In Defense of A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez is one of the highest paid athletes of all time.  He also has to be one of the most despised.  But this is precisely why the Yankees and MLB officials are getting away with a blatant effort to cheat A-Rod out of money for activities from which they benefited financially.

Yes, it is obvious that A-Rod has used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) that are banned by baseball.  Yes, A-Rod often behaves like a jerk.  But being a jerk who cheats with drugs does not explain why the MLB is seeking much higher punishment of A-Rod than other baseball players who are also PED-using jerks.

The explanation is money.  If A-Rod is suspended for using banned substances the Yankees do not have to pay him during his suspension.  Given A-Rod’s sky-high salary, that saves the Yankees a large chunk of change.  It also lowers the Yankee’s payroll enough to avoid the “luxury tax” imposed on big spending teams.  And given that A-Rod has been injured and a sub-par player recently, losing his availability is a minor inconvenience to the Yankees relative to their enormous potential savings.  The Yankees are rooting for a big penalty.

I know that it is hard to feel bad for A-Rod.  He gets paid so much and has been such a disappointing player.  But the Yankees were dumb enough to sign a contract for his outrageous salary.  They shouldn’t be able to sneak out it by exploiting A-Rod’s unpopularity.  Justice is not achieved by cheating the disliked.  Justice requires that people get what they are owed, even if they are unpopular.

And for all those fans who despise A-Rod and other professional athletes for their high salaries, remember that the owners have even higher salaries and are making profits off of the players even after promising them enormous sums.  The professional athletes have extraordinary talents for which we, the fans, voluntarily pay large amounts of money to team owners who voluntarily offer high salaries to players.  Those players deserve every penny they are promised.  Hating talented people who earn large amounts of money is nothing but petty jealousy.

A system where team owners don’t have to pay players who are caught using PEDs unreasonably benefits the owners and encourages cheating.  Owners offer enormous salaries for higher-performing players, which provides incentives to players to use PEDs.  The owners benefit from those cheating players because of their higher performance.  If the players are caught, only the player suffers.  The owner, who benefited from the cheating, is off the hook financially and experiences no other loss from the cheating other than the loss of the availability of that player.

A better system of incentives would require owners to pay players even if they are suspended for PEDs.  This would provide a strong incentive to owners to avoid signing players who they strongly suspect to be cheating.  In turn, it would discourage players from using PEDs in the hopes of getting a better contract.  And it would encourage teams to monitor their own players more tightly to make sure they were not using PEDs.  If we want to drastically reduce the use of PEDs in baseball we can’t let the owners off the hook financially when players are caught.

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11 Responses to In Defense of A-Rod

  1. Collin Hitt says:

    Jay,

    The Yankees benefited from A-Rod’s steroid use. But you can argue that A-Rod defrauded them, or at least lied to them, to inflate the value of his current contract. He put up incredible numbers after joining the Yanks in 2004. In 2007, they re-upped his contract for $275 million – at that same time, A-Rod was vehemently denying steroid use. It was in 2009 that he admitted to using PEDs while with the Rangers, and said ” “All my years in New York have been clean.” That claim is now seriously in question. A-Rod used PEDs that inflated his performance, which in turn inflated his market value, which the Yankees paid. Now his PED use is exposed and his value to the Yankees – which goes far beyond his on field performance – has tanked. The Yankees can argue – though to my knowledge have not argued – that their contract with A-Rod rests upon a bed of lies.

    Now, all of that presumes that the Yankees were blind to A-Rod’s (alleged) ongoing PED use. Color me skeptical.

    I agree with your general prescription. Teams should pay when players get suspended. But I don’t think the players should get the money either. I’d propose that when PED use is detected, players should be suspended without pay and teams should be fined an amount equal to players’ lost pay. Obviously, if both player and team have everything to lose, they have additional incentive to collude in a cover-up. There’s a fix to that: allow teams to terminate contracts without severance if teams’ own internal investigations reveal PED use.

    • I really like your suggestions. Make both teams and players liable to lose money if the league catches ped use. But I don’t buy the argument that A-Rod misled the Yankees. They were willfully ignorant as long as he played well.

  2. Ann in L.A. says:

    I don’t mind the money sloshing through sports; it’s given to the teams voluntarily by their supporters. Nor do I mind that players and owners take home barrels of the stuff. I mind when they turn around and claim poverty and helplessness every time they need/want a new stadium–and expect the public to then involuntarily fund it through taxes. With all that money coursing through the veins of big sports, they should set aside some of it for future capital expenses, like stadia.

    • I entirely agree. And I’m just as opposed to states offering tax breaks to attract particular companies to their state. Companies should pay for their own facilities and taxes should be equal on all of them.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    I support your position on this both as a passionate advocate of justice and as a congenital Red Sox fan. Anything that helps the Yankees has to be evil!

    For the record, yes, this is the only possible thing that could have moved me to side with A-Rod. The enemy of my enemy is my friend!

  4. Minnesota Kid says:

    Jay,

    Suppose a professor “cheated” by embellishing his C.V. with publications that he swore he actually authored (but didn’t). A university hires him and gets a boost in its institutional ranking because it’s new hire is so well published. Then it turns out that he didn’t actually publish some of those articles. Would you argue that the university should be forced to pay his high contractual salary and cannot fire him? Both cases involve performance fraud perpetrated by the employee. I don’t see a clear disanalogy.

    • The difference is that universities suffer if it is suspected that their faculty cheat even if those faculty are never formally caught. Teams, on the other hand, don’t suffer from players with a dirty reputation as long as those players don’t get caught. This provides teams with an incentive to tolerate (and even encourage) cheating as long as the MLB never catches them.

      My proposal (amended by Collin) would make teams behave more like universities and avoid players who are known to be dirty even if they are never officially caught. It would also provide incentives to teams to monitor their own players, as universities monitor their own faculty.

  5. Mike G. says:

    A-Rod is getting 50 games for first offense, 100 games for second offense, another 50 games for refusing to admit it (compared to 12 colleagues who did, sort of like a plead deal).

    Plus 8 games for being a total d-bag, 7 games for the divorce/weird stripper thing, 3 games for trying to knock the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove, and 3 games for Madonna.

    But he gets 10 games of relief for not signing with Red Sox back in 2004. Whew.

    • How was this A-Rod’s second violation when he was never previously suspended for PED use? Earlier allegations or admissions that were not considered formal violations don’t count, just like Ryan Braun’s earlier incident without formal violation doesn’t count.

      In addition, there are reports that A-Rod helped the investigation while the other players did not. So why do they get the plea deal but he doesn’t?

      Don’t get me wrong, I’d tack on 100 games just for Madonna, but that’s my whole point. Being a jerk is not justification for stealing people’s money — even if they have a ton of money and aren’t very good anymore.

  6. Mike G. says:

    I agree. Selig claims the 100 games for a second offense; it’s his justification, not mine.

    There’s a good analysis on Grantland that mostly jibes with yours.

    http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/70997/defending-a-rod-breaking-down-the-rodriguez-appeal

    Also, it’s rumored that Selig tacked on a few games for A-Rod’s support of Common Core.

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