The final chapter of Major League Baseball's Biogenesis investigation is complete, and the two men at the center of the drama will move on to the next segment of their lives.
Commissioner Bud Selig will spend next week in Arizona, monitoring votes on expanded replay and home plate collisions and tending to other baseball business far from the cold of Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez will confer with his lawyers, public relations consultants and handlers and do whatever else it is that disgraced former Hall of Fame locks with cranky hips and albatross contracts do to occupy their time.
The immediate takeaway: Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz's decision to suspend Rodriguez for the 2014 season and postseason is an enormous victory for Selig and Major League Baseball. Feel free to buy into A-Rod's argument that MLB used questionable tactics and took some shortcuts in a single-minded quest to ruin his life. But the time and money invested in the process reflect a genuine commitment by MLB to address the PED problem -- no matter how many stars are tarnished or how much the game's short-term reputation is damaged.
Selig is set to retire in January 2015, and barring a successful (and desperate) legal challenge that puts Rodriguez back on the field, the commissioner can look forward to an A-Rod-free final year in office. That's a whole lot better than a rocking chair or an oil painting to hang above the fireplace.
It's only natural to view this story emotionally because of the stakes and the principals involved. Even in the best of times, Rodriguez invited skepticism and derision because of his insecurities and seeming lack of comfort in his superstar skin. Now, after 654 home runs, 2,939 hits, three MVP awards and 14 All-Star Games, he's 38 years old and a shell of his former self. There are no farewell tours in his future, no matter how many legal avenues he pursues.
Even a hard-core A-Rod apologist would have a hard time denying that he has lost all credibility -- with fans, the media, most of his fellow players and his employers in the Bronx. There's a fine line between soiling a Cooperstown-caliber career and generating snickers when you go out in public, and A-Rod has officially crossed over into Rafael Palmeiro territory.
While a dozen other players saw the cases assembled against them and accepted the punishments incurred through their involvement with Tony Bosch's Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in South Florida, Rodriguez remained a portrait in self-delusion. He opted for the slash-and-burn approach and lost. Yet even now he insists that he'll be at spring training in Tampa, Fla., in February, ready to go. He's like a cross between Lance Armstrong and Don Quixote.
Nevertheless, A-Rod did hit on something salient in his November interview with WFAN radio's Mike Francesa -- the one he gave after slamming desks and storming out upon learning that Selig wouldn't be called to testify against him in his grievance. Along with proclaiming that Selig "hates my guts" and insisting that he shouldn't have to serve "one inning" because he never, ever touched performance enhancers, A-Rod seemed to recognize that this story isn't entirely about what takes place in the here and now.
"It's about his legacy," Rodriguez said of Selig. "To put me on his big mantel on the way out, that's a hell of a trophy."
Self-serving? Of course. But the legacies are ultimately what will matter, once we've moved on from Twitter and knee-jerk reactions. Once the emotion subsides and we can see the forest and not just the trees, how will this episode in the game's history be viewed in five years, or 10, or 50?
• First, Selig. The two biggest blots on an otherwise strong résumé as commissioner are the 1994 World Series cancellation and the steroid explosion in the 1990s. Selig can never get 1994 back, but Biogenesis at least helps him cast the steroid era in a somewhat different light.
In reality, the steroid era was a group fiasco, starring an obstructionist union and owners who were happy to count the gate receipts, with a less-than-vigilant press and giddy fans aiding and abetting the process. Selig's success in suspending A-Rod, Ryan Braun and a dozen others in the absence of failed drug tests can't change the fact that the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race and Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron occurred on his watch. But it does help Selig make the case that MLB learned from its mistakes and will do anything in its power to attack the problem and that he's leaving the game in a better place for his successor.
• We got a glimpse of Rodriguez's future last week, when Palmeiro dropped off the Hall of Fame ballot with 4.4 percent of the vote and Sosa and McGwire inched closer to oblivion. A-Rod has already admitted to taking performance enhancers in Texas from 2001 to 2003, and any hopes of quarantining those Rangers years and claiming they were an unfortunate lapse in judgment are history. Maybe Bonds and Roger Clemens have a prayer of making it to Cooperstown one day. But A-Rod can kiss his hopes goodbye.
His future in New York beyond the 2014 suspension is a call the Yankees will have to make. Maybe he can return to his native South Florida in 2015, reach a few milestones and sell some tickets for Jeffrey Loria as a Miami Marlin. It won't quite compare with the warmth that Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter elicit when they leave the Bronx. But A-Rod is still owed more than $61 million after next season, and the man needs to do something to occupy his time.
• Beyond the impact on Selig, A-Rod and the Yankees' 2014 payroll, MLB's "war on steroids" will continue to play out against a constantly evolving background. We've seen a profound shift in player sentiment since the 1990s, when the reasonable voices were cowed by the majority and stayed silent. Players are speaking out in abundance about their desire to rid the game of PEDs and staying silent only when it comes to defending the Ryan Brauns and Alex Rodriguezes.
Tony Clark, the union's new executive director, faces a baptism under fire while getting acclimated to his role as the successor to the late Michael Weiner. The players' association needs to be conscious of the sentiments of its members while simultaneously taking steps to ensure that they get due process and their rights under the collective bargaining agreement remain intact. If there's one sure thing, it's that Clark, a respected former player, will have his ear to the ground. The irony is that while the union just fought an exhaustive battle on A-Rod's behalf, the next step in A-Rod's self-preservation tour could be going after the union in court for failing to represent him adequately in the Biogenesis case.
So what comes next in the steroid fight? We'll almost certainly see a move toward stiffer penalties for PED use, with the blessing of both the union and MLB. But players are adamant that accidental violators shouldn't be punished as severely as steroid cheats, and it's going to take some work to craft a solution to that problem.
Sometime next week, or the week after that, it's likely that MLB will send out a press release to announce that another minor leaguer has been suspended for a PED offense. Life goes on, competitive instincts are what they are, and the promise of money and stardom are going to prompt athletes to take shortcuts and make bad choices. If you think it happens in baseball only, you're deluding yourself. Baseball is just held to an exponentially higher standard than football or the other major professional sports. Its spats and soul-searching are messier and are constant fodder for public consumption.
If A-Rod's tragic downfall serves as a lesson to some kid who might have otherwise used PEDs, that's a start. For all the homers and RBIs, the All-Star Games and the lies, his ultimate legacy might be as a cautionary tale.