Monday, August 12, 2013
Bad Cop Never Wins
I need to ask a favor.
For a moment, I need you to put aside your feelings on performance-enhancing drugs. Forget where between "slimy narcissist" and "aspiring sociopath" you have slotted Alex Rodriguez. Try to separate your rational mind from the lobe enraged by the indignity of dozens of baseball players lying to your face.
Now let me seriously ask: what if Major League Baseball's summer crusade against PEDs is a colossal mistake?
In 2011, MLB and the player's union signed a collective bargaining agreement that introduced a long-overdue PED policy to baseball. And, like any sustainable justice system, it created a process for the accused to face the evidence of their wrongs, a third party to review the case, and an established scale of punishment to be enforced. As citizens, we call it due process, and its inherent transparency helps us believe in the system. Baseball had taken a step toward identifying PED users.
And then Dino Laurenzi Jr. happened.
Laurenzi, you probably remember, is the collector who improperly stored Ryan Braun's urine sample that eventually tested "insanely" positive for PED indicators (timeline refresher here).
This embarrassment must have humiliated Selig; his fancy new fishing net just let a great big whale swim through its holes.
So when a witness from a possible PED supplier became available, Selig couldn't help himself. Having spent the golden years of his commissionership scrubbing at the stains rampant, unchecked PED use left on his legacy, Selig finally had a weapon.
Generously interpreted, Bud Selig's Ahabian hunt to harpoon his sport's most egregious chemical cheaters compares to The Shield's Vic Mackey or Justified's Raylan Givens. Like those line-walking authorities, Selig has employed a Machiavellian disdain for the failings of the letter of the law, preferring to inflict justice upon those who almost indisputably deserve it, due process be damned.
Selig's approach, however, is fatally flawed. Regardless of whether an arbiter eventually upholds Rodriguez's 211-game suspension, the commissioner's victory will be a Pyrrhic one.
Even if a dozen players ranging from superstars to minor leaguers were busted, the Biogenesis case sends a clear message: nobody believes in the PED policy.
Clearly, the players don't. These suspensions cover players connected through unsophisticated accounting to a single lab. In all likelihood, there are several more labs better at protecting their clients. These punishments seem as temporary as pulling the leaves off of a weed and hoping the remaining root won't simply replace them with new sprouts.
But there were always going to be cheaters; the player's incentive to get an edge is too great. No, the most disappointing part of Selig's Folly is the admission of regulatory defeat it announces.
Without question, Selig and MLB only embarked on their campaign of media leaks, leveraged negotiations, and whatever they are doing with Rodriguez because they know their PED policy is a bust. After all, if a rule is working, there is no need to seek its intended goal through additional measures.
By threatening the invocation of the Best Interest of Baseball clause and a portfolio of other litigative guerilla tactics, Selig buried his PED policy before its second birthday. Instead of leaving a legacy of a system built to seek and punish PED offenders, the commissioner set the precedent of having to construct case-by-case circumstantial dossiers where suspicion spawns paranoia and consequences are arbitrary. Joseph McCarthy would be proud.
The problem with by-any-means heroism is eventually the hero crosses a gray line in his pursuit of something noble. Beyond that border, we have to wonder: is he still the good guy?
In the face of real justice's failure, Selig chose to exact his idea of street justice. We've seen this show before; the bad cop never wins in the end.