Why A-Rod Tried a Strategic Temper Tantrum

Rodriguez arrives at Major League Baseball headquarters in New York on Nov. 19 Photograph by Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Alex Rodriguez had an interesting day yesterday.

After walking out of the arbitration hearing for his appeal of the 211-game suspension handed down in August by Major League Baseball, and cursing at the league’s chief operating officer on his way out the door, Rodriguez and one of his lawyers went on the radio and told WFAN’s Mike Francesa that the arbitration has been “a disgusting process for everyone.” The New York Yankees third baseman explained that he’d lost his temper after the arbitrator, Fredric Horowitz, decided that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig didn’t have to testify. Briefcases were kicked, and tables were banged.

A-Rod’s tantrum was (another) nice piece of theater, but was it anything else? Does the accused performance-enhancing slugger have a strategy here? And is it any good? Bloomberg Businessweek put these questions to Gabriel Feldman, director of Tulane University Law School’s sports law program:

Does A-Rod have a legitimate complaint? How would you rate the fairness of MLB’s appeal process?

It’s all relative. If one asked NFL players, they might contend it’s more fair than the process they have to contend with for off-the-field issues, with no resort to independent review. But [MLB’s] process is not atypical in labor situations. In many senses it’s precisely what Congress intended. The idea is to have a more efficient, cost-effective, quicker process to resolve disputes without them having go to court.

Does it matter whether Selig shows?

It’s hard for me to speculate. I don’t know what Selig could testify to that [MLB Chief Operating Officer] Rob Manfred could not testify to and whether it would have any impact on the outcome. The key issue here is not whether you or I or anyone disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision. The whole premise of the arbitration process is that it is a final and binding proceeding.

There are only very narrow circumstances under which a party can challenge the arbitrator’s decision. That does not include: We would have decided the case differently. It has to rise to the level of fraud or bias, or the decision has to be so far beyond the scope of the collective bargaining agreement that there is no basis whatsoever for the decision. It is very difficult for Rodriguez to make that argument here when, from what I understand, Selig has never testified in these cases.

What are the chances that A-Rod and his lawyers could get this moved into a federal court?

If they choose to file a lawsuit challenging the results of this proceeding, they’ll get in court. The question is will a judge be willing to entertain any arguments about the validity of the hearing, the results, or the process. And that’s a long shot. This may be the closest they can get to arguing that the process is fraudulent, or that the arbitrator is biased, or that the decision not to require the commissioner to testify was arbitrary and capricious.

So this was a strategic temper tantrum? Or did A-Rod just flip out?

Certainly superficially, it appears that this was a partly orchestrated temper tantrum. One would hope that this was strategic and not purely emotional. It’s very dangerous, based on just pure emotion, to walk out of a final and binding proceeding merely because you disagree with a decision made by the decision-maker. This may be a way for them to hedge their bets. Perhaps they believe this gives them both a chance to have the suspension reduced at the hearing and also gives them their strongest case to make in federal court that the arbitration hearing itself was a sham.

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