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Breaking Down the A-Rod Complaint

Alex Rodriguez’s future in baseball is tenuous at best. The Yankee third-baseman was originally suspended by Commissioner Bud Selig for a record 211 games. The discipline stemmed from violations of MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement (JDA).  These violations included the use of performance enhancing drugs and the destruction of incriminating evidence.  In response, Rodriguez noted that he had passed 11 drug tests over the period in issue and that the MLB lacked sufficient reliable evidence.

Rodriguez pled his case in a 12-day arbitration hearing in front of a 3-member panel presided over by Frederic Horowitz. Rodriguez contended that even if he is guilty of taking banned substances, the JDA provides for an imposition of a 50-game suspension for first-time offenders. Horowitz found that the JDA was not binding in terms of suspension length because in a prior decision the Panel held that the language of the JDA reasonably implies a general understanding that separate uses are subject to separate discipline.  Thus, because Rodriguez was found to have taken three separate drugs, the JDA would provide for a penalty of 150 games.

Ultimately, Horowitz found that the MLB had proven its case by clear and convincing evidence. The suspension was reduced to 162 games.  This means Rodriguez will miss the entire 2014 season (as well as post-season).  In validating the lengthy suspension, Horowiz noted that  “[w]hile this length of suspension may be unprecedented for a MLB player, so is the misconduct committed.” The next-longest suspension was 119 days, which was issued in 1992 to Steve Howe for repeated cocaine abuse.

 Shortly after the decision was handed down, on January 13, Rodriguez filed a complaint in federal court challenging the arbitration award under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA). Rodriguez alleges that Horowitz “exhibited a manifest disregard for the law.” Rodriguez also takes issue with the fact that he was not allowed to select his own arbitrator, was not allowed to confront Bud Selig, and was not allowed to introduce evidence that “was pertinent and material.” Additionally, the complaint alleges that the MLB Player’s Association did not adequately represent Rodriguez, and instead acted “arbitrarily, discriminatorily, and in bad faith” throughout the grievance process.  Yes, these arguments are as bad as they sound.

Rodriguez will have to overcome an extremely high standard to succeed in federal court. Under the LMRA, an arbitrator’s award “is legitimate and enforceable as long as it ‘draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement’ and is not merely an exercise of the arbitrator’s ‘own brand of industrial justice.’” Int’l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, Local 97 v. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., 143 F.3d 704 , 714 (2d Cir. 1998).  Rodriguez has his work cut out for him if he is to overcome what the Second Circuit has deemed an “extremely deferential standard.” Odds are, Rodriguez will end up striking out.

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