2014 ban a crushing defeat for A-Rod

Selig wanted A-Rod punished before he left office, and rightfully so. But as this case was Selig's baby, Rob Manfred shouldn't have been the highest-ranking MLB official to testify. The commissioner should've faced Rodriguez and answered questions about the deals baseball made with Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, about why Selig's investigators purchased documents that turned out to be stolen and about whether baseball should ever again use such methods in chasing down the bad guys.

Of course, Selig didn't have to worry about any of that Saturday, when his very own Lance Armstrong got knocked off his bike.

"While we believe the original 211-game suspension was appropriate," MLB said in a statement, "we respect the decision rendered by the Panel and will focus on our continuing efforts on eliminating performance-enhancing substances from our game."

Rodriguez is still swearing he'll fight on and show up for Yankees spring training as scheduled, but deep down he has to know it's over. The Yanks will take his $25 million salary, not counting the $6 million A-Rod would've earned for tying Willie Mays on the career home run list (he's six shy of Mays' 660), and pursue another third baseman, Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka and the possibility of remaining a few nickels below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.

A-Rod? He's left to confront the monumental damage he's done to his legacy. He doesn't need to review the recent Hall of Fame voting percentages on Clemens and Bonds to understand he has no better shot of making it to Cooperstown than do Armando Benitez and Jacque Jones. Coupled with Rodriguez's earlier confession of PED use in his Texas Rangers days, Horowitz's ruling is enough to convince a reasonable observer that A-Rod juiced his entire career.

His decision to cross back over to the dark side after that 2009 confession, and after begging fans everywhere for a second chance, turned out to be dumber than the $275 million contract -- plus $30 million in career home run incentives -- the Yankees gave him after the 2007 season.

"It's sad," new Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, an anti-steroid crusader, said the other day, "because Alex was such a great talent." Only Alex never believed in his own talent. He only believed in the chemically enhanced version of himself, the slugger created in someone's underground lab.

He fought hard against baseball, anyway, fought in ways the other Biogenesis ballers did not. Rodriguez sued, or threatened to sue, a whole bunch of people, including the Yankees' doctor, and hoped to make his suspension about the team trying to void his contract, and about Selig trying to scapegoat Rodriguez for the commissioner's own steroid-era failings.

But some seven weeks after beginning his deliberations, Fredric Horowitz made this case about what it was always about: cheating. Alex Rodriguez's serial cheating.

A-Rod won back 49 games in the verdict, and lost everything else. He's done for the entire 2014 season and, at a broken-down 38, maybe done for good.

He called his penalty an "injustice." More than that, it was a defeat, a crushing one, reducing one of the greatest sluggers of them all to something smaller than one of his superhuman pills.

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