Time to Fold ‘Em

Just when things seemed to be getting back to normal for Alex Rodriguez, who has just recently resumed baseball activities after undergoing knee surgery last month, the Yankee superstar has again found himself in a spot of trouble. There is a recent report claiming that A-Rod has been playing in high-stakes poker games, where some participants openly used cocaine.

But shouldn’t we be used to this from Rodriguez? Shouldn’t this not come as much of a shock to anyone who watched the slugger since his early days in Seattle, consistently smack fifty home runs a year, deny use of performance-enhancing drugs to Katie Couric on national TV in 2007, and then confess to steroid use after Selena Roberts broke a story on it in February 2009? Shouldn’t we be used to drama from a player who, minutes before the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, decided to announce that he would opt out of his contract with the Yankees? Shouldn’t we be used to this from the player who, when acquired by the Yankees in 2004, was going to be the centerpiece of the most dangerous lineup in baseball and usher in a new Yankee dynasty, ended up being the goat of their cataclysmic meltdown in the 2004 ALCS?

Shouldn’t we expect this from the man who broke an unwritten baseball rule by trying to slap a ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove? The same man who broke an even bigger unwritten rule by yelling “HA!” to distract a Toronto infielder from catching a pop up is now encroaching upon baseball’s most sacred rule: gambling.

Gambling, which led to the lifetime ban of eight Chicago White Sox players for throwing the 1919 World Series so gamblers would give them a piece of their winnings. Gambling, which has been the reason why baseball’s all-time leader in base hits, Pete Rose, remains on the outside looking in at Cooperstown.

There is a stark difference between the Black Sox and Rose in comparison to A-Rod’s poker games. A-Rod has not thrown any games, he has not placed bets on baseball. But it is a very slippery road to be walking on. With thousands, potentially millions of dollars at stake in these games, just being in that room is a hazard. Especially when you are Alex Rodriguez, the most public of all the Yankee superstars.

“But this is who Alex is”, said one “high-ranking baseball official” in an Ian O’Connor article. And he couldn’t not be more correct. Whether it is being photographed outside of a Toronto strip club with a woman that was not his wife (his wife, Cynthia, would file for divorce in July of 2008), openly dating Madonna and Cameron Diaz, or his steroid use marring his pursuit of 800 home runs, nothing ever comes without drama for A-Rod.

It is imperative that Major League Baseball Commissioner suspend Rodriguez, who had been warned of his poker games in 2005. Clearly, the warning has gone unheeded, and with reports of violence nearly breaking out over large bets not being paid, the last thing A-Rod, the Yankees or the sport needs is for their active leader in career home runs to be caught up in a police investigation the next time that reasonable minds do not prevail in a poker argument. The suspension needs to be harsh, perhaps twenty games, which is a lot for a player whose team is a game behind the Red Sox in the American League East, and still will not be baseball-ready for at least a few weeks.

But this punishment would not be harsh. Not harsh when you compare it to the lifetime bans that Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox received. Not harsh when you compare it to the frustration of a lifetime ban from the sport that Rose suffers every day. That is exactly why Selig must intervene with a strong suspension; a warning to Rodriguez and help prevent one of the games greatest hitters from having another black mark against his record.

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