Only a professional piñata like Alex Rodriguez could make his season debut on the exact day he is suspended. Everything with A-Rod is messy these days. He probably spills ketchup on himself when he opens the fridge.
It's an absurdest dark comedy: Baseball's least-liked player using his suspension to announce his return in Chicago, in a ballpark nicknamed The Cell. Messy, messy, messy. But for baseball, this is the right kind of messy. This is messy you can applaud.
Strip away the cheap jokes and bizarre sight of the least triumphant return in baseball history, and this is what you have:
1. A sport, and a commissioner, working extremely hard to find and punish players who use performance-enhancing drugs.
Bud Selig deserves an enormous amount of credit for this. Baseball was famously slow to realize that when muscles grow muscles, drugs might be the cause. Selig and his minions were late to acknowledge the problem, and late to push for proper testing. There is no getting around that. But is any other commissioner working as hard as Selig to address the issue? When was the last time Roger Goodell, Gary Bettman or David Stern tried to severely punish one of the best players in their sports' history?
2. The union is finally on the right side of the fight.
For years, MLB Players' Association leaders adamantly (and successfully) argued that employers did not have a right to an employee's urine sample. But in doing so, the union was defending its least ethical members at the expense of its most ethical. Now the union is taking a wiser approach: The rules should be fair, and everybody should follow them. That is tremendous progress.
3. A player is appealing his penalty.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that nobody shall "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, even A-Rod."
This is a workplace dispute, not a Constitutional matter, but the same principle of due process applies. A-Rod is entitled to appeal his case. It doesn't make him self-absorbed, obsessed with money or oblivious to public sentiment. The fact that he is self-absorbed, obsessed with money and oblivious to public sentiment has nothing to do with it.
Is he guilty of PED use? Probably. I mean, MLB nailed 13 other guys with Biogenesis ties, and they all accepted their suspensions. Only A-Rod is appealing. So if MLB says it has more evidence on Rodriguez than for the rest, I tend to believe MLB.
But we haven't seen the evidence. All we have seen is reports that Selig is really sure he's got the guy. And even if Rodriguez clearly is guilty of eating PEDs out of a Cracker Jack box and rubbing illegal ointments on his body while he looks in the mirror and coos at himself, I still support his right to appeal.
Let's forget everything you know and hate about Alex Rodriguez for a moment and look at this dispassionately. Almost every other player got hit with a 50-game suspension. Ryan Braun -- who tested positive, got off on a technicality, then lied about it repeatedly -- got 65 games. Rodriguez got 211 games! Rodriguez never tested positive, unless you count the time he tested positive before baseball had penalties. But Selig is not supposed to count that. Yet Selig is saying that what Rodriguez did is more than three times as bad as what Braun did.
You could argue, quite reasonably, that Braun deserved 150 games: The 50 that he should have served last time as a first-time offender, and another 100 for his second offense. Yet he got 65. And A-Rod got 211.
There are two arguments for suspending A-Rod for so long. The first is that he lied to investigators in the past when they asked him about using PEDs. That argument does nothing for me. All players who use PEDs are, in effect, lying -- the moment they pee in a cup and don't admit they cheated, they are lying. Most of the players who took Biogenesis PEDs didn't fail a test. That means they almost certainly used some means of passing a test they deserved to fail, and that means they lied. Why punish A-Rod alone for lying?
The other argument is that Rodriguez covered up his crime and tried to buy evidence. This is compelling, and if MLB has overwhelming evidence, then maybe that 211-game suspension is totally fair. But he should have a chance to respond to that serious charge.
Isn't it possible that Selig overdid it? Isn't it possible that Selig is so angry at A-Rod, and so tired of the negative A-Rod headlines, that he just wants to be done with the guy?
(We pause here while baseball fans throw stones at my house.)
The problem with baseball in the McGwire-Sosa-Bonds-Clemens era was not steroid use. I mean, OK, steroid use was a problem. But there is steroid use in every sport. The difference in baseball was that there was no process. There was no mechanism for punishing users and keeping athletes honest.
Well, there is a process now. That process is not always smooth. In this case, Selig demanded an arm and a leg from A-Rod, hoping that A-Rod would compromise and give him an arm, without thinking about how it will affect his swing. A-Rod rejected any deals, and now he is fighting hard for his right to get booed heavily in every city he visits, especially New York.
Yes, it's messy. But you have to deal with messy if you want a sport to be clean.