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Today’s decision punishes A-Rod, but it also gives Bud Selig new power

Jan 11, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves Getty Images

I think the most interesting thing about Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension is that curious number of games: 162. It’s such a great number. It matches up so perfectly with a major league baseball season! I thought Ryan Braun‘s suspension was interesting too: 65 games. When, as a matter of pure coincidence, I’m sure, the Milwaukee Brewers had 65 games left on their schedule. How neat that is!

It’s almost as if we now have a new matrix for drug suspensions:

  • First offense: 50 games
  • Second offense: 100 games
  • Third offense: lifetime ban
  • Offense by a guy who REALLY makes us look bad and we want to hammer: Until the end of the year, how ever many games that may be.

Which, however satisfying that may be — who doesn’t want A-Rod to just be gone for a season at this point? — is a departure from what Major League Baseball has done with suspensions in the past. Until Braun and now A-Rod, suspensions were for a set number of games, agreed-to beforehand in the Joint Drug Agreement. It was automatic, not a matter of personal judgment by Bud Selig or an arbitrator. We’re in new territory here.

The explanation I’ve seen from some on this — particularly Tom Verducci, but others have said it as well — is that the odd, convenient number of games is because the enforcement action was not based on testing, it was based on non-analytic information (Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis documents) and that when we’re in non-analytic land, the Commissioner has discretion.

Except that is not at all clear from either the terms of the CBA or the JDA. It’s apparently what Bud Selig asserted and, presumably, it’s a position the arbitrator validated in the A-Rod arbitration. But we don’t know, because his decision is sealed. I wonder if, given how much time A-Rod’s lawyers seemed to spend on claiming the existence of a vast conspiracy against their client, they bothered to spend much time arguing that point of the Commissioner’s authority. If they didn’t, that’s pretty awful lawyering.

In any event, that’s basically the effect of this ruling: a big grant of power to Bud Selig to exceed the penalties set forth in the JDA in cases that don’t involve a positive test. A power that, for whatever reason, he decided not to use for Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and all of the other Biogenesis players, but I suppose that’s convenient too. And, perversely, a power he would not have if the drug testing system he has put in place would have caught these players before we heard about it in the Miami New-Times. Indeed, the failure of the drug testing system worked to Selig’s benefit, which is kind of crazy itself if you think about.

But that’s neither here nor there. The real takeaway here is that Selig now has power in the drug enforcement world he didn’t have before and which he did not obtain via negotiation with the union. He obtained it by simply asserting it and seeing if he could make it stick.  He made it stick.

It’l be interesting to see if the union, under new leader Tony Clark, is going to make this an issue when the new CBA is negotiated or if they’re going to let Selig’s grab for power– his quite successful grab — stand.

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