Alex Rodriguez & "The Best Interests of the Game"

“I think in labor management relations there is no such thing as standing still. You either move forward or you go back... The labor movement never stands still.” – Marvin Miller, Executive Director Major League Baseball Player's Association, 1966-1982

The hammer has finally come down. Alex Rodriguez – the latest “poster child” of performance enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball – will, according to ESPN, be suspended for the entire 2013-2014 season. That will end up being a $34 million dollar fine for the highest paid player in the game.

Let's forget for a moment that A-Rod will potentially take a bigger hit for "cheating" than Goldman-Sachs, and focus on the baseball issues at play. Rodriguez has said he plans on appealing the suspension. If he does, however, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has given word that he will invoke the rarely used “best interests of the game” clause in the collective bargaining agreement, and not allow the Yankee third baseman to take the field while on appeal. MLB would take this extraordinary step because they believe A-Rod’s transgressions fit the punishment. They are telling reporters they have evidence that not only was A-Rod a customer of Biogenesis, the shady anti-aging/steroid clinic in South Florida at the heart of this investigation. He also recruited players for Biogenesis and attempted to buy evidence from its owner Anthony Bosch, now a fully cooperating MLB witness.

There are few people who will shed any tears for Alex Rodriguez. Unlike Barry Bonds, the last “post-child” for PED use flambéed by Major League Baseball and its media minions, A-Rod has no one - other than those on his payroll - standing in his corner. He has no fierce fan base as Bonds had in San Francisco. He doesn't have any teammates he considers to be close friends. He lacks any sort of intriguing anti-hero appeal. As his biographer Selena Roberts said, “He’s known as the Hollowman”.  From photos like these, to the painting of himself over his bed as a half-man/half-horse centaur, his public persona is that of the worst kind of narcissist: the insecure “mean girl” so yearning for approval, they end up cruelly flaunting their narcissism. He’s the male version of Charlize Theron’s character in Young Adult. It’s not an archetype that ages well.

A-Rod’s lack of support however is exactly what makes him such low hanging fruit for Bud Selig. And that’s precisely why the Major League Baseball Players Association needs to be fighting his suspension tooth-and-nail. Unions are not supposed to be fan clubs. They are not organizations of the righteous, the pure, or the politically pitch-perfect. If they are to be worth a damn, in baseball or anywhere, they need to be the broadest of broad churches: institutions that will defend their most loathsome members because they understand that “an injury to one is an injury to all” is more than a slogan on a t-shirt. If a player can no longer take the field when appealing a suspension, that also disempowers the entire point of an appeal's process and if Bud Selig can get away with invoking the “best interests of the game” clause on A-Rod, then a precedent has been set and no one is safe.

It’s times like this, Michael Weiner, the executive director of the MLBPA, needs to be asking himself, “What would Marvin do?” What actions would the late Marvin Miller, the man who built the MLBPA as a combative fighting union, undertake? Miller's starting point would be, I believe, to mercilessly call out the hypocrisy of Bud Selig’s case against A-Rod. He would say, as Dan Dickey (@hoopsnerd) pointed out on twitter, that there is something bizarre about a situation where “MLB paid a drug dealer for his info [and] then considered a lifetime ban for ARod for trying to pay a drug dealer for his info.” He would also remark upon how utterly rich it is for Bud Selig to be lecturing anyone about “the best interests of the game” when it comes to performance enhancing drugs. He would wonder why the commissioner who was in charge as fully-loaded syringes were passed around like party favors in locker rooms in the 1990s, is now trusted to “clean up the game”. He would ask why there are no team penalties for steroid use. He would acidly question why owners aren’t fined or sanctioned if their clubhouses become PED clinics. He would wonder why the profits from baseball’s steroid era flow to ownership but the penalties fall upon the players.

Miller wasn’t an anti-PED zealot. When asked for his views in 2009, he said that he thought baseball and congress’s concerns about steroids were really an “anti-union witch-hunt.” He said he didn’t believe greatness on the field could come from “a magic pill.” He said he wouldn’t have supported increased drug testing even if it was demanded by players because, “A leadership can't just take a poll on what membership wants. You also have to judge whether this is in the best interests of the people you represent.” As for congressional intervention, he pointed out that a government which gives subsidies to big tobacco but criminalizes steroids was a government whose moral compass was not to be trusted. Maybe he would have changed his views under the weight of the collective pressure from congress, the media, and even a large constituency of players. But he also would have known where to draw the line.

Marvin Miller – I have no doubt in my mind – would find Alex Rodriguez to be personally loathsome. Miller stood with the underdog. He would see A-Rod’s actions, his business interests, and his politics to be the antithesis of the principles to which he devoted his life. But he also believed that the chain always breaks at its weakest link. Alex Rodriguez is - by any measure - the weakest link and that’s exactly why he’d get Marvin Miller’s most fierce support. The union, in that tradition, should grit their teeth and stand with A-Rod.

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End Drug Prohibition And 100% Guarantee For Free Agents

A better question would be what would Curt Flood do?

The deal should be ending drug testing, and, hence, drug prohibition, and the 100% guaranteed contracts, in favor 50% guaranteed free agent contracts. Why should a player who can no longer perform up to his past standards be fully paid, while a top performing player have his contract and accomplishments taken away from him because he wants to use a politically incorrect supplement? It's gotten to the point where going to the weight room and supplementing to increase muscle mass is a crime, so you might as well not train, stink it up on the field, and collect your pay check. This situation is just plain wrong. It violates the 4th amendment and doctor/patient relationships. Drug prohibition for athletes is what is wrong, not the athletes who use modern pharmacology for supplementing their recovering from work out and injury.

Tommy John had the three best seasons of his career in terms of win total (20 in '77, 21 in '79 and 22 in '80) after surgically altering his body. Nobody calls hims a "cheater" and the medical procedure he used to heal himself is named after him. It is already perfectly legal under out Bill of Rights to use modern pharmacology for work out recovery and healing injury.

Alex Rodriquez broke

The rules. Zarin seems to think athletes are above the law, which is a disturbing thought.

And one other thing zarin....

One of your pet issues is that NCAA athletes don't get paid but just about all of them have full scholarships, free education, room, and board. That is getting paid zarin!! Especially when you factor in how much other students pay for tutiton, so, again, athletes are being paid and beng paid very well zarin.

I'll be the judge

DZ quotes MM: "You also have to judge whether this(drug-testing) is in the best interest of the people you represent." This is very close to saying. I'll decide what's best for the players.

Miller is also quoted: "A leadership can't just take a poll on what membership wants." My answer is why not? If the overwhelming majority of the players support Miller"s position,then he's in a much better position to bargain for the players against management. If, however, the majority of players are against their union heads what do they do? They could try to educate the players to come around to their thinking. Or the union leaders could choose to follow the players' wishes and truly represent them.

No union leader needs to poll its members on every issue covered in the CBA because this would bog down the workings of the union, but it also can't ignore the wishes of their members and replace those wishes with their own personal opinions. And for the record Marvin Miller should be in the baseball HOF.


Another predictable column by Zirin. When ever the issue of steroids comes up he's always on the side of the cheaters. He's not on the side of the players cause the majority of them are clean so he's defending the guys that are willfully cheating because of some perceived notion that athletes are treated like slaves. How DARE the owners set RULES that everyone should follow?

Basically Zirin is defending cheating over the kid that doesn't want to cheat either for fear of getting caught or he cares more about his health then a few extra years on top. I can agree with him when it comes to the "integrity of the game" & appeal process but at the end of the day Zirin goes back to his typical defense of defending cheaters because the owners may/may not have known.

PS Rick: Prohibition of drugs and the agreed upon rules of a game are two different subjects. Once you legalize steroids in a sport you're making it a barrier to entry and forcing kids to do them if they want a shot at the pros.


I see all of the braying moralist are overly concern with the legitimacy of a game but please answer for me what is the difference between taking a drug that enhances performance and a drug that enables performance. The great moralist Curt Schilling took drugs that allowed him to pitch better than he would have been able to had he not been on the drug.Better being 0 ability and some ability to pitch.


The diffence is the rules. A league makes the rules & they have to be followed otherwise the game isn't fair. I'm not against steroids for the players health. It's their responsiblity & choice to treat their bodies the way they want to. I'm against them because they are cheating & against the rules. You don't believe in rules? You can advocate for legalizing steroids but you're then telling kids that they have to take them otherwise they are at a disadvantage. I don't understand how people can defend cheaters so passionately?


The rules are arbitrary and unevenly applied which also does nothing to level the playing field. And a player unwilling to take a Cortisone shot to play through an injury is at the same disadvantage as the player unwilling to take the steroids.


Every sports rule is arbitrary. There is no scientific reason for 3 strikes equaling an out or 4 balls equaling a walk. Balls/strikes are unevenly applied when you consider different umps. Basketball's rules couldn't be more unevenly applied. Should we get rid of fouls in basketball?

There is a big difference between cortisone shot and steroids. One is just a pain killer the other is taken specifically to enhance performance. One has very little side effects the other can be deadly. One is taken only in specific cases while legal the other would be taken universally if legal.

I think my biggest problem with Zirin's view on steroids is that he doesn't seem to advocate legalization which I don't initially agree with but understand. He really just wants to advocate that the cheaters shouldn't be punished because of some idea that the owners are really the ones at fault. He seems to admit it's against the rules but faults the leagues for punishing them. And then refuses to blame them for their crimes.

To Jason

Well stated. DZ is driven by his ideology and tries to make every situation adhere to it. He tries to use a straight-edge to measure a round world.

Jason and racistmoi....

You are exactly right


...Of course, part of the "agreed" upon rules are class based. No testing of people with class privilege, namely, politicians and corporate executives. Only peasants get tested. Only the people who like and use supplements get tested.

What every prohibitionist brings up to violate the rights of adults, is bring up children. Outside of being protected by their parents, children have no rights. There are perfectly good health and safety reasons for barring children from supplementing of any kind, just like there is with alcohol.

I regularly use lab produced protein and creatine in powder form to aid my recovery from the hard physical labor I do. I also regularly bike to and from work. I'm taking something my body naturally produces and using it to aid my strenuous exercise and work out regime. Same concept as HGH and steroids, basically, just different bodily substances. The way things are going now, the pharmacology nannies are going to take away my creatine and possibly even my protein supplement. You know, it's not "natural" for humans to practice science.

We live in this world. Not in a comic book world. There is no such thing as the "super soldier" drug Norman Osborne takes in the "Spider-Man" movie that endows people with capabilities way beyond what they're born with. There is no such thing as "performance enhancing" anything. One of the original rationales for drug prohibition was that we were going to protect the public from the snake oil salesman selling "performance enhancing" tonics. Now we believe the advertising of the snake oil salesmen! Yes! It's all true! Why A-Rod was transformed from a 110lbs. weakling into an elite athlete by steroids!

The chief barrier to entry into elite professional sports is that 99.99% of the population simply lacks the genetic gifts, and the personal discipline, to be elite athletes, and we need to accept this.

To Rick

My argument isn't for prohibition of drugs outside of sports. I'm all for 100% legalization but sports have rules that need to be followed. Simple as that. A-Rod & these guys broke the rules. If these guys were normal citizens I'd agree with you but they play in a sport with rules & those rules were agreed to by the league. You wanna play you gotta follow the rules.

I take protein & creatine as well & I wouldn't compare them to steroids. All you have to do is look at weightlifting or bodybuilding to see that steroids are different. Those sports even have natural & enhanced divisions. Look at the stats from the juice era till today. We'll be lucky if more than 2-3 guys get over 50 hrs.

The barrier to entry of being extremely talented doesn't harm kids. Make steroids the barrier to entry & it will cause a lot of damage. Just like I wouldn't want kids to smoke weed if it was legalized.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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