It is hard to pitch baseballs while in handcuffs, so the New York Mets kept Francisco Rodriguez out of uniform for two days last week while he was perp-walked and booked for misdemeanor assault after allegedly attacking the grandfather of his children near the family room at Citi Field after a game.
Rodriguez returned for two games and pitched one inning in one of them before undergoing surgery to repair a damaged ligament in his thumb. He might have hurt it while slamming his fist against the head of his target in view of wives and children of his teammates.
In retaliation, the Mets are trying to avoid paying Rodriguez for the rest of this season and remove the guarantee in his contract of $11.5 million for next season. Rodriguez's union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, will fight against the decision and it could lead to an historic arbitration.
Overlooked in this looming battle is the situational morality and circumstantial logic behind the Mets' most recent decision. They are not punishing Rodriguez for what he allegedly did: Attack a much older man in a workplace setting in a way that could traumatize witnesses.
According to the logic of the Mets' previous decision to return Rodriguez to active duty, he was forgiven his transgression, assuming he was fit to pitch. Only when his injury was revealed did the Mets take aggressive action against his contract. The reasoning seemed to be: Punching someone is a minor offense if you do not hurt yourself while doing it; but punching someone is a major offense if you hurt yourself while doing it.
Baseball's union remains one of the strongest in the nation even as the labor movement has suffered since the anti-union reign of Ronald Reagan. The players sometimes come across as selfish and short-sighted, as they did when they fought against testing for the use of steroids that corrupted the spirit of fair play in their sport for two decades.
In the public view, the Mets will come across in the Rodriguez fight as holding the high moral ground while the union will be portrayed as protecting the wrong guy for the wrong reasons. That said, the union will probably win this fight (without a single punch to anyone's head).
But the underlying logic of this case from either side reveals the ambiguous self-interest of both sides. No matter who wins in a mud fight, both sides usually end up looking messy.
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