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Denying Alex Rodriguez, Mets Avoid a Risky Presence in the Owner’s Box


From the very start, Alex Rodriguez has been an achiever. He was the first overall draft pick at 17 years old and a batting champion at 21. He was the richest player in baseball at 25 and a three-time most valuable player at 32.

And that was all before his life got really interesting.

Rodriguez’s later achievements will always shadow him. Not just one steroids scandal, but two! Lies, lies and more lies! A caustic and unseemly legal fight against Major League Baseball and the players’ union! A yearlong suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs!

To his credit, Rodriguez has refused to retreat in disgrace. He has used his star power, charm, and genuine love of baseball to forge a remarkable renaissance in recent years as a lead analyst on M.L.B.’s most visible television platforms. With his fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, Rodriguez seems to be everywhere.

But there are two places he may never be, two achievements that seem destined to elude him: the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the owners’ suite at a major league ballpark.

There is no precedent for the writers or the veterans committee electing confirmed steroid users into the Hall of Fame. It could happen as the electorate changes, because Rodriguez is clearly one of the greatest players ever — only Hank Aaron can match his totals in both home runs (696) and hits (3,115). But it is hard to see how a player who knowingly cheated during the testing era can hold up to the “integrity, sportsmanship and character” guidelines the Hall asks voters to consider.

In any case, that decision is not up to Rodriguez anymore. Owning a team isn’t up to him, either — and now, mercifully, he is out of the bidding for the Mets, who have chosen the billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen to be their next owner. In a statement late Friday night, Rodriguez’s group acknowledged it had dropped out.

The group, which also included Vincent Viola, Mike Repole and Marc Lore, said it had made a “fully funded offer at a record price for a team which was supported by binding debt commitments from JP Morgan and equity commitment letters from credit worthy partners. The consortium said that they are disappointed to not be part of the revitalization of New York City and provide and exhilarating experience for the fans and wish the Wilpon family and the entire Mets organization well.”

Behind the scenes, it sure seemed as though Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, did not want to sell to Cohen, who already has an 8 percent stake in the team. Cohen pulled out of a potential $2.5 billion purchase in February because of a clause that would have allowed the managing owner Fred Wilpon and Jeff Wilpon, his son, to remain in their roles for five years after the sale.

But Cohen’s money, it seems, will ultimately win out, demonstrating again the difference between wealthy and rich. Rodriguez and his partners had enough to offer that “record price,” but Cohen will send off the Wilpons and Saul Katz — Fred Wilpon’s brother-in-law and ownership partner — with the highest bid.

“Alex and I are so disappointed!!” Lopez posted on Twitter Friday night. “We worked so hard the past 6 months with the dream of becoming the first minority couple and the first woman owner to buy her father’s favorite Major League Baseball team with her own hard earned money. We still haven’t given up!! #NY4ever”

Lopez has 45.2 million followers on Twitter — 44 million more than Rodriguez — and her status as an international celebrity would have been alluring for a league that lacks the kind of crossover stars who drive the N.B.A.’s popularity. She could have offered extraordinary reach for the game across genders, cultures and borders.

There’s also a plausible case for Rodriguez as the right kind of owner. Whatever you think of him, he exudes enthusiasm for the sport and has always thirsted to learn more about it. And having Rodriguez in the same division as his old pal Derek Jeter — the chief executive of the Marlins, in Rodriguez’s hometown, Miami — would have generated endless publicity for the game.

But while remarkable achievements have been a hallmark of Rodriguez, so has a persistent habit of overreaching in pursuit of them. He probably could have signed with the Mets as a free agent after the 2000 season — he attended a World Series game at Shea Stadium that fall as a very conspicuous fan — but demanded too many perks and too much money. He found those with the Texas Rangers and finished in last place three years in a row.

He could have forged an on-field legacy as an untainted, all-time great — but he decided to use steroids twice, juicing his production in his prime years and then tarnishing his twilight in a ham-handed effort to remain a star.

And while it might not have made a difference, Rodriguez also overreached in his attempt to become an owner, reportedly consulting with an executive, Jeff Luhnow, who is currently serving a suspension from M.L.B. Luhnow worked for the McKinsey consulting firm for much of the 1990s, and Rodriguez’s group deployed McKinsey to analyze the Mets.

Luhnow was unquestionably innovative as general manager of the Houston Astros, relentlessly challenging the status quo and building a strong organization. But baseball punished him for presiding over a team that roiled the sport with a brazen cheating scandal — electronic sign-stealing — en route to winning the 2017 World Series. Tactically, the Rodriguez group should have avoided the connection.

Cohen has his own baggage — a $1.2 billion fine in 2013 to settle charges related to insider trading at his firm — but Mets fans should celebrate his selection. This not about punishment for Rodriguez’s past sins, but for his pattern of questionable decisions.

Rodriguez has surely changed since making those fateful choices, as a Yankee, to cheat and lie and sue. But remember: He asked for forgiveness for his first steroid scandal in 2009, only to go on and embarrass the sport again. If he fooled the league again, would anyone really be surprised?

Rodriguez has charm, money, curiosity and sincere passion for the game. But those are not enough to mitigate the risk of entrusting him with stewardship of a franchise.

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