America has had more than a week to digest Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension by Major League Baseball. ARod’s legal team has rattled their sabers a little more, suggesting legal appeals to the suspension on top of the current Player’s Association appeal already underway.
Leading up to the suspension, the chattering class of the sports journalism wondered if Rodriguez would face a lifetime ban, effective immediately, under the “Best Interests of Baseball” power that has allowed previous commissioners to ban the likes of Pete Rose and the Black Sox of 1919. But for MLB, putting Rodriguez on the field might be the best option.
Unlike the other players suspended for cheating, who are taking their lumps immediately, Rodriguez will run out each night in front of tens of thousands of fans. Many of them may be buying tickets solely to boo him. He’ll get no break at The Stadium, where the fans would give him guff even when he didn’t have the stench of cheating wafting off of him. For the next month and a half before the Yankees’ lost 2013 season mercifully ends, Rodriguez will be front and center. Discussions about him will not be abstract, conducted through attorneys and spokespersons.
Since the suspension for Rodriguez is so much more severe than any of the other players, that type of debate would certainly benefit him, if only marginally. Fans might lose their edge if the question becomes how long ARod should be suspended, rather than whether he should sit out. Public anger against cheaters can only subside if the matter drags into next March with public enemy number one out of the public eye.
Instead, ARod will get an earful.
By creating a situation where Rodriguez is constantly in the public eye, MLB gets to watch its verdict vindicated in the court of public opinion. When the jeers rain down on ARod, MLB will let the fans be the messengers to other players. Public opinion will become clear to those who would be outspoken about the outsized suspension, as well as to players who are candidates to get caught in the next giant steroids scandal (like David Ortiz).
MLB will, naturally, be helped by Rodriguez’s apparent combination of narcissism and a complete and utter lack of self awareness.