Fred Horowitz, who will rule on Alex Rodriguez's appeal of his 211-game suspension, is "a very smart, very calm, thoughtful, very kind, very friendly man -- and a baseball fan,'' according to his longtime friend and fellow Southern California-based arbitrator, Douglas Collins.
All of which should come in handy for Horowitz in the coming months as he charts a path that will turn him into a New York sports celebrity of sorts and a key figure in the near futures of A-Rod and the Yankees.
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Such is the unusual nature of the arbitration process, which in many ways operates similarly to a judicial trial but in important areas does not.
Chief among them: The arbitrator's ruling is the last word. "He has enormous leeway, and his decision is final and binding -- period,'' said Roger Abrams, a law professor at Northeastern and a longtime arbitrator.
The other oddity is arbitrators are hired by the parties for whom they work, and subject to firing by either side. Horowitz's predecessor was Shyam Das, who overturned Ryan Braun's (first) suspension and later was fired by Major League Baseball.
Arbitrators tend to rule in discipline cases somewhere between the original penalty and exoneration. "If he does anything other than split this case, the side that loses is going to fire him,'' Abrams said.
Perhaps so, but Collins said both sides in labor matters are sophisticated enough to tell a fair judgment from an unfair one, and that arbitrators who last are those who do not succumb to the temptation to compromise.
"The first thing you're taught is that baby-splitters don't survive,'' Collins said.
(The A-Rod case differs from baseball's salary arbitration system, in which each side submits a figure and one is chosen, with no leeway.)
So there would appear to be little to lose for Rodriguez. But Stanley Brand, a Washington-based attorney, said that by appealing A-Rod risks attracting the attention of government authorities. "That's the big downside,'' Brand said. "If I'm advising somebody, I'm saying, 'Look, the feds have shown an absolute fetish for this stuff.' ''
The assumption is Rodriguez will focus not on claiming he did not use performance-enhancing drugs but rather argue the length of the suspension is excessive.
But no one is quite sure in a case that is sailing into "uncharted waters,'' according to Matt Mitten, director of Marquette's National Sports Law Institute and an arbitrator for cases in Olympic sports.
Mitten said arbitration rulings do not have the precedential weight of judicial decisions, but they do set a baseline for future cases, adding to the stakes.
"Neither side really knows how [Horowitz] is likely to rule, because he's an experienced labor arbitrator but this is the first time he's had a case like this,'' Mitten said.
Jim Lacritz, a sports business MBA professor at San Diego State, said Rodriguez's side will be aggressive in finding holes in MLB's case. "They are going to take the CBA and go through it with tooth and nail,'' he said.
In the end, most experts believe the likely outcome is something less than 211 games.
Robert Boland, a sports law professor at NYU, said he believes Rodriguez is "in a strong procedural position'' to reduce his suspension. But Boland suspects "that this ultimately ends in a negotiated deal along the lines of Braun's.''