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A-Rod Arbitration: Distinguishing Guilt from Due Process

The long anticipated punishment for Yankees’ third baseman, Alex Rodriguez came as no surprise this week. The remainder of the PED suspects agreed to a plea bargain with MLB, opting to accept their respective 50 game suspensions rather than risk greater penalty. In the style that has come to exemplify A-Rod’s approach to the Biogenesis investigation, he has armed himself with a formidable defense team and has chosen to appeal. Recalcitrance rather than penance?

His actions and his alleged abuse of performance enhancing drugs have angered many major league players. There are those who believe that for the good of the game he should accept his penalty with grace. Few in his camp are claiming he is innocent of the allegations. Despite earlier pronouncements of innocence in the infancy of the investigation even the former MVP is skirting that subject.

So why opt for an arbitration that is bolstered by the fact that the other dirty dozen have acknowledged the legitimacy of the accusations with their acceptance of the suspensions? How does the Players’ Association support an appeal when the remainder of the accused players have capitulated?

In the criminal justice system there are reasons, other than guilt or innocence, that justify seeking a trial in an obvious losing cause. Cases where there is overwhelming evidence of guilt are sometimes contested because the penalties being proposed are out of the realm of what is reasonable punishment for the crime. Labor discipline cases are sometimes contested for the same reason. In any fact finding process where the result is some type of sanction there are two areas of potential conflict. The first is whether the facts support the allegations; but even in the instances where they do, the issue of the extent of the sanction is often contested.

It’s doubtful that Rodriguez’ camp will be able to mount a factual defense in this forum. The burden of proof does not equate with the standard for criminal convictions–proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Generally in labor discipline cases the quantum of proof is substantially less. In most cases the standard is whether there was “just cause” for the discipline.

Labor arbitration is generally a creature of contract; that is, the right to arbitration, and the process itself, is governed by the collective bargaining agreement between the union and management. Labor contracts generally provide for what is called progressive discipline. While certain offenses are so egregious that termination is called for, in all other instances most labor agreements provide for a series of escalating penalties for each successive violation.

Central to the A-Rod defense is the claim that MLB has not adhered to the progression in bypassing the agreed penalty for a first violation of the contract. The 50 game suspensions imposed on the others is the penalty associated with a first violation of the league drug rules.

A-Rod may be as guilty as Cain, but he has the right to be treated fairly in the process. While an arbitrator may acknowledge his rights to due process of law, the reaction of fans since his return to the Yankees last week shows that he has lost the battle in the court of public opinion.

Rich Meehan