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Rodriguez vs. Selig – The PR Battle for the Soul of Baseball

Rodriguez vs. Selig – The PR Battle for the Soul of Baseball

Last week, Alex Rodriguez and his lawyers filed suit against the MLB and then against the New York Yankees shortly after. The legal implications are not nearly as interesting, nor as important as the damage the Complaint can do to the public perception of the MLB investigative process.

The allegations set forth by A-Rod are salacious and embarrassing for the MLB, and outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig. Among the allegations, Rodriguez claims league investigators engaged in a “witch hunt” to “smear Rodriguez at all costs”, including presenting a witness $150,000 in cash to obtain Rodriguez’s medical records from Anthony Bosch. Rodriguez also alleges that one of the investigators, Dan Mullin, was involved in a sexual relationship with one of the witnesses. Another one of the more provocative and eye-opening arguments concerns the multiple leaks of “information and misinformation”, where Rodriguez claims that MLB officials had such a vendetta against him that they were willing to work outside of legal due process to suspend A-Rod.

For all of Selig’s success as Commissioner, (expanding the playoffs and record profits for the league), his follies (1994 Strike and the Steroid Era) make him an easy target for criticism. The perception of Selig as an old, outdated, incompetent leader is at the heart of Rodriguez’s strategy to recoup the near $30 million the MLB could take from A-Rod if the 211 game suspension stands. The lawsuit also works to make Selig look like a vendetta-driven overseer, which actually works to make A-Rod look like not only the victim, but a man justified in trying to take down the system.

There’s recent precedent And he should. Over the past three years, we have seen sports commissioners overreach in well intentioned, but overzealous attempts to enact justice. When the penalties were met with resistance, each Commissioner’s decree fell apart. There was Roger Goodell and the “Bounty Gate” where the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, and six other teammates were vacated due to a lack of evidence. This was an huge embarrassment for Goodell who staked his reputation on this investigation, only to watch his punishments overturned by his predecessor.

Then there was NCAA President Mark Emmert, who invoked heavy sanctions on Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky investigation. For as corrupt Penn State officials were during the Sandusky years, many feared that the NCAA was unfairly punishing Penn State, who were already facing serious criminal charges. Many of those sanctions were recently repealed or reduced after it became evident to some members of Congress that the NCAA overreached as well.

If the Penn State can elicit sympathy for wrongdoing, I’m fairly certain A-Rod can and will push the MLB to the brink regarding their actions in conducting their investigation.

While the legality of Rodriguez’s lawsuit is questionable at best, it raises some important questions about the legitimacy of the conduct of MLB’s investigators and Commissioner Selig. Why were there deliberate leaks solely about A-Rod? How was the MLB able to obtain sealed medical records without Rodriguez’s permission? Why would Selig preen about an ongoing investigation on Letterman?

The longer this drags on the more questions will be asked, and the more the public will shift their focus on the MLB’s practices, instead of steroid cheat. A-Rod’s going to fight this, because there’s too much money on the line for him to retreat on the issue. Baseball can ill-afford the biggest steroid cheat to win the PR-wars, but with A-Rod this desperate, the fight is only going to get uglier the longer it drags on. They will settle to save face, because they are fighting against quite the unique monster. A-Rod has no reputation left to uphold, no legitimate records, no Hall of Fame, no good will left with fans. MLB officials will figure out that settling will do a lot less harm than allowing A-Rod to dominate headlines with a smear campaign. The last thing Selig wants to be is the next Mark Emmert or Roger Goodell, because there’s no coming back from that.