Commentary

Commish should compromise at 150

It's a fine line between punishment and payback as Selig prepares A-Rod ban

Updated: August 4, 2013, 2:22 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Bud Selig is in no mood for a compromise this weekend, not after Alex Rodriguez allegedly spent years taking a Louisville Slugger to baseball's fight against performance-enhancing drugs. But in seeking revenge, or justice, or both, the commissioner should understand something:

He has already won. If the evidence gathered in the Biogenesis scandal is as strong as people connected to the case say it is, Rodriguez has destroyed his own career and legacy. In other words, there's no need to pile on.

Selig was said to be furious over A-Rod's blustery remarks in his Friday night news conference in Trenton, N.J., so much so that baseball rejected an offer to restart negotiations on a Biogenesis penalty made by players' association chief Michael Weiner, who called Saturday on Rodriguez's behalf, a source told ESPNNewYork.com.

[+] EnlargeBud Selig
AP Photo/Pat SullivanBud Selig appears ready to bring the hammer down on A-Rod.

"There's just no more need for talks or negotiations over this," the source said in confirming reports.

The commissioner wants to suspend the New York Yankees' third baseman for what amounts to 214 games, starting Monday, the first day of the rest of A-Rod's life. That is the balance of this season and all of next season, a penalty of roughly $34 million that would allow Rodriguez to collect the $61 million left on his $275 million deal from 2015 through 2017.

Baseball wouldn't be punishing the diminished slugger only for taking PEDs as a Yankee, just as he took PEDs as a Texas Ranger before the sport had a system in place to sanction him for the offense. Selig's cops believe Rodriguez might have interfered with their investigation into Biogenesis and its founder, Anthony Bosch, and that he wasn't forthcoming during past PED inquiries -- claims A-Rod and his attorneys are prepared to attack on appeal.

A-Rod is not going to get 50 games as a first-time bad guy, this much is understood. And it's hard to imagine Selig going through with the threat of a lifetime ban via the Basic Agreement and his best-interests-of-the-game powers, if only because it would nuke his relationship with the union and the executive director he likes and respects, Weiner, a peacemaker who happens to be battling inoperable brain cancer.

So what's fair? What's the right number? Where does necessary punishment end and unnecessary payback begin?

We know that Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe and the boys got life for gambling, or conspiring with gamblers, baseball's mortal sin. We know that Manny Ramirez got 100 games for a second drug violation. We know that Ryan Braun got 65 games for his ties to Biogenesis, a relative love tap for someone devious enough to test positive and then knowingly soil the reputation of an innocent sample collector the year before.

We know that Paul Hornung and Alex Karras got a year from Pete Rozelle for gambling. We know that Ron Artest got 86 games, including 13 playoff games, for inciting a riot long before he was interested in world peace. We know that Latrell Sprewell got 68 games for a violent assault on his coach.

So what's the appropriate sentence for A-Rod, who maintains he will "keep fighting" the people (namely, Yankees people) he thinks are trying to take him down?

In his bid to reverse some of the damage the steroid plague has inflicted on the game, and on his own historical standing in it, Selig doesn't want to come off 200 and change. He wants to drop the hammer on the man with 647 homers on the back of his bubble-gum card.

"I think we all agree that we want to get rid of PEDs," Rodriguez said with a straight face in Trenton on Friday night, after homering in the colors of the Double-A Thunder. "That's a must. I think all the players feel that way."

Rodriguez went on to say in his postgame news conference that he was concerned about unnamed figures "finding creative ways to cancel your contract." While absolving teammates and Yankees fans of any complicity, A-Rod also said, "There is more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping back on the field," his way of saying his employers in the Bronx don't want him back.

The Yankees are privately scoffing again at the suggestion, since they had Rodriguez penciled into the lineup July 22 in Texas and have him penciled into the lineup Monday in Chicago. Rodriguez was the one who canceled his big league return against the Rangers by complaining about a quad injury, an injury that inspired A-Rod's embarrassing PR war with the team.

Now Rodriguez swears he merely wants to play the game he has loved since childhood, this while some baseball officials swear he cares most about the money. Either way, after walking four times for Trenton on Saturday night in what could've been his final professional appearance, Rodriguez said he was flying to Chicago to prepare to rejoin the Yanks.

This much is painfully clear: Selig really, really doesn't want to see Rodriguez taking his cuts against the White Sox on Monday night, no matter how many fascinated eyeballs would be glued to those high-def images.

Toward that end, the commissioner should move off his position and offer A-Rod a ban of 150 games. If Selig wants to offer 162 games to cover a full season, fine. But 150 would be 85 more than Braun got, and 64 more than Artest got, and 50 more than Manny being Manny got the second time around.

"One hundred and fifty is where a deal can be made," a source said. "That's the right number, and I think Alex knows it. If Alex is offered 150 at this point, I think he might take it. And despite everything that's happened, I think Bud knows that number is where he can get this whole thing resolved."

Selig should move past his anger over A-Rod's latest unforced error. One hundred and fifty would be a near life sentence for a 38-year-old coming off a second hip surgery, and would cost him millions upon millions in wages, and yet would still allow the possibility for Rodriguez to return to the Yankees late next season for the kind of postseason push he says he craves.

More importantly, 150 is a number neither side wants. That means it's the fair number, and the one Bud Selig should offer Alex Rodriguez to close this wretched case for good.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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