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A-Rod Playbook: Sow Doubt, Undermine Credibility, Live On

James Haggerty  |  01.15.2014

Corporate Counsel

January 15, 2014  (link here)

What’s the A-Rod endgame? Surely, he doesn’t believe he can actually get an injunction from the federal courts halting enforcement of his 162-game suspension. So what’s the playbook, Alex?

As every sports fan knows, arbitrators last week ruled that New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez must sit for the entire 2014 baseball season (and the playoffs, if the Yankees qualify), upholding the bulk of a ruling by Major League Baseball that imposed the longest suspension in baseball history on a slugger who was at one point was considered a lock to become baseball’s all-time home run king.

Having lost his appeal before a three-person arbitration panel, Rodriguez on Monday took his case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In this new lawsuit, he not only took on the arbitrator and MLB but also the players’ union, contending it has “abdicated its responsibility to defend him.” As evidenced by this excellent Corporate Counsel analysis, most legal observers feel that the likelihood of success in obtaining the injunction is about the same as the Mets winning the World Series again in my lifetime. (Just kidding . . . I’m actually a diehard Mets fan, as will become apparent.)

So what’s the deal? Why spend the money? Why take on your own union and just make more enemies?

Here’s my take: I don’t think A-Rod and his A-advisors actually believe for a minute they’ll get the arbitration overturned. In fact, I’d also wager they knew all along they didn’t have a chance in hell during the arbitration either.

Nor is Rodriguez a fool, as some suggest, or some sort of crazy narcissist who can’t see the trees through the forest of his own ego. Well, maybe the latter, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a strategy.

They have a plan, all right. They’re playing back, conceding the run, trying to keep this game in doubt into the late innings, where they believe they might just be able to pull it out. And that doesn’t mean overturning the suspension at all, but rather undermining the credibility of the entire process in such a manner that, over the long term, baseball executives, the public and—perhaps most importantly—Hall of Fame voters look back in a few years and wonder: “What was all the fuss about?”

More specifically, it means sowing enough doubt to be able to (1) wrangle one or two more years of professional baseball (where he could move up a few notches in the all-important MLB record books); and (2) foster a reconsideration of the entire episode 7-10 years from now, during what could be his “peak” Hall of Fame consideration years.

Astute analysts rightly point out that A-Rod and his legal team foolishly conducted the arbitration in such a public way as to turn it into a circus, replete with emotional interviews on 60 Minutes and dramatic walkouts during the proceedings. There’s no way you’re going to change an arbitrator’s mind when crazy antics—often incendiary and usually taken out-of-context—are working their way back into the arbitration room. Playing to the court of public opinion doesn’t help you during the legal process, true . . . but that assumes the legal process itself is your goal. In A-Rod’s case, clearly, it isn’t.

So that’s the strategy. Will it work?

I’d have to say no. It didn’t work for Lance Armstrong, who tried a very similar strategy; nor for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom actually received fewer Hall of Fame votes in their second year of eligibility than in their first. Indeed, except for former President Bill Clinton, I can think of no other public figure who used “deny, deny, deny” as a strategy and actually was able to rehabilitate his reputation.

Better, I believe, is the Ryan Braun approach: a heartfelt apology, take your lumps, then see if you can salvage the rest of your career (Braun, in fact, took the unusual step of calling every Milwaukee Brewer’s season ticket holder to personally apologize). Or consider New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte: he admitted, apologized . . . and retired not in ignominy, but glory. In fact, sports insiders I have spoken with are already weighing whether Pettitte deserves to be in the Hall of Fame based on his numbers, with his unfortunate dalliance with performance-enhancing drugs still a factor, but apparently a small one, based upon his contrition.

But in baseball, as in business and legal affairs, timing is everything. And right now we’re living in an era when even the great Mike Piazza can be denied Hall of Fame entry based on nothing more than back acne and the suspicion of a single sports reporter (see, I told you I was a Mets’ fan). So A-Rod’s strategy may seem a little loopy, but a decade hence—who knows? Just as we cheered the home run race of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as suspicions of PEDs were ignored, it is quite possible perspectives will change dramatically over time.

This, I suspect, is why Alex Rodriguez is so intent on continuing the legal battle, and on trying to squeeze a few more years out of his career: not to pad his statistics, not for the money, not for love of the game, but because it puts Hall of Fame voting that much further into the future.

And if nothing else, we know that A-Rod has always had a penchant for the long ball.