In 1989 Bart Giamatti, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, invoked the “best interest of baseball” clause to evict Pete Rose from baseball. Pete Rose was no wonderful human being, but he was a wonderful baseball player. His “crime” was that he bet on baseball when he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, the team he played for as a ball player. There was never any evidence that be gambled while a player, nor that he bet against the Reds to win while he was a manager. He bet that his team would win. How this reflected on his accomplishments as a player and as a role model to kids, has always been lost on me. “Charlie Hussle” was my role model as an athlete. Hard as nails on the field, I can still see him sliding head first into second base. A player who gave 100% and played to win. Clearly not in the best interest of baseball.
In 1990, Fay Vincent, the then Commissioner of Major League Baseball, banned George Steinbrenner, the powerful owner of the New York Yankees, from baseball for two years. Steinbrenner had paid Howie Spira, a gambler with purported Mafia ties, $40,000 to find dirt on his outfielder Dave Winfield with whom Steinbrenner had a legal dispute. Steinbrenner absolutely deserved the punishment because it was pure thuggery, but in the “best interest of baseball” his suspension was only for two years. Steinbrenner is now renown as a Yankee owner. He agreed to the ten year contract with Alex Rodriguez, the contract that his sons, as the current owners, are now trying to terminate with the help of Major League Baseball. “A-Rod” was a major contributor to some of the great Yankee years under George Steinbrenner. I was fortunate to see him play some of the most exciting baseball I ever saw. Regardless, of performance enhancing drugs, he, like Barry Bonds, were All-Star players from the start- without the drugs. Physically it showed on Bonds, but not on “A-Rod”. Still doesn’t.
It is ironic, that the Yankees now hope to be the beneficiaries of the “best interest of baseball” clause. George Steinbrenner referring to the “best interest of baseball” clause said:
“The clause that deals with the best interests of baseball is a term with little or no definition in the 17 years I have been in baseball. It’s been allowed to linger for many, many years. It’s been there in an undefined, and in my opinion, kind of dangerous state. It can be viewed as an omnipotent tool. … But the rule itself is not only too broad, it’s dangerous. And it’s a dangerous burden for leadership to carry.”
Fay Vincent said about the “best interest of baseball” clause:
“George was right in a sense,” Vincent says. “It’s very imperial. It smacks of a totalitarian dictatorship. … But the only time a ‘best interests’ clause is ever going to be used is when there’s no other remedy available to a commissioner.”
Fay Vincent did not last long as Commissioner. Vincent realized too late that the owners of major league clubs would not tolerate banning a powerful owner. He admitted that current Commissioner Bud Selig, a former used car salesman and owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, and the then owner of the Chicago White Sox, pushed him out.
Tomorrow Major League Baseball is supposedly going to invoke the clause to ban Alex Rodriguez, the all-star third baseman for the New York Yankees, from baseball for the rest of this season and next. Selig tried to ban him for life, but the Players Union would have none of it and his lawyers probably told him it was dead on arrival. Purportedly for other reasons Major League Baseball will try to keep A-Rod from playing during any arbitration of the issues, which presumably will save the New York Yankees many millions of dollars. At least Major League Baseball may finally, publicly, release the evidence that they have, instead of trying this case in the media.
I don’t believe Mr. Rodriguez has failed any drug tests during the period in question, but that remains to be seen. Short of this, the evidence of use of performance enhancing drugs will be circumstantial. In arbitration, legal rules of evidence need not be followed; although substantively, given A-Rod’s age, a negative decision for him could effectively end his career.
It is an interesting fact pattern. Unlike many players who took drugs to make them viable commodities, Rodriguez was already very wealthy and had a contract that extended for his career. He had one incident of known drug usage, so the likelihood of his induction into the Hall of Fame was less than likely. Given his age and physical condition his likelihood of tying or passing Hank Aaron’s home run record looked unlikely. So why would he take the drugs? He clearly has a lot of pride and ego. He may believe he is invincible or untouchable. Maybe he is self-destructive. He was aging and perhaps he thought drugs would restore his youth. Maybe he was advised to do so more medical reasons. He had great numbers before his drug usage. Was usage so widespread, even among great ball players, that players really thought compliance was meaningless?
This is no apology for him. I don’t countenance usage of drugs in sports or otherwise. It does send kids the wrong message, but so does all the money that is in sports. It begins in middle school and high school. Those who think players in other eras if they had a strong players union, the availability of performance enhancing drugs, and the opportunity for big pay days, would have done differently are fooling themselves. Not everyone would have done it, just as not everyone does it now. Certainly, it diminishes the accomplishments of the latter and that is not good.
I have not seen scientifically based statistical evidence about how much each of these drugs actually has enhanced the individual performance of baseball players who used them. For some it is just evident because it happens over a few years. McGuire is a good example; Bonds in the latter part of his career. It is less clear with A-Rod. We may never know.
So what if this recent episode was not uncovered and A-Rod returned and had a few more great years. The Yankees would sell out again; TV revenue would be up and the owners would be wealthier. If after he retired and the truth was revealed, he would clearly have not made the Hall of Fame. Would the owners, the sponsors, the networks and cable channels, and A-Rod return revenue to the fans? Clearly not, it would not be in the best business interest of baseball or the players. The fans would have enjoyed watching it while it happened and feel somewhat cheated afterwards. They would still buy tickets and watch the game. It would be like the Tour de France.
What if the owners’ business life was scrutinized to see if they did anything illegal or improper. Should there be historical and continuing audits of their business practices to be sure they have conducted themselves in the best interest of baseball.
The problem I have is that there has been and will remain a lot of hypocrisy in professional sports. The A-Rod situation is more about business than a morality play. It pales to what happened on Wall Street without retribution. Steinbrenner was right- the “best interest of baseball” needs a definition; one that is narrow and precise. If not, get rid of it.
Baseball needs a special prosecutor independent of the owners and players union. If they want to stop drugs, then drug testing should be very frequent. All evidence should be timely and publicly revealed. If they are afraid of a defamation lawsuit then they probably have nothing. As Fay Vincent said, when there is nothing else available “the best interest of baseball” is carded out again.
One baseball writer said that Major League Baseball’s heavy handedness will make an unlikely hero of A-Rod. He will never be a hero to me. Jason Giambi used, but unlike Jeter and A-Rod, he would always be out with the fans at Spring training signing autographs. Besides his great eye, kids and their parents will always remember that about him. A hero.
I hope A-Rod’s lawyers take Major League Baseball apart, to teach them to spare us the innuendo and show us the evidence. I expect in the best business interest of baseball, they will both find a way to settle. It is the money that matters.