Imagine the scene: Alex Rodriguez, currently appealing an unprecedented suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, steps to the plate in Game 7 of the World Series.
The game is tied. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. A-Rod launches a ball 500 feet into the stands. As he rounds the bases, with his teammates spilling onto the field, he looks up into the crowd and winks at Commissioner Bud Selig.
Two weeks later, he's suspended 200-plus games for being a serial cheater.
Ok, so that's a completely fantastical scenario, especially given the Yankees' slump of late. But should the Yankees make the playoffs — let alone the World Series — it would be a huge middle finger to the league that would likely spark a debate about how baseball handles suspensions.
With the Biogenesis investigation, the league turned Rodriguez into the poster boy for cheating, accusing him of taking banned substances multiple times over several years and then lying about it. While slapping everyone else implicated in the scandal with bans of 50 to 65 games, MLB gave Rodriguez a heavy-handed 211-game suspension.
Selig was, in essence, singling out Rodriguez as the worst offender, someone who had done more than anyone else in the game to create a distorted playing field. By extension, that meant the Yankees, in playing Rodriguez, had used a cheater to gain an "unfair" advantage over the competition.
This year, the Yankees are indeed benefiting from having Rodriguez on their team. Since returning from a hip injury, the third baseman has helped anchor a lineup decimated by injuries and plagued by underachievement.
Despite playing in only 37 games, Rodriguez has been worth more wins than all but five other players on the entire team. He has been roughly as valuable as everyone else who has manned third base for the Yankees this year combined.
If the Yankees do make the postseason, Rodriguez would deserve much of the credit — and there's nothing baseball can do to stop that from happening.
Fans went nuts when Barry Bonds broke hallowed home run records despite being linked to steroid use. Baseball responded by aggressively beefing up its testing policy, and, as Biogenesis showed, taking extraordinary measures to pursue suspected cheaters.
Rodriguez playing in the postseason would force baseball to once again confront the PR nightmare of an accused villain glibly thumbing his nose while thwarting the competition. Except in this case, the league has explicitly accused Rodriguez of cheating; Bonds, though vilified in public, never failed a drug test and was never suspended. The fact that every other player implicated in the Biogenesis case accepted a suspension indicates the league has some pretty damning evidence, and that Rodriguez, though his suspension may be reduced, is not getting off the hook.
Lucky for baseball, the Yankees are tanking. Last week, they were within one game of the final wild card spot, their odds of making the playoffs rising from almost zilch to 15 percent, according to Baseball Prospectus. But they have lost eight of their last 12 games, their playoff odds dropping to 4.4 percent in the process.
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