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Earlier this week, Star Magazine alleged that Alex Rodriguez had participated in at least one poker game at the home of record executive Cody Leibel. The report claimed that at one late 2009 game, cocaine was present and a fight broke out over Leibel’s failure to pay a debt. Rodriguez reportedly attempted to keep his distance when the fight broke out.
The report also says that at the end of the night, he paid his debt, which was a few thousand dollars, and left. There is no indication that he did cocaine. This is the same poker ring that Tobey Maguire, Leonardo Dicaprio and other celebrities have allegedly been involved with. Star published a report implicating them in June.
Professional poker player Dan Bilzerian, who was named in the original report, has since claimed that Rodriguez was at no such game. However, his only evidence is that he was at a game in which cocaine was present and a fight occurred. There is no confirmation that it was the same game. Oh boy.
While the legality of these games is uncertain, Major League Baseball is not concerned with that. Rather, MLB is worried about poker as a gateway to Rodriguez betting on baseball. As Pete Rose can attest, Major League Baseball takes that very seriously, and it is why Commissioner Bud Selig warned Rodriguez against playing in underground poker games in 2005. Selig’s caution was not because of a specific issue with poker, but because he was worried that Rodriguez’s involvement in poker could introduce him to the kind of people who could facilitate another betting-on-baseball scandal.
This news comes on the heels of the revelation that Rodriguez still employs his cousin Yuri Sucart. When Sports Illustrated reported in 2009 that A-Rod had used performance-enhancing drugs, he claimed that Sucart was the man who supplied him with the drugs. Since then, the Yankees have encouraged Rodriguez to keep his distance from Sucart and told him that Sucart is not allowed in the clubhouse.
Rodriguez, who is currently rehabbing from a mid-July surgery on his right knee and is expected back in mid-August, is expected to speak with MLB officials in the next few weeks. Because A-Rod is not constrained by the team’s travel schedule, it would seem possible for the meeting to happen immediately, especially since it is expected to happen in Tampa where he is rehabbing. The fact that MLB officials have not arranged a sooner meeting would indicate a lack of urgency on the issue.
A-Rod is not new to controversy, and it is that nature that tempered the surprise when this story came out. However, this scandal is not like others he’s gotten himself into. Most of the mistakes that have gained notoriety come from an apparent basic misunderstanding of human interaction. He has displayed both a lack of self-awareness and a confusion about what is socially acceptable. All of the issues below are goofy, but are unique to A-Rod:
Gambling is not unique to A-Rod. In fact, this incident makes him seem significantly more human than any of the issues above. Professional athletes gamble all the time. In lieu of sports themselves, gambling is the best outlet for an athlete’s competitive fire. Michael Jordan, perhaps the most competitive athlete ever, is noted for his voracious gambling habits. It should come as no surprise that A-Rod, one of the hardest workers in baseball, would need such an outlet, especially since he has so much disposable income. The fact that he only lost a few thousands dollars hints at restraint, if anything.
Ultimately, this does not seem like a huge issue. A-Rod played poker, but didn’t get in any trouble with anyone he was playing with. MLB was upset, but only because they worried that the issue might turn into something more than poker and had warned him about it. This discontent was heightened because of A-Rod’s apparent disinterest in keeping distance from his cousin, as other baseball officials had requested.
None of those problems is even that bad, and that is indicated by MLB’s lackadaisical attitude towards meeting with him. He didn’t break any laws, and he is an adult. He should be allowed to make his own decisions, no matter what other people request of him. If he is capable of erecting appropriate boundaries, he will be fine. He certainly hasn’t crossed any such boundaries though, and it would be folly to try and suspend him over this.