Don’t Suspend A-Rod if He Didn’t Break the Law

UPDATE: It appears that MLB agrees.

Every so often, like most baseball writers, I look at myself in the mirror and ask myself an important question: Why am I not writing about Alex Rodriguez? Thankfully, the richest Yankee provided me with ample opportunity this week, as Major League Baseball announced that they were once again investigating Rodriguez for his alleged participation in illegal high-stakes poker games. This isn’t the first time that the league has considered Rodriguez’s poker habits: back in 2005, the Yankees and MLB cautioned him about his involvement, informing him that it could be negative for his image and worrying about the propriety of his gambling large sums of money with people who may also wager on baseball.

While the games may have been illegal, it’s not clear that Rodriguez himself broke any laws by merely playing. (The relevant laws depend on where the games took place; Alex is alleged to have played a couple games in California, but RadarOnline.com has also published allegations that Rodriguez attempted to organize his own game in Miami in 2009.) The trouble is that, of all the potential illegal activities Rodriguez could have been connected to, there are few so troubling to baseball as gambling, which has a 90-year history of being baseball’s cardinal sin, inspiring baseball commissioners to overpunish those suspected of gambling for nearly a century.

There have been three major gambling incidents in baseball worth mentioning: the Black Sox scandal, the yearlong Leo Durocher suspension, and the lifetime ban of Pete Rose. Each involved a relatively new commissioner who felt that he needed to make a statement at the beginning of his tenure. We all know about the Black Sox and Pete Rose, but the Durocher scandal is worth remembering because of its relevance to Rodriguez’s current problems.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed as baseball’s first commissioner with the explicit mandate to deal with the greatest scandal in baseball history, the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series, as gambler Arnold Rothstein reputedly offered a number of White Sox (considered much stronger than the Cincinnati Reds team that won the NL that year) a great deal of money to lose the Series. Landis responded by permanently banishing eight members of the Chicago White Sox; for their involvement in the scandal the team has since been known as the “Black Sox,” and those eight players were immortalized in Eliot Asinof’s “8 Men Out” and the film of the same name.

Like Landis, Bart Giamatti came into his office in 1989, while the Pete Rose scandal was taking off. Giamatti retained lawyer John Dowd to investigate Rose, and prevailed on Rose to accept a voluntary lifetime ban from baseball — the same lifetime ban that had been received by the eight men out. After lying for years about his involvement, Rose finally admitted that he had indeed bet on baseball in his 2004 memoir “My Prison Without Bars.”

A quarter-century after the Black Sox, a new commissioner sought to make his own mark on the game by imposing a draconian sentence for gambling. “Happy” Chandler, the commissioner who famously gave Branch Rickey his blessing to integrate the Brooklyn Dodgers, succeeded Landis as commissioner in 1945. And at the time, Dodger manager Leo Durocher was one of the villains of baseball, an obnoxious loudmouth whose taste for fancy clothes, fast women, and poker led him into frequent debt. One of Durocher’s friends was the actor George Raft, who had a lot of dubious friends, and they used to use Durocher’s apartment (when Durocher wasn’t there) for illegal poker games. Durocher was first warned away from Raft, and he obeyed; but Chandler later decided to suspend him for the entire 1947 season anyway. (In a self-serving Sports Illustrated article two decades later, Chandler claimed that the Durocher suspension “probably served to weaken my position as commissioner.”)

Rodriguez, like Durocher, hasn’t done anything wrong in a baseball sense. Gambling on baseball is a serious offense, but gambling itself is a victimless crime, if a crime at all. The trouble for baseball is propriety; that’s why the Yankees and MLB were so pained in 2005, and are so frustrated now. According to the New York Daily News in 2005, Rodriguez “wasn’t ordered to stay out of the clubs… there is little either the Yankees or Selig can do to stop Rodriguez, officials say, because he isn’t breaking the law, even if the club operators are.”

In response to the latest allegations regarding his poker playing, Rodriguez’s publicist issued a notable not-a-denial, and MLB is considering its options. According to ESPN, Major League Baseball is exploring suspending him: “Because he had been warned about this before, I would say a possible suspension would be very much in play.”

As much as I love watching Alex Rodriguez’s ongoing celebrity train wreck — “In a lot of ways Alex is no different than Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears,” one baseball executive told ESPN — I think it would be a very bad precedent if Alex Rodriguez were suspended unless the legal investigation reveals that he actually broke the law. History has looked kindly on the lifetime bans of the Black Sox and of Pete Rose; baseball’s integrity is severely called into question when players and executives under contract place monetary wagers on games. But the Durocher suspension was seen as egregious at the time, and continues to be seen as such┬áby baseball historians.

If Rodriguez wasn’t gambling on baseball, and he didn’t do anything illegal, it would be a horrible precedent for baseball to set. However, that’s not the only thing they would need to worry about. The MLB Players’ Association tends to get up in arms whenever a player is suspended for something that is not explicitly prohibited in the collective bargaining agreement, and well they should be: if Alex Rodriguez was not specifically ordered to stop playing poker, and he continued to play poker, it’s hard to see what grounds MLB has to suspend him. Of course, if he did break the law, the point becomes moot. But the operative consideration should be the law, not baseball’s image.

With Alex Rodriguez, it’s always something. He appears determined to humiliate himself at every juncture. But you can’t punish him for that.

We hoped you liked reading Don’t Suspend A-Rod if He Didn’t Break the Law by Alex Remington!

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Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.

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The Fallen Phoenix
Guest
The Fallen Phoenix

If baseball players aren’t getting suspended for illegal DUIs, then baseball players shouldn’t be getting suspended for playing poker. The former threatens lives; the latter, misguided moral sensibilities.

But, hey, glad to know MLB has its priorities in orders.

Telo
Guest
Telo

It’s interesting.

For the longest time gambling has been at the top of the MLB’s “ranking of infidelities” (above truly heinous things like DUI and domestic abuse), but I don’t think it’s been recently thrust into the spot light of American Pop Culture in, at least not in our current age of Hypersensitivity. (Of course there’s the residual Pete Rose stuff, but a majority of living baseball fans didn’t experience it firsthand.)

See, gambling woes go back a long way in baseball history, as Rem mentioned. Forever (for…eh….ver….) it’s been thought by the baseball community that the biggest threat to the existence and popularity of the league itself is a gambling scandal. But this idea is extremely self centered. You can go home, beat your wife, get a DUI, get in fights – just be a complete prick – and the MLB didn’t care. Survival and self interest has been, and is, their number one priority.

Now, how does this philosophy play out in today’s society? We see a league so greedy and so self absorbed that they turn a blind eye to horrible crimes, and in the same breath bring the hammer down on a man for enjoying himself in private, not hurting or affecting the lives of anyone else, for committing acts that hardly register a blip on the radar of morality.

The hubris is so thick. For the first time in the history of the game I think this stance of the MLB’s will see pushback from the fans and from the sect of society that embraces baseball as more than just a sport. How much longer can they expect to be so blatantly self absorbed, pursuing this gambling villain over all else?

DavidB
Guest
DavidB

Rose was banned in 1989. You honestly think this is not in the memory of most living baseball fans?

buddy
Guest
buddy

At 22 years old, it’s not in the memory of me, the most important fan.

DavidB
Guest
DavidB

Ask your older brother about it. It wasn’t that long ago.

Telo
Guest
Telo

What % of fans are over 40? Maybe half. Majority might be too strong but it’s close

Telo
Guest
Telo

The point is society is different

Telo
Guest
Telo

Anyway I’m wrong about the Pete rose thing, but the point remains. Baseball is larger than life right now, and society is ultra sensitive

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen

23 years old, I have no recollection or connection to the Pete Rose issue, though I very much hope he and Joe Jackson are eventually allowed into the hall of fame.

RC
Guest
RC

DUI’s don’t affect the product on the field. Gambling does.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

How does playing poker affect the product on the field?

Jim
Guest
Jim

He may pull a wrist muscle with his trademark pot-splashing move.

RC
Guest
RC

“How does playing poker affect the product on the field?”

You don’t think playing poker with organized crime figures could affect the product on the field?

Gregory
Guest
Gregory

That’s not an argument, RC.

Desert Rat
Guest
Desert Rat

It does? That’s a pretty bold statement, given the lack of any evidence even remotely suggesting that ARod’s participation in a poker game during his free time affects “the product on the field.” What proof do you have of that statement?

By the way, the 80+ year old Black Sox case did NOT involve guys who threw the game to pay off gambling debts, to my knowledge. It involved guys who could barely make ends meet threw a series to make money for themselves. A totally distinguishable case, particularly given ARod’s $300M+ earnings over his career.

Tom B
Guest
Tom B

Organized crime figures? What?

Telo
Guest
Telo

Yea, I heard he was playing with Matttttt Daaaaaamonnnnn

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

Matt Damon from The Departed does not count as an organized crime figure.

BX
Guest
BX

Gambling ON BASEBALL affects the product on the field. Playing illegal poker games does not.

A-Rod isn’t being accused of gambling on the outcomes of baseball. He’s playing illegal poker games, which don’t involve the outcome of baseball in any way, shape, or form.

Far, far more people die due to drunk driving than they do from violence breaking out from “organized crime figures” at illegal poker games.

baty
Guest
baty

Maybe by their logic, the issue they seek to avoid, is having public awareness of players with possible gambling addictions?

Or, even, sort of a parallel to some of the preventive arguments we hear about certain casual/”for enjoyment” drug habits possibly being a gateway to devastating drug use. So, could a player with a general or even uncontrollable gambling addiction be more likely to let that addiction make it’s way to the baseball field?

Maybe that’s their fear of how the public might perceive shady involvements. It would certainly be a monstrous task to try to rid all leisurely forms of gambling from every individual associated with baseball (sort of the direction in precedent they would be heading towards).

I think they are just using this to take a stab at making a suggestive statement with a very public figure who’s reputation can’t be damaged much more than it already has been.

jim
Guest
jim

RC- You’re a fucking idiot

Brian
Guest
Brian

I suspect neither the Angels nor Nick Adenhart’s family believe that DUIs don’t affect the product on the field.

Desert Rat
Guest
Desert Rat

I don’t even think it’s a morality issue. I played in a perfectly legal poker tournament 3 weeks ago hosted to benefit my son’s Catholic school, and the parish priest was in the chair next to me at the table.

I think it’s more a paranoia issue based (misguidedly) on something that happened almost a century ago (and which, as I noted earlier, did not involve players who had previously accrued gambling debts, at least not to my knowledge).

A multimillionaire dropped a couple thousand in a poker game–is that really the major crisis facing the game today?

SKob
Guest

Are you seriously comparing a charity poker tournament to high stakes underground poker?

The gambling thing with baseball was described very well by telo above. Completely self-serving and while baseball cares about it’s image, the integrity of the game being played is the top priority.

Saying this has nothing to do with gambling on basbeall is kind of like saying ‘yeah he works in a strip club, but I don’t know why his wife would be worried’!

Tom B
Guest
Tom B

No, it’s not like saying that at all.

it’s like saying “he bought a deck of cards… he must be in the mob.”

I would gather this is one of the least illegal things a player has ever been in the news for.

Rob
Guest
Rob

wait…you’re citing a priest’s participation as evidence that something is moral?

That said, I agree with your larger point.

Jon
Guest
Jon

No, it’s like saying “he’s playing in underground poker games at which large debts are incurred without legally enforceable contracts.”