Major League Baseball on Monday handed down the final punishments in the Biogenesis case, suspending thirteen players for violating the league's drug policy.
Twelve of those players received 50-game suspensions. Only the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez received a 211-game ban, covering the remainder of this season and all of 2014.
If Rodriguez took banned substances — and by all indications the league has plenty of evidence he did — he can and should be punished for violating the league's Joint Drug Agreement.
However, Commissioner Bud Selig has gone further than that, slapping A-Rod with an unprecedented suspension for violating the JDA and for allegedly violating the league's collective bargaining agreement by misleading investigators. In tacking on more games to Rodriguez's suspension, the league has overstepped its authority and set a dangerous precedent that it can arbitrarily mete out whatever punishment it wants, JDA be damned.
To be clear, Rodriguez is an egomaniac, an admitted cheater, and an all-around infuriating person. Yet it's hard to interpret his punishment as anything but a power move on the league's part.
MLB did not specify how many games of the 211 were for his PED connections, and how many were related to his attempted cover-up. In a statement, MLB said it had evidence Rodriguez was in "possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human Growth Hormone" over a multi-year period. Under the JDA, the suspensions for PED infractions are 50 games for a first offense, 100 for a second, and a lifetime ban for a third.
The league even reportedly weighed going with a lifetime ban by arguing that repeated uses amounted to multiple offenses, but settled on a shorter suspension plus at least another 100 games because A-Rod "attempt[ed] to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation."
That's completely inconsistent with the league's past actions.
Last year, the league suspended Melky Cabrera after he failed a drug test. That came only after Cabrera sought to clear his name with a ridiculous, hopeless scheme that involved his reps creating a fake website and a fake product, and then claiming Cabrera had unwittingly taken a banned substance. The ruse even sent investigators down to the Dominican Republic, where the phony clinic supposedly existed, to purchase some "steroids."
Cabrera received only a 50-game ban.
That's why the league's heavy-handed treatment of A-Rod rings so hollow. It essentially shows that Selig will invoke the nebulous "best interests of the game" to capriciously suspend players if they displease him.
Rodriguez will appeal his punishment, as he is entitled to do, with his attorney saying MLB had "gone well beyond the authority granted to its Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement." The players' union, too, said the league had gone too far.
"We agree with his decision to fight his suspension," Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner said in a statement. "We believe that the Commissioner has not acted appropriately under the Basic Agreement. Mr. Rodriguez knows that the Union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously."
Selig said in a statement that the league was eager to codify penalties that will be "even more stringent and a stronger deterrent" in future years. That's all fine and good since the current tiered system has been widely criticized as a weak deterrent. If it's sincere, the league should change the system — not make up punishments as it goes along.
That, on top of the questionable investigation that led to the suspension, has made it tempting, for once, to root for A-Rod.