2014 ban a crushing defeat for A-Rod

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The game is over now, and at least Alex Rodriguez can say he did not go down looking. He did not leave the bat on his shoulder. He raged against the case baseball made against him with such purpose, going all-in emotionally and financially, that he deserved to have some 9-year-old kid tell him, "Good job, good effort."

But trying wasn't enough for Rodriguez here, not even close. He had to find a way to win. And Saturday, when arbitrator Fredric Horowitz took 49 games off Rodriguez's 211-game suspension for the slugger's sins in the Biogenesis scandal, Rodriguez did not win.

He got destroyed. In fact, he was the first team eliminated on an NFL playoff day.

"It's a giant, giant victory for baseball," one source close to the situation said of the downsized, 2014-season and postseason ban. "To get a full season from a superstar player? Are you kidding me? Baseball only went for 211 because they knew there would probably be a reduction."

Remember the 50-game bans handed to the Biogenesis dirty dozen, the lower-profile cheats? Horowitz basically subtracted that entire sentence from A-Rod's penalty, and still benched him for nearly 100 games more than Ryan Braun.

Manny Ramirez got 100 for his own multiple performance-enhancing misdeeds. In a different sport for different offenses, violent offenses, Ron Artest (86 games) and Latrell Sprewell (68) got fewer games combined than A-Rod gets for a non-violent assault on his sport here.

"The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one," Rodriguez said in a statement. "This is one man's decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury, does not involve me having failed a single drug test, is at odds with the facts and is inconsistent with the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement, and relies on testimony and documents that would never have been allowed in any court in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable.

"I have been clear that I did not use performance-enhancing drugs as alleged in the notice of discipline ... and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court."

Rodriguez will almost certainly lose that fight, too, as federal judges historically have little interest in hearing cases already settled in collectively bargained arbitration. A-Rod would likely have to prove Horowitz didn't have jurisdiction in this case, or that the process was corrupt. Good luck with that.

Horowitz's opinion in the ruling wasn't released, and ultimately Rodriguez might want to keep it that way. If A-Rod sues to overturn Horowitz's decision, a source with knowledge of the hearing said, "The opinion would be made public and it's going to be devastating for everyone to see."

Truth be told, as he was throwing his high-priced lawyers and everything else at Bud Selig and his lieutenants, A-Rod made a couple of fair points along the way. Selig should have testified in the hearing. Steroids became a plague on the commissioner's watch, and with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds long gone, Rodriguez had become the face of that plague.

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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