his renegotiated contract.

Sometime in the offseason, he gets his day before an arbitrator with a very good to excellent chance of getting his 211-game suspension significantly knocked down, and maybe even cut in half.

And for as long as the media circus revolving around this lasts, he gets to bask in the spotlight of his own notoriety, which he clearly loves.

Alex Rodriguez
By the time Alex Rodriguez gets in front of an arbitrator, who knows what might happen?

You can debate which of those benefits is the most important to A-Rod, but there's no dispute that even if you are one of his detractors -- and their ranks seem to be growing by the second -- Baseball's Darkest Day came up just about all sunshine for Alex Rodriguez.

As in 2009, the only downside for A-Rod was the momentary inconvenience of having to answer -- and mainly, not answer -- 10 minutes' worth of questions from the media.

And judging by his attitude through that largely nonconfrontational session, Alex Rodriguez won that one, too.

He got to express humility, feign emotion, profess love for his team and baseball without once having to answer a question about the reason he was holding the news conference in the first place. The word smarmy comes to mind.

And the price he paid for that? A slew of critical newspaper headlines and a few insults hurled his way by TV and radio commentators.

In other words, business as usual.

He can live with that, too, because without playing amateur shrink, suffice it to say that Rodriguez seems to be imbued with an odd combination of tremendous insecurity counterbalanced by an overwhelming narcissism.

Plus, an ability to shrug off any criticism or negativity as if he hadn't even heard it, which he probably hasn't.

That is why he could characterize his reception by the fans at U.S. Cellular as "great," even though it sounded almost exclusively like booing to my ears, with a few pointed references to "juice" thrown in.

But if there was one guy shouting support -- and I'm sure there was more than one -- those are the only voices he heard.

Similarly, if it appears that he never seems to be angered by the toughest of questions -- and by my count, there were no more than two of those yesterday -- it's probably because all he hears is the first word: "Alex."

All else is drowned out by the ecstasy of hearing his own name.

But the most important victory for Rodriguez on Monday was the fact that he has been able, once again, to ward off the wolf at his door.

If you ask why A-Rod didn't simply go the same route as Ryan Braun and the other 12 players who were suspended by baseball in the fallout of the Biogenesis investigation, the answer is a simple one: He had by far the most to lose.

For Braun and the others, a 50- or even 65-game suspension counts as no more than an unpaid vacation, from now until the start of the next spring training.

Every single one of them will sit out the rest of this season and come back next year to resume his career pretty much as if nothing has happened. Some of them will even be rewarded, with new contracts calling for a raise, the way Melky Cabrera was last year.

For guys like them, a first-offense suspension is about as troubling as a speeding ticket.

But for A-Rod, it would have been a career ender.

For him to accept a 211-game ban without a fight would have been the equivalent of a lifetime ban.

Not only would it have cost him in excess of $30 million, it also would have cost him whatever remaining chance he might have had to play in the major leagues.

You tell me. What are the chances a guy heading into his 40th birthday -- coming off the second of two major hip surgeries, and not having played in a major league game for more than two years -- would be able to play at that level again?

Correct. Nonexistent.

In case you are wondering, A-Rod would not be able to play in another league, like say, Japan, while serving a suspension due to his contract with the Yankees.

But for now, A-Rod doesn't have to deal with that scenario. He gets the last two months of this season to show us what he has left. Best-case scenario is he returns as a hero, the increased production at third base leading the Yankees into October, at which point, as he so rightly pointed out on Monday, all is forgiven.

Worst-case scenario is he can't play very much anymore, which is bad for the Yankees but not necessarily for A-Rod; he still gets paid for this season, and perhaps even gets to live out what some conspiracy theorists have envisioned as his ultimate Evil Plan: to retire on a medical disability and collect his full paychecks the rest of the way.

None of this would have been possible if he had meekly taken his lumps and walked.

And by the time he gets in front of the arbitrator, who knows what might happen?

It is already acknowledged by both sides that just setting up A-Rod's appeal is likely to take us beyond the end of the season. Aside from the scheduling problems -- they need to coordinate a time convenient to the arbitrator, Fredric Horowitz, and ensure lawyers for MLB, the players' association and Rodriguez can all be in the same room at the same time, as well as whatever witnesses will be called -- there's not a lawyer worth his hourly rate who can't stall a hearing for two months.

And once they get to the hearing room, the burden now falls upon Bud Selig to show cause why Rodriguez, still technically a first-time offender under baseball's drug policy, should be made to serve a suspension not only four times longer than that meted out to the other 12, but also four times longer than the stipulation for a first offense in the CBA.

My guess is that unless Selig can prove that Rodriguez was not only using PEDs, but trafficking them to other players, it's going to be a tough case to make.

And the sad fact is, you can't make an example out of a guy simply because you don't like him. There's no doubt that Selig has "a burr under his saddle," as one baseball official put it to me, regarding PED users because of all the hits he has taken for looking the other way during the steroid-fueled McGwire-Sosa HR derby of 1998.

And it is no secret that the commissioner, and the Yankees' front office, have had it up to here with A-Rod because of his refusal to do things the way they want.

That is in part their own fault -- the guy has yet to pay a real penalty for any of his offenses since he began playing pro ball, and probably before that -- and yet it's still endlessly galling to them.

But you can't just have disdain for a guy to run him out of a job. You've got to have proof.

And by fighting for his right to play, A-Rod now forces baseball to show its hand.

For that alone, you've got to credit him with another home run on Monday.

It may not move him any closer to Mays, and in the end, the entire gambit may ultimately fail.

But for now, it's A-Rod 1, baseball coming to bat.