Updated at: 07/31/2013 7:05 PM
By TIM DAHLBERG
The Detroit Tigers know what’s coming, so they went out and got themselves a new shortstop for the rest of the season. The Yankees know, too, though they don’t seem nearly as concerned about their upcoming loss.
The dominoes are falling in baseball’s latest drug scandal and by now everyone but Alex Rodriguez has a good idea what their punishment will be. For A-Rod, it’s a bit more complicated, though the one thing that seems virtually certain is that he’ll never put on the pinstripes again.
The Yankees don’t want him, and neither does baseball. Long a target of fans because of his oversized contract and unchecked ego, he’s now the biggest target of the biggest probe Major League Baseball has ever launched into the drug use that has infested the sport for the better part of two decades.
Ryan Braun got nearly a half year off for lying and cheating, but A-Rod will surely get more. Right now the over-under seems to be the rest of this year and next, but there’s speculation Bud Selig could use his power to try to ban Rodriguez for life if he fights it.
It’s almost unthinkable. The player who once seemed destined to go down as one of the greatest to play the game could be banned for life from that very game.
Think that might cause some other players to think twice before they juice again?
"Nobody will take these drugs if they believe the minute they are caught they’re out for good," former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said. "They just won’t."
A lifetime ban might seem a bit extreme, though in A-Rod’s case it goes beyond the simple use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Yankees expect him to be accused of recruiting other athletes to a Miami clinic where drugs were dispensed, and trying to obstruct MLB’s investigation into the clinic. He also faces questions about whether he was truthful with baseball when asked about his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, who pleaded guilty two years ago to a federal charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States from Canada.
Just how harsh the penalty will be, by all accounts, depends largely on whether Rodriguez is willing to make a deal. Either way, this is Selig’s best chance to finally make a statement against the scourge of PEDs in baseball.
"You can’t have the game knocked off by these drugs," Vincent said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Either we win or chemistry wins, and if chemistry wins there is no game."
So far chemistry has the lead, as evidenced by the way the record book has been rewritten in the Steroids Era. Even with better testing, harsher suspensions and a change in the culture of the once obstinate players’ union in recent years, the latest scandal shows PEDs still are rampant in baseball.
Take a look at the quality of players expected to be punished. They include not only A-Rod, but also Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta _ all picked for the 2013 All-Star game. Another 2013 All-Star, Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, was suspended last year following a positive testosterone test, as were Toronto outfielder Melky Cabrera and San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal, though they aren’t expected to receive additional time off.
There are others, a dozen or so in all who will be penalized. But it is Rodriguez who dominates the conversation, and it is Rodriguez who surely will take the biggest hit of all.
He wanted to get back on the field before his punishment was imposed, but the Yankees were having none of it. Tricked once already into giving A-Rod a $275 million, 10-year contract, the Steinbrenner sons weren’t about to be tricked again just when baseball is about to take a giant problem _ and at least part of a giant salary _ off their hands.
It’s hard to be sympathetic toward A-Rod, mostly because he’s not a sympathetic figure. If what he’s accused of doing is accurate _ and the guess is baseball has even more on Rodriguez than has been leaked _ he’s made a mockery of the game that has made him rich beyond belief.
Some of those riches came because he cheated the game and the fans who thought they were paying to see an honest at-bat. He also cheated every player who doesn’t have half his talent, yet somehow found the resolve to refuse to take PEDs no matter the potential financial rewards.
"The games have to have rules and they have to be played fairly, or they’re not games," Vincent said. "If we can’t stop this, we’re going to have professional wrestling instead of real competition."
Actually, professional wrestling might be a good fit for Rodriguez. He would have to play the role of a villain, of course, but that’s something he’s had practice doing already.
Whatever A-Rod does, his spectacular fall should be a cautionary tale to athletes everywhere. This was a guy who didn’t need to cheat to be great, yet he cheated anyway.
If he’s a scapegoat for those before him who were never caught, then so be it. If he never again plays a game in the major leagues, then too bad.
Whatever punishment he gets, he brought it on himself.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)