Commentary

An unforgettable day in baseball

Alex Rodriguez determined to overshadow what was a truly historic day

Originally Published: August 5, 2013
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Days like this don't come along very often in sports.

Historic. Unforgettable. Career-altering. Sport-altering.

A powerful statement on the times, on one hand. An incomprehensible circus, generated by one wayward loose cannon intent on setting an all-time baseball record for lawyer bills, on the other hand.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER/USA TODAY SportsA-Rod is set to be left out in the cold for more than 200 games.

That was the scene Monday on Biogenesis Day in baseball. There has never been a day quite like it. Not in this sport. Not in any sport.

Think about it. Think about what just happened here.

A dozen players were just suspended on the same day for performance-enhancing drug use -- and not one of them failed a drug test.

A dozen players were presented with the overpowering evidence compiled during the most extensive, most expensive drug investigation in the history of American team sports -- and all 12 of them decided this was not a fight worth fighting. The facts were too overwhelming, too unbeatable.

So all 12 of them turned in their right-to-appeal cards and began serving their time, amid apologies, statements of contrition, expressions of regret.

And if only that had been all that happened on this day, what a powerful day this would have been.

If only the P.T. A-Rod Circus hadn't pulled into town.

If only our memory of this day, 10 or 20 or 50 years from now, was not going to be the surreal scene in Chicago, where Alex Rodriguez went back to playing baseball -- on the very same day he got clobbered with the biggest drug suspension in history.

Who could have written this script? Not Francis Ford Coppola. Only A-Rod.

A good day for baseball

But we'll get back to him in a moment. Before we let A-Rod-palooza take over this entire conversation, it's time for one other important announcement:

Other than him, this was NOT a bad day for baseball.

No, sir. It was a good day, an important day, a day that may just rewrite the history of drugs in sports -- and not merely this sport.

It was a day, after all, when Bud Selig and his sport sent a message that no other professional sport has had the fortitude to send:

So you thought you could beat the test-tube police force, huh? You thought you were taking stuff we couldn't test for or detect, huh? You thought you were bigger, better, smarter than the system? Well, guess again. If you think that down the road, you just might find yourself sailing on the same sinking ship as Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz and Alex Rodriguez. So good luck to ya.

I swapped text messages Monday with Skip Schumaker of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks, two of the most outspoken players in baseball on this issue. I wasn't sure myself if they would see this as a good day or a bad day.

But they both wrote back immediately: Good day. Really good day.

A "step in the right direction," Schumaker said. A day that would make players realize they "can still get caught without having a positive test."

Ditto, said Ziegler. This, he said, was a day that "will hopefully deter a lot of players down the road."

MLB takes a stand

A day like this can't accomplish that mission alone, of course. That battle is just beginning. And it's a battle that will never end.

[+] EnlargeNelson Cruz
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesNelson Cruz surprised some by choosing not to appeal.

But it's a battle that this sport is finally fighting at least, after all those years of changing the subject. And however it got here, regardless of how big a mess it made of this issue along the way, it deserves a big ovation for where it stands today.

What other major professional sport has gone down this road? Go ahead. Take all the time you need to answer that question. I'll wait. I'll give you a minute. I'll give you an hour. I'll give you a week.

The correct answer will still be: None of them.

You don't even have to take my word for it. Just read this awesome story by T.J. Quinn on Porter Fischer, the former Biogenesis employee who blew the roof off this saga.

Biogenesis, he said, had "well over a hundred" athletes who were customers -- athletes from the NBA, MMA, boxing, tennis and the NCAA. And which of those sports besides baseball have contacted him to pursue the PED users in their sports, you ask?

Not. A. One.

Now that's an ugly story on the state of PED use in modern sports. Not this story, when 12 players paid the price for trying to fake left, then cut right around the test-takers.

So in truth, if you think about it in that context, there was only one thing about this day that was bad:

The story isn't over.

It should be. It was supposed to be. It could have been. But sadly for everyone, Alex Rodriguez had other ideas.

"I'm fighting for my life," he said in a pregame news conference Monday night.

But seriously, what is he fighting for? He isn't fighting to prove his innocence. That seems clear. He isn't fighting to convince baseball's esteemed arbitrator, Frederic Horowitz, that he's clean and pure and saintly. I think we'd all wish him lotsa luck trying to win that case.

No, he's fighting, basically, because he can. Fighting for a shorter sentence. Fighting to salvage as much as possible of the approximately $96 million the Yankees still owe him -- ostensibly because he'll need, oh, about $95.9 million of it just to pay all his lawyers.

And fighting, clearly, because the alternative would mean disappearing off the baseball field for the next year and a half, and not resurfacing until he was pushing 40.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty ImagesAt this point A-Rod is just blowing smoke.

Oh, it's his right as an American to fight that fight. Let's recognize that. So far be it for any of us to say he shouldn't go down this road.

But by traveling where he has opted to travel, Alex Rodriguez is guaranteeing us a good three more months of practicing our pronunciation of "Biogenesis." Woohoo. And he's guaranteeing us at least three more months of gossip, rumors and ugliness that he should know, if he could only see the big picture, that he desperately needs to avoid.

If Major League Baseball has even a fraction of the damaging evidence against him that it's believed to have assembled, and if any of that evidence -- or all of it -- should, shockingly, leak out into the ARod-hungry mass media, this won't be pretty.

"He's not just playing with fire," said one sports attorney I sounded out on this course. "He's playing with acid."

A losing battle

But the problem is this: If he goes down this way, he'll no doubt try to take the whole sport with him. His case, after all, almost has to be built around proving that MLB, the Yankees and the Tony Bosches of the planet conspired to take him down.

So if his side were, miraculously, to find a way to leak the damaging dirt it has gathered on baseball and the way it allegedly paid off and strong-armed Bosch and others to (ahem) frame poor A-Rod, that won't be too uplifting, either.

"This thing has consequences that are unimaginable for the sport," said the same attorney. "The sport can't take a trial or a hearing like this, because it could ratchet up the whole history of this stuff in the sport."

So that, potentially, is where all this could be leading. And isn't that special?

But it doesn't have to. Alex Rodriguez could still make a deal. Any time between now and when the hearing starts. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Whenever he realizes this "fight of my life" is a baaaad idea, not a noble idea.

Feel free to make other plans while you wait for that moment to arrive, because, obviously, it may never arrive. But in the meantime, we can still contemplate the meaning of this moment, this day, this historic re-creation by this commissioner of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis lowering the boom on a dozen men -- PED style -- in one powerful media  release.

Days like this don't come along very often in sports. But that, of course, is the whole point. Baseball sent its citizens a thunderous, landscape-changing message Monday. Unfortunately, Alex Rodriguez never got the memo.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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