By Murray Chass

January 31, 2013

It is premature to know the outcome of the latest L’Affair Alex, but it has demonstrated one drastically different development from a similar incident two decades ago. Earlier this week the New York Yankees adopted a position that was 180 degrees from their stance in the Steve Howe case in July 1992.Alex Rodriguez Head 225

Alex Rodriguez is embroiled in yet another case in which he is alleged to have used performance-enhancing substances. He has denied using them in recent years, but we have heard that before. Given that experience, it was not surprising that the Yankees didn’t issue a statement of support for him.

Instead they supported the commissioner, saying:

“We fully support the Commissioner’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. This matter is now in the hands of the Commissioner’s Office. We will have no further comment until that investigation has concluded.”

When Howe, a veteran relief pitcher, incurred the seventh suspension of his career for violating the commissioner’s drug program, the Yankees issued no support for that program. Instead, en masse – president, general manager, manager – they attended a hearing before the then commissioner Fay Vincent and supported Howe.

Vincent and the deputy commissioner, Steve Greenberg, criticized their decision to support their player and not the drug program, and the Yankees protested the commissioner’s treatment of them.

George Steinbrenner did not complain. He was under suspension at the time. But Vincent kept him abreast of the Howe developments.

“I called him in advance to tell him what I was doing,” Vincent recalled in a telephone conversation Wednesday “He said do what you have to do. Steinbrenner was first rate on that.” Of the others, Vincent said they supported Howe because “they might have needed him to get a few outs in the ninth inning.”

As it turned out, an arbitrator reduced the length of Howe’s suspension, buying the argument of Howe’s lawyer, the unbeatable Richard Moss, that the pitcher suffered from attention deficit disorder that had gone untreated through all of his suspensions.

If Major League Baseball establishes that the report in the weekly Miami New Times is valid, Rodriguez will need a Howe-type fortune to rescue him from a 50-game suspension. Members of the news media, who have long displayed their contempt for Rodriguez, are rooting feverishly for suspension because they believe it would give the Yankees grounds on which to void the remaining 5 years and $114 million in his record contract.

One example of the media view comes from ESPN.com in an article it posted Tuesday:

“If Major League Baseball disciplines Alex Rodriguez over the latest illegal performance-enhancing drug allegations, the New York Yankees plan on exploring multiple avenues in an attempt to void the star third baseman’s contract.”

A baseball official familiar with the Yankees’ thinking told me that idea is pure unadulterated fiction. ESPN.com basically acknowledged that itself, following its lead paragraph by quoting “several baseball sources”: as saying, “Rodriguez might be in little danger of having his contract voided, even if the charges turn out to be true. There is no precedent to successfully void a contract in baseball over PEDs.”

In another example, The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner, who always writes of Rodriguez with disdain, cited the slugger’s “con” and “deceit” in inducing the Yankees to sign him to a 10-year, $275 million contract 5 years ago.

Kepner’s column and an accompanying article didn’t even grant Rodriguez the presumption of innocence, as in innocent until proven guilty. The word alleged appeared nowhere.

Alex Rodriguez Biogenesis 225Rodriguez might very well have used the illegal substances the New Times report accuses him of having used from 2009 through 2012, but neither M.L.B. nor law enforcement authorities have uncovered evidence to make similar charges.

The information in the New Times supposedly came from former employees of a defunct south Florida anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis, which was owned by Anthony Bosch. The article said former employees told of Bosch “would openly brag about selling drugs to Rodriguez.”

Impressively detailed and written by Tim Elfrink, the article has the ring of believability. Without knowing details of the alleged drug use, I found only one mistake. The article said Melky Cabrera’s positive result last August came from a blood test; it was a urine test. Blood tests take effect this year.

If the reporter made up any of the other drug details he cites, he’s wasting his time writing for a weekly newspaper in Florida; he should be writing novels or screenplays and being paid a lot of money for creative fiction.

But even if it’s all true, M.L.B. has to confirm it before we put A-Rod out to pasture.

“We are going to investigate this as thoroughly as possible, then decide what we are going to do,” said Rob Manfred, a high-ranking baseball executive.

Yahoo! Sports reported that baseball officials plan to go to Florida to meet with New Times editors and lawyers in an effort to get the documents the newspaper used in its report.

The newspaper’s editor-in-chief was quoted as saying, “We will most certainly take that request very seriously.”

Though it’s a weekly newspaper, I would hope its editors would be professional enough to reject any such request from M.L.B. How could anyone trust a newspaper that became known as an arm of any sports league?

Half a dozen players were named in the article, and there might be more named in the documents that weren’t used for lack of sufficient information. Those named were Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez of Washington, Nelson Cruz of Texas, Cabrera of Toronto, Bartolo Colon of Oakland and Yasmani Grandal of San Diego.

Cabrera, Colon and Grandal were suspended for 50 games after testing positive for illegal substances last season. They face 100-game suspensions if they are caught a second time.

Having a group of names surfacing elsewhere than M.L.B. is reminiscent of the primary source of the 2007 Mitchell report. Most of the players named in George Mitchell’s investigation were provided by a steroids dealer, Kirk Radomski, who gave baseball the names to avoid prosecution by Federal authorities.Melky Cabrera All Star MVP

There has been no indication of a similar deal in south Florida, where law enforcement officials don’t seem to be investigating. The Justice Department might have abandoned the steroids investigation following the failed – botched – prosecutions of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The government was criticized for spending too much money and time for getting nothing in return.

That’s why M.L.B. is apparently in this alone and is investigating without subpoena power and assistance from the Feds.

“We know they’re investigating,” said David Prouty, the union’s chief labor counsel. “We’ve spoken to them about the investigation. We anticipate at some point M.L.B. will want to talk to the players. We’re talking to people ourselves to try to make sense of it.”

Vincent, the former commissioner, was skeptical of the denials.

“Who’s going to believe the players after Rose and Armstrong?” he asked, referring to Pete Rose, in whose banishment from baseball he was involved, and Lance Armstrong. “Some of them are telling the truth, but it’s difficult to believe them after everything.”

Vincent favors a drug-testing rule similar to baseball’s rule prohibiting betting on baseball. Violate the rule once, and you’re out.

“The rule has worked,” he said in a telephone interview. “That deterrent really works. I think we’re going to come to it in baseball. Three bites at the steroids apple doesn’t work.”

M.L.B. and the union have made testing increasingly harder for players to evade positive tests. The two sides have agreed to blood testing for the first time, and players, Manfred said, will find it more difficult to use the kind of drug regimen alleged Biogenesis players might have used.

Vincent, though, raised another deterrent, the one that is used in Saudi Arabia to stop people from committing any kind of theft. Thieves, he pointed out, have their hands cut off.

“Petty theft doesn’t exist with the Saudis,” he said.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.