- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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As we waited this week to see whether Major League Baseball would suspend more players, Alex Rodriguez reportedly was being offered a "deal" to save himself from being banned from baseball forever.
Or the rest of his natural life. Whichever comes first.
MLB had "voluminous evidence" against A-Rod, according to various accounts of the rumored negotiations. Enough to find him guilty of so many things that the commissioner could do a Bart Giamatti and make sure A-Rod is never seen in another major league park again.
But, before that happens, it appears from the outside as if MLB wants to look out for Rodriguez. It looks as though it wants to make sure the player who has continuously lied to its investigators -- probably more than Anthony Weiner has lied to his wife -- is punished in a way that is in his best interest, not the game's.
And here's the crazy: It did the same for Ryan Braun.
Since when did "striking deals" after someone is found guilty become the method of operation? When did the protection and preservation of guilty players' careers become agreed-upon, acceptable and standard procedure?
Is this Illinois politics and is Braun baseball's Rod Blagojevich?
In all of the backlash that seems to be coming out by the hour after Braun's and Rodriguez's Lance Armstrong-like moralistic falls from superstardom, one detail seems to be continually ignored: baseball's art of plea bargaining.
Even though players are protected (to a degree) by the collective bargaining agreement, a stronger system and mentality needs to be set in place that enforces Article XII (B) the same way the FBI or DEA enforces the law on criminals when its agents show up on their doorsteps wearing windbreakers.
"Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of baseball, including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law" is how the law inside baseball's contract with itself reads. How can the players take that law seriously if they know that, even after the law is broken and "voluminous evidence" is found against them, they still have the leverage to work out a deal?
The line the game has put in place for its players not to cross is too soft. Players such as Braun and Rodriguez know that.
Who offers offenders plea bargains after their guilt has been established? Who allows someone to strike a deal to make a foreseeable punishment more convenient for the crime committer after the people in power have notified him that basically "we got you"?
Read this paragraph: After MLB's original meeting with [Ryan] Braun on June 29, at which he refused to answer questions about Biogenesis, he requested a second meeting, a source familiar with the discussions told T.J. Quinn of ESPN's "Outside The Lines." Braun, after realizing the significance of the evidence against him from questions in the first meeting, decided to meet again to strike a deal that would limit his suspension to this season, according to the source.
Code words 1: "Strike a deal." Code words 2: "After realizing the significance of the evidence against him."
Baseball needs entitlement reform. It needs to start treating the law breakers of the game like real criminals if it truly wants the sanctity, morality, honor, trust and belief of the sport ever to return.
For Braun to be allowed to lie straight to the faces of the people running the game he claims to love so much and act so sanctimonious, smug and arrogant to protect his fictional innocence and still be able to make a deal is part of the reason MLB has become the laughingstock of all professional sports.
It exposes MLB for how weak it really is, and it does nothing to make the players or their union respect the authority of the league. It gives the players too large of an out, even in the face of due process.
If baseball is really sincere about its "War On Drugs" (all types of performance enhancers), there should be no gray area in this for any player. By cutting deals, commissioner Bud Selig allows players to remain above the game -- which was the problem in the first place and is the problem now. It also keeps alive reasonable doubt and feeds speculation about whether baseball actually is going to take a true stand against what it keeps telling us is its biggest problem.
Prosecutors have always cut deals in the legal system, but, for the most part, those deals are done/made before the client/defendant is found guilty or if the client admits to guilt. Prosecutors, after all, need to close cases and get criminals off the streets.
Baseball's rules and CBA and players' union don't make it easy for the league to go after players. Sometimes concessions must be made, which is understood.
But if baseball is at all determined to sustain the little bit of internal and external respect it has left, then, when it has sufficient and significant enough evidence to find a player guilty of breaking the laws of the game (or any criminal law that can affect his standing in the sport), there should be no room for any deals. It defers too much to the player's needs and demands, which the player should have lost the right to push for once he violated the rules.
It's understandable that A-Rod or any other player facing sanction might question the impartiality of a commissioner who is a former owner and investigators paid by the owners. But Selig is only feeding the public version of those doubts by not fully punishing Braun, given the evidence we've been led to believe the commissioner has in hand.
The Biogenesis story broke in January. The players named had plenty of time to come clean publicly or at least to baseball. If more get suspended in the coming days, too bad. They lost out. Yet the reports about Braun and A-Rod leave some question as to what will actually happen. The potential for additional players to still be able to request deals is what my grandmother would call asinine.
It's as if MLB is doing its hypermoralistic best to say it is protecting the game but doing less than it could when actually confronted with cheaters who hurt the game. This is about after-the-facts. About how players shouldn't get to make deals after lying in the face of baseball and after enough evidence has been found against them to prove guilt. And how they should be held unequivocally responsible for "disrespecting the game" with the choices they keep getting caught making.
If baseball truly has unimpeachable evidence of cheating by Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, why have there been reports of negotiated deals? Not punishing players to the full extent possible undermines MLB's credibility and effort to combat PED use.