A-Rod vs. MLB and Yankees are battles only just beginning

Tuesday August 20th, 2013

Abandon hope, ye baseball fans, that the wars between Alex Rodriguez and Major League Baseball (and Rodriguez and the New York Yankees) will end any time soon—and with rational compromise. The nuclear phase of said wars officially began on Monday when MLB stooped to mix it up in the mud with Rodriguez by using Matt Lauer to call out Rodriguez's suddenly tongue-twisted lawyer, Joe Tacopina, on the Today show, and Rodriguez began laying the groundwork to take MLB and the Yankees to court.

And you thought Aug. 5, the day MLB dished out 13 suspensions to players connected to PEDs from the Biogenesis clinic and wanna-be doctor Anthony Bosch, was a bad day for baseball fans. Monday was worse. It was the day that you realized Rodriguez regards a scorched earth approach as the best way to fight. The man who once hijacked the deciding game of a World Series in which he was not playing has now hijacked the 2013 pennant race and the postseason.

Tacopina hinted at how Rodriguez's strategy is headed towards a long, costly court fight when he told Lauer, "I know the evidence against Alex Rodriguez. I will tell you this: It will never stand up in a court of law, in an arbitration—never." A source close to Rodriguez said that the Yankees third baseman is prepared for a court fight that could last two to three years.

A bluff? Maybe. When union director Michael Weiner was made aware of the same evidence to which Tacopina was referring, he advised Rodriguez to take a deal from MLB if it presented the "right number" of games for a suspension. But understand that Rodriguez has the resources for a long fight. He is unlikely to play baseball again when and if he serves his suspension and his reputation is shot, so having nothing left to lose makes him a dangerous opponent for the Yankees and MLB.

What's happening now is theatrical showmanship. The "threats" of grievances and lawsuits, the ham-handedness and bluster of all three parties trying to "win" the battle of public relations are entertaining as far as news cycles go. What really matters is whether Rodriguez continued to pump his body full of PEDs and if so whether those violations warrant a 211-game penalty. And MLB and the union have a process to answer those exact questions. It's just that nobody, you included, wants to wait for the process to run its course.

Rodriguez has refused to say that he never bought or used PEDs from Bosch, which is interesting because he has no problem lying about just about anything else.

Here is a Jan. 29 statement issued by Rodriguez through that famously large and ever-changing "inner circle" of his: "The news report about a purported relationship between Alex Rodriguez and Anthony Bosch are not true. Alex Rodriguez was not Mr. Bosch's patient, he was never treated by him and he was never advised by him. The purported documents referenced in the story—at least as they relate to Alex Rodriguez—are not legitimate."

But here was Tacopina, a late but loud addition to the inner circle, on Monday when Lauer asked him about the relationship between Bosch and Rodriguez:

"There was a relationship obviously. But these facts will be answered at a . . . hearing. We are not going to circumvent this process. There is a process. We respect the process . . ."

Obviously? Whoa, now. Tacopina just casually let it slip that yes, sure, Rodriguez and Bosch were buds. That strong denial that Rodriguez put out there in January? A lie.

And then, with time to prepare before his appearance on CNN, Tacopina put on his tap shoes:

"Clearly there was a relationship -- a consulting relationship. I mean, Biogenesis, that lab has consulted with many professional athletes. Not every single one of those athletes has been accused of, or found guilty of, using illegal substances."

Oh-kaaay. So the richest team sports player on the planet goes to a fake doctor at a wellness clinic in a strip mall only for a consultation? You mean the way Ryan Braun used Bosch only for a consultation after his failed 2011 drug test? You mean the way Francisco Cervelli used Bosch only for a consultation for a broken foot? Sure. Makes perfect sense.

Tacopina may be a sharp guy, but he's funny in that unintended funny way. His stammering was comical when Lauer, just after Tacopina said he would love to waive confidentiality issues, presented him with a written invitation from MLB to do just that.

WATCH: A-Rod's lawyer surprised with letter from MLB

In Tacopina's defense, though, the gambit by MLB to stage this gotcha moment made for great TV but questionable strategy. If MLB has all the evidence it claims to have—proof of years worth of drug usage by Rodriguez and direct communication between Bosch and Rodriguez—it does not need to engage in a PR maneuver. Really, what was Tacopina supposed to do? Sign the invitation on the spot?

Tacopina (hours later, only after he had time to work on his lines) called it "a publicity stunt." That was funny in an unintended way, too, considering that Tacopina was on a media tour himself. And his web page, to boost his lawyerly bona fides, lists not just one or two testimonials but three testimonials from that noted legal expert Don Imus.

The MLB trick worked as a way of calling Tacopina's bluff. After all, Rodriguez can talk about the case as it relates to himself any time he wants. The Joint Drug Agreement says nothing about binding a player to confidentiality as it relates to his own case—sort of like grand jury testimony. And as MLB VP Rob Manfred said, "The Players Association has never stood in the way of an individual player publicly disclosing his own drug testing history."

But the trick also backfired on MLB. So fed up are MLB suits with Rodriguez and the feints and dodges of his ever-changing inner circle that they lost their way, and the higher ground, with the Lauer-as-Alan Funt shenanigans.

Surely, they and the Yankees just can't stand to let Rodriguez and his hired guns have the floor to themselves, often with lies and hand-polished hyperboles. (One of Tacopina's greatest hits: that the Yankees rolled out Rodriguez "like an invalid" last October.)

Another lie: On Saturday, after Tacopina carpet-bombed the Yankees' front office, medical staff and organizational ethics to The New York Times, Rodriguez said he couldn't comment because he had not read the story. Just the day before, however, Rodriguez gleefully was telling people about the media offensive about to be launched by his team.

McCANN: Explaining the legal strategy by Team A-Rod

It's beyond ugly how all three sides—Rodriguez, MLB and the Yankees—have been jockeying for public sympathy. And has anybody else noticed how the Major League Baseball Players Association, once the staunchest union in the country, especially at closing ranks, has been stone silent throughout? Never before has the union allowed a player and his agents, lawyers, PR people and assorted lackeys to just spout off on such a serious matter related to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. In the past, there had always been the one firm voice of the union. But Rodriguez cannot be contained.

The nastiest charge of all is what Rodriguez's camp accused New York of doing last October: of putting Rodriguez's health and career deliberately in harm's way by knowingly concealing from him a hole in his hip. I'm not sure I ever have heard a more explosive accusation by a player against his own team in any sport. The Yankees have denied the charge. Rodriguez, if he does have any evidence, could dirty up his own club during an appeal that is really about his PED use.

CORCORAN: A-Rod's wild day includes beaning and revenge home run

New York GM Brian Cashman said Sunday to reporters in one of the strangest interviews you will hear at a ballpark (he compared himself to Katie Couric and Selena Roberts in the long list of people Rodriguez has lied to) that he hardly even speaks to his highest-paid player because of such a "litigious" environment. And later that night came a report that the attorney for Bosch was on Rodriguez's deep payroll.

Just when you thought Sunday was bizarre enough came the mud-slinging and posturing for "public sympathy" on Monday. It is a pattern baseball fans should come to expect with what should be a straightforward appeal about Rodriguez's alleged serial use of PEDs: each day will be worse than the last.

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