Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Monday, Bloody Monday

By Jeff Kallman

Two hundred and eleven games. That's the sum total of Alex Rodriguez's suspension, announced Monday, for his involvement on more than one level with the defunct and disgraced Biogenesis operation. Rodriguez is one of 13 players suspended for their Biogenesis connections, but he's the blue whale among the anchovies.

A clueless blue whale at that. Make note of some of his remarks at a Monday press conference, before he suited up for the Yankees (he went 1-for-4 in an 8-0 loss) — as is his right while, yes, he appeals his suspension, the only one of the Biogenesis 13 doing so, thus far — against the White Sox in Chicago following his return at last from the disabled list.

"I'm sure there's been mistakes made along the way. We're here now. I'm a human being. I've had two hip surgeries. I've had two knee surgeries. I'm fighting for my life. ... What we've always fought for was for the process, and I think we have that and at some point we'll sit in front of an arbiter and give our case. ... There's a lot of things that have been thrown to the wall, and I think when the time is right, there will be an opportunity to do all of that."

Anything but an admission that, yes, he had some truck with actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances beyond the 2001-2003 period to which he'd admitted in the recent past. Anything but an apology such as others among the Biogenesis 13 offered in their own statements.

Yes, A-Rod's going to appeal the suspension, maybe with an eye toward bringing it somewhere in the middle of the handed-down 211 and Ryan Braun's 65. But if the appeal process is steered somehow toward addressing A-Rod's involvement with actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances rather than Bud Selig's powers as baseball commissioner, that would be just about perfect.

Selig could have invoked the "best interest of the game" power the office does have to keep Rodriguez off the field even while he appeals the suspension. When Rodriguez popped off over the weekend implying a conspiracy to keep him off the field, prompting an apparent end to any negotiations between himself and baseball government on the terms of his punishment, Selig could have leaned upon reported reams of evidence tying A-Rod to Biogenesis and comparable doings and denied him any appeal process under the aforesaid power.

But Selig would have risked the much-discussed opportunity, opened wide by metastasizing player anger over the PED issue, of steering the next collective bargaining agreement toward a hammer-down in which players tempted to actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances would face real financial disincentive, including the voidings of their incumbent contracts.

So let A-Rod appeal. It's himself who has the most to lose in the process even if he does get the actual suspension cut down. "[I]f he appeals his suspension," Ken Rosenthal (FOX Sports) wrote over the weekend. "his transgressions might be leaked faster than you can say, 'Cousin Yuri Surcart.'

"Even worse for A-Rod, baseball could pursue its civil lawsuit against Biogenesis — a judge in Miami-Dade Circuit Court declined to dismiss the suit on Tuesday — allowing attorneys to pursue bank records, cell-phone records and hard drives, all through discovery," Rosenthal continued. "I'm sure A-Rod would come out looking great in all that."

Aside from Rodriguez, baseball and its watchers were sure that, among the Biogenesis 13, only Jhonny Peralta (Tigers, shortstop) and Nelson Cruz (Rangers, outfielder) were known by name to be facing suspension before Monday's announcements, while Gio Gonzalez (Nationals, pitcher) would be or had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The 10 others suspended over the defunct Florida anti-aging clinic: pitchers Antonio Bastardo (Phillies), Sergio Escalona (Astros minor leagues), Faustos de los Santos (free agent), and Jordan Norberto (free agent); catchers Francisco Cervelli (Yankees) and Jesus Montero (Mariners); infielder Everth Cabrera (Padres); and outfielders Cesar Puello (Mets minor leagues) and Jordany Valdespin (Mets minor leagues).

For Peralta and Cruz, the suspensions impact beyond their own selves considering the Tigers and the Rangers are still postseason contenders, while Peralta, Cruz, and Cabrera were all-stars this season. Cabrera didn't appear in the game but Cruz (spelling Jose Bautista for the sixth inning and going 1-for-2) and Peralta (pinch hitting for J.J. Hardy with a base hit in the eighth) did.

Both Peralta and Cruz issued statements of apology when their suspensions were announced. "I take full responsibility for my actions, have no excuses for my lapse in judgment and I accept my suspension," said Peralta in his. "I love the fans, my teammates and this organization, and my greatest punishment is knowing that I have let so many good people down."

He won't get any support from Tiger legend Denny McLain, who's zapped him for declining to appeal. "I would love to see him hang in there for the ballclub's sake," baseball's last 30-game winner told the Detroit Free Press. "He is more concerned with next year, starting clean, rather than helping the club this year. Everything's about him. It's not about the team. It's not about the playoffs. It's not about the World Series. It's pure selfishness.

"All he wanted to do was put himself in position to get a multiyear contract for an awful lot of money," the former right-hander continued. "It clearly shows it's all about him and nobody else. He might be a great kid and everything, but somehow or other, he took the wrong turn. Listen, everybody can take the wrong turn from time to time." McLain — he whose baseball life including bookmaking and whose life since baseball has included drug and embezzlement convictions and bankruptcy — knows perhaps too much about wrong turns.

Cruz's statement included an acknowledgement of what provoked him to try a Biogenesis cocktail in the first place, a gastrointestinal infection that shrank him 40 pounds worth in early 2012 by the time he was diagnosed properly, a weight loss that had him fearful he wouldn't be able to play.

"Faced with [that] situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error," said the right fielder, who'd gone from 2011 World Series hero (8 homers through Game 6, including a walk-off grand slam; a would-be 9th stolen back by Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig in Game 7) to goat (unable to stop David Freese's down-to-the-last-strike Game 6-tying drive off the right field wall, playing in a no-doubles defense) in one extra-innings swoop.

"I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse," Cruz continued. "I am thankful for the unwavering support of my family, friends, and teammates during this difficult time. I look forward to regaining the trust and respect of the Rangers organization, my teammates, and the great Rangers' fans, and I am grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the team for the playoffs."

Gonzalez and Danny Valencia (Orioles) were cleared. Melky Cabrera (now a Blue Jays outfielder) and Bartolo Colon (Athletics pitcher), both of whom served suspensions last season over synthetic testosterone likely obtained through Biogenesis, with Cabrera's costing him a spot on the Giants' World Series winning postseason roster and the chance to re-sign with the team, won't be disciplined in the current round.

Valdespin was a close acquaintance to controversy even before he turned up tied to Biogenesis. Before the Mets sent him back to the minors with a .188 batting average last month, Valdespin's season began with the wrong hit—a Justin Verlander fastball catching him in the cup-less crotch in spring training.

In May, Valdespin showboated wildly enough when hitting a long home run in a game against the Pirates in which the Mets were light years behind, then tried to duck the next day's lineup because he figured he'd see a brushback pitch. No Met pitcher even thought of dusting a Pirate hitter as payback. Manager Terry Collins, no fool, forced Valdespin into the lineup. Sure enough, he got one. Then he exploded in the clubhouse.

When Valdespin was sent down in July, reports indicated his parting shots included calling Collins a vulgar euphemism for fellatio. Last week, he got himself suspended for instigating a brawl between his Las Vegas 51s and the Sacramento River Cats: his showboating on a 3-run homer got him drilled his next time up, and when a teammate plunked a River Cat in reply, the benches cleared.

Valdespin had a reputation for trouble even before he made the Mets last year and this. He'd been suspended numerous times while in the Mets system since 2007. For insubordination.

Valdespin and Puello have something else in common. They're two of eight players on today's hit parade represented by ACES, Inc., including Cruz — whom the Newark Star-Ledger says left the agency Monday as well. The agency also represents Melky Cabrera.

Last September, a former ACES client — one time Dodgers and Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca, who was named in the Mitchell Report a few years ago, charged that the agency and its heads, Seth and Sam Levinson, introduced him to Kirk Radomski, the one-time Met clubhouse man who steered several players named in the Mitchell Report to actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances during the 1990s and perhaps after he left the Mets circa 1995.

None of which mitigates Alex Rodriguez, or offers him any feasible chance to hide behind the saw that he's hardly the only such creature who swam willingly into poisoned seas. He's merely, to repeat, the blue whale among the anchovies. A blue whale who had, apparently, so pathological a need for respect and affection that he forgot to include the most important factor in gaining both into the formula. Accountability.

That kind of forgetfulness has made him a pariah as often as a power in the Yankee clubhouse, which has never really felt completely at ease with him. Now, as he plays on while appealing his suspension, he and his team will learn how much he has left in his baseball tank, without taint, unless he's fool enough to do something else out of bounds even with Biogenesis clinging to his back.

Now, in other words, A-Rod's going to confront accountability from more than one angle. The anchovies aren't the only ones waiting to see how he accounts for that.

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