The gift that keeps on giving -- A-Rod

In the mad, mad, mad, mad world of the unsinkable Alex Rodriguez these are the best of times. There he sits at the epicenter of that narrow universe he has so long occupied with occasional degrees of dominance. And yet never before has it been quite so unequivocally ..."all about Him."

Who could ask for anything more?

For the rest of us -- at least those foolish enough to give a hoot -- it's an insufferable spectacle. Nor is there an end in sight. It's baseball's version of "Sunset Boulevard" with A-Rod -- he of the once smashing profile -- starring with colossal conceit in the role of the aging, fading, matinee idol who can't abide the fundamental fact that the party's over.

Make no mistake about it -- it is over, no matter what the outcome of this ongoing travesty.

If (heaven help us) Rodriguez somehow triumphs in arbitration or (worse still) succeeds thereafter in the courts while bringing about a seismic upheaval in the game he professes to love, then his infamy will achieve historic proportions. He will be sure to be vividly remembered as are -- inevitably -- all the villains in the annals of whatever endeavor they choose to disgrace. If that's what he yearns for, he's already won and he can revel in all that until the cows come home if he's dumb enough.

If, however, it's a kind of redemption he craves like a rebirth of stardom on the field, or a restoration in the ranks of colleagues off the field, or a return to cultural eminence in the wider society then he should forget about it. Those battles have been lost. He has no chance. All of that's over. In the end, it's only about money; a fair amount maybe -- roughly a hundred million minus the king's ransom he's hemorrhaging to defend himself with an all-star team of high-priced Manhattan barristers. But it's still just money. That's all it's about. Honor has little to do with it. This only adds to the bitterness.

Rodriguez is finished as a player. Even if he escapes unscathed the minefield he currently wanders and beats his 211 game suspension entirely he'll be verging on 39 and unable to play regularly; a plodding injury prone infielder with bad hips, diminished reactions, little speed, and waning track power who'd go unclaimed on the waiver wire even if he were not saddled with that hideous contract. More importantly, he is a pariah; an embarrassment to his team, a joke to opponents, a hopeless distraction.

You will recall the other dozen PED offenders ensnared in the Biogenesis web socked with suspensions have already served their time, paid for their folly, and moved on. Lingering effects are not apparent. One of them -- infielder Johnny Peralta ex-of the Tigers and hardly a star -- has just copped a four year $52 million pact with the Cardinals. That strongly suggests crimes of the dirty dozen will not unduly burden them further should they now remain clean.

Of course, Rodriguez got the stiffest sentence -- 211 games -- more than four times what was levied on the others. Was it reasonable? He was alone and unquestionably the repeat offender having confessed to PED abuse earlier in his career. He alone was charged with being a recruiter for Biogenesis, a veritable Johnny Appleseed alleged to have led colleagues merrily astray. He alone was charged with blocking the inquiry with an assortment of tricks aimed at muddling and dissembling. He alone is uncontrite.

Most important of all, he alone is A-Rod; the biggest, most bombastic, and highest paid star in the entire game by his own insistence and thus reasonably held to a higher standard. Is that fair? Let's put it this way. From those to whom much is given, much is expected. Even in Baseball!

Rodriguez has a right to defend himself and may even have decent grounds; not so much on the performance enhancement drug complaints which he continues to find mighty hard to refute as on the tougher, murkier charges of abetment and obstruction which to the lords of baseball were even more serious.

Whether he has the right to threaten to bring down the arbitration process and decimate the drug abuse program and stretch the process endlessly with every cute lawyer's trick in the book, bringing ridicule upon the game and its leadership while turning the entire business into a Marx Brothers' production starring his shameless self as MC and chief jester is quite another matter.

To the game and its fans, the core question -- apart from all the dubious folderol -- remains quite simple. Did A-Rod, already an admitted offender who had elaborately apologized for past indiscretions promising never to do it again, willfully violate the binding, new PED regulations with obvious contempt for the new and much stiffer mindset on the issue?

A-Rod contends he received only "legal supplements" from his old buddy, Anthony Bosch, curator of the dubious Biogenesis clinic in Miami. Here's the question -- Why in the name of common sense would anyone in his right mind seek vitamin pills from a character like Bosch at a place like Biogenesis? Interestingly none of the other players connected with the now shuttered clinic and its now disgraced curator dare suggest such an excuse. Men have been hanged on less evidence.

In retrospect, it's amazing to consider some actually thought the arbitration hearing might be finished by the World Series with a decision coming from Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz by Thanksgiving. That was probably never realistic which does not make what now looms as the reality any less absurd. Mr. Horowitz seems a very temperate fellow. That is a good thing. He needs to be.

The hearings are over but ongoing is a round of legal briefs and responses that could last until Dec. 21 and with A-Rod having a battalion of voracious legal-beagles needing to earn their pay you can expect this too will go to the deadline. After which the arbitrator has 25 days to make his decision, which would carry things on to at least Jan. 15. Then, if to any degree the decision is unsatisfactory to Team A-Rod, you may bet the ranch, old Sport, they'll seek an injunction blocking any action by Major League Baseball and if that's lifted -- and even if it ain't --they'll surely march on to the courts to press their law suits (plural) against MLB. Amen!

How is that for a fetching scenario? The guessing here is this thing could roll on indefinitely. But can A-Rod find a way to achieve his principal objective which is to continue playing as he did on appeal last summer thereby collecting those handsome wages even as his efficacy as a player dwindles and the process grinds on and on. Now, that -- old Sport -- is the question.

Most deeply affected by all this blithering nonsense -- you will be glad to hear -- are the Yankees. In this crucial off-season when the pressure is heavily on them to revive sinking fortunes they have the Rodriguez mess completely confusing their situation.

Their goal is to bring their payroll below the $189,000,000 mark, thus avoiding MLB's new, potentially crippling, luxury tax penalties. Only a darn fool or total nut would willingly pay them and George Steinbrenner has been dead several years now. Finally and for the first time in my lifetime, money is truly an issue for the erstwhile Bronx Bombers.

The payroll-hit for A-Rod next season is $32 million. If they don't have to pay him, the Yanks could spend that dough on a couple of choice free-agents to go with the ex-Braves catcher Brian McCann, whom they've already plucked. With such flexibility, they might rebound quite swiftly. By the time the A-Rod issue is resolved -- if it is resolved -- all the 'choice' free-agents will be long gone.

In one mighty act of revenge, A-Rod could sabotage the Yankee's master plan, which would doubtless greatly please Red Sox Nation. Frankly, my friends -- with all due respect -- I'd find that rather difficult to swallow.