Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz has ruled that Alex Rodriguez will be suspended for the 2014 season and postseason, and as expected, Rodriguez says he will challenge the ruling in federal court. The arbitrator's decision and Rodriguez's threat raise legal issues:
Q: Will a federal judge overturn the arbitrator's decision, and what are Rodriguez's chances for success in court?
A: Rodriguez has zero chance of ultimate success. He and his team of lawyers and public relations specialists will make dramatic claims that the arbitration hearing was unfair and that the evidence against him was deeply flawed. But after they have concluded their fulminations, Rodriguez and his team will end up facing the fact that the decision will not be reconsidered. There is a chance that a federal judge at the trial court level may issue a temporary order stopping the enforcement of the arbitrator's decision. But it would be a temporary victory for Rodriguez. And even if Rodriguez were to somehow win in the trial court in New York, it would be reversed quickly in a higher court.
Q: Why wouldn't a federal judge give Rodriguez his day in court, given that he has made serious charges against Major League Baseball?
A: Federal courts are reluctant to review and to second-guess arbitration awards. The rationale for arbitration is that it is a fast and accurate method for resolving disputes and avoids the delays and the expense of conventional litigation. The players and the owners agreed to arbitration for disputes decades ago -- in the Marvin Miller era -- and the arbitration process has produced significant victories for the players over the years. When the owners attempted to set aside adverse arbitration decisions on free agency, the courts refused to reconsider arbitration rulings. Like all others in all businesses that agree in contracts to submit disputes to arbitration, Rodriguez will learn that federal judges have no interest in reconsidering rulings by arbitrators.
Q: The arbitrator reduced the MLB suspension from 211 games to 162 games (plus the postseason). Is the decision a victory for Major League Baseball?
A: Yes, and a major one at that. After suffering a humiliating defeat in the Ryan Braun arbitration, MLB and its attorneys have now demonstrated that they are able to defend MLB's suspensions based on performance-enhancing drugs. The case against Rodriguez included some serious obstacles for MLB. Most significant, of course, was the fact that Rodriguez had never tested positive. But MLB's investigators and lawyers used a civil lawsuit in Florida and other imaginative methods to gather convincing evidence against Rodriguez. MLB then produced that evidence successfully in two weeks of closed-door hearings and obtained a terrific outcome. It would have been easy for MLB to settle with Rodriguez for a much lesser suspension, but MLB took the more challenging path and produced a result of historic significance. Rodriguez and his team will complain about the veracity of star witness Tony Bosch, the operator of the now-defunct Biogenesis clinic in South Florida, and they will complain about MLB's methods of collecting evidence. But there is no doubt that MLB outmaneuvered Rodriguez and his enormous team of lawyers and investigators.
Q: Why would the arbitrator reduce the suspension?
A: We do not yet have the written decision from Horowitz, but it appears that he was concerned that a 211-game suspension may have been too severe a punishment when placed in the MLB history of drug suspensions. The most severe previous suspension had been the 105-game ban of Miguel Tejada for use of amphetamines. American law requires a rational and logical progression of punishments. A leap from 105 games to 211 may have been a leap too far. By reducing the suspension to 162 games (plus the postseason), Horowitz helped MLB and eliminated an issue that Rodriguez could have attacked in court. It will be easier for MLB to defend a full-season suspension than a 211-game suspension, if it even has to.