Survey says ... advantage A-Rod

BALTIMORE -- It's official: Alex Rodriguez is the Face of Major League Baseball.

And Bud Selig reaches for the Tums. Or maybe the Scotch.

As ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reports, a recent survey of 1,000 baseball fans from across the country reveals that Rodriguez was identified as "the face of baseball" by more of them than any other player in the game.

More than Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, or Mariano Rivera.

More even than Derek Jeter, who ran second and still got trounced.

This is great news for Alex, terrible news for Bud, because to the commissioner of baseball, A-Rod is a four-letter word.

And the fact that more baseball fans, casual and otherwise, consider him to be the ultimate representative of his game has got to be Selig's worst nightmare.

Being the Face of Baseball doesn't necessarily mean one is popular. All it means is that when Americans think of baseball, the name Alex Rodriguez comes to mind.

And to many Americans, Alex Rodriguez means steroids, cheating, scandal and lady wrestlers.

As Joe Girardi has a habit of saying, it's not what you want. Especially if you are Bud Selig.

And especially if you are trying your damndest, through investigation and interrogation and the reported paying of witnesses to run his sorry butt out of your sport.

As Stark correctly points out, some of the result can be attributed to simple name recognition, the result of the endless publicity surrounding A-Rod this August when baseball announced its suspensions in the Biogenesis investigation.

But whatever the reason, the effect is the same. When people think baseball, they think Alex Rodriguez.

One can only imagine what Bud Selig thinks.

Well, sorry, Bud, but you and A-Rod seem destined to be joined at the hip for the remainder of both your lives. I would not at all be surprised if the first line of Bud Selig's obituary began something like, "Bud Selig, the former commissioner of baseball who banned Alex Rodriguez for a record number of games ... "

Likewise, A-Rod's will probably include the name Bud Selig in the lede.

But being the Face of Baseball should delight A-Rod.

Because as I have written several times since Selig announced A-Rod's 211-game suspension, the commissioner is going to have a hell of a time making it stick before an impartial arbitrator, even one whose salary he is partially paying.

As I have also written, the fervor with which Selig & Co. have gone after Rodriguez seems to have had the opposite effect of what was originally intended. Rather than further demonizing a player many fans and players already despised, the suspension may well serve to turn public opinion in A-Rod's favor.

Already, we have seen Rodriguez's teammates embrace his return, and unite behind him as they did the night Ryan Dempster drilled him in the side -- on his fourth attempt! -- last month at Fenway Park. The fact that Dempster was not ejected from the game by the umpires -- and was fined just a reported $2,500, half as much as Girardi, who merely came out to argue it -- only supports the belief that baseball's pursuit of A-Rod, which may have started out as the righteous prosecution of a serial cheater, has morphed into a witch hunt.

And reasonable people generally don't like witch hunts, even if there is in fact a witch being hunted. It doesn't seem fair, and it doesn't sit right.

More and more, it appears Selig may have overplayed his hand with A-Rod. If he had hit him with with a palatable suspension, say something more than the contractually-stipulated 50 games for a first-time offender but less than what would amount to a lifetime ban, perhaps Rodriguez would have taken his punishment quietly, the way Ryan Braun and 12 other, lesser players did.

But by trying to ram home a suspension that is more than four times longer than that spelled out in baseball's collective bargaining agreement, Selig has put the burden squarely on his own shoulders. Instead of it being A-Rod's responsibility to prove why he should not be punished, it is now baseball's responsibility to show why he should be punished so much more severely than anyone else.

And that will not be easy.

In the meantime, free on bail, A-Rod is performing better than anyone, his own teammates included, could have expected or hoped. His presence in the Yankees' lineup has helped everyone, especially Robinson Cano, who now must be pitched to. Since Rodriguez's return -- along with the return of Curtis Granderson and the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano -- the Yankees are 21-14 and have climbed back into the playoff hunt.

Entering play Thursday night, the Yankees were just one game out of the second wild-card spot, and even the first wild-card berth was still technically in play. And even if they barely squeak into the playoffs, it keeps alive the specter of an even more nightmarish scenario for Selig than A-Rod merely coming out on top of a poll of fans.

Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals were the second NL wild card. They wound up coming within one win of going to the World Series.

Can you imagine if the New York Yankees, featuring Alex Rodriguez, remain hot from here on in, blow through the playoffs and go on to win it all?

And to top it off, Alex Rodriguez, facing what would amount to a lifetime ban, is the Series MVP? And Selig is forced to hand him the trophy on national TV?

I have seen this happen before, in 2001, when the Baltimore Ravens beat the Giants in the Super Bowl and Ray Lewis, fresh off copping a plea in a murder case, won the Super Bowl MVP. Then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue handed him the trophy while looking like a man who had just eaten a bad clam.

The same could happen to Selig this October, and how funny would that be?

Almost as funny as the results of a poll showing that despite -- or maybe because of -- the commissioner's best efforts to run him out of the game, Alex Rodriguez remains the first player that comes to mind when people think of Major League Baseball.