The weighty matter of what essentially has become Major League Baseball vs. Alex Rodriguez will be decided by Fredric Horowitz, whose first major case as baseball's chief arbitrator could decide the future of the Yankees' third baseman.
Rodriguez is appealing a 211-game suspension for alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs and violations of the Basic Agreement. A prediction of what to expect from the process -- which, barring any court action, is scheduled to begin Sept. 30 -- was provided by those who know and have observed Horowitz, 64, who has been an arbitrator since 1988. They say he is unlikely to issue a middle-of-the-road split decision.
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Horowitz, like most baseball arbitrators before him, does not come with the reputation of making compromise decisions. "I've always looked at it as they want me there with a cold eye, make the call and let the chips fall as they may," said Richard Bloch, baseball's arbitrator from 1983-85. "A fair and non-Solomonesque manner. The parties are looking for the call. I'm very familiar with Horowitz's work. He's a very capable arbitrator. He's a thoroughly competent professional."
Horowitz wrote in an email that he is not doing interviews.
Attorney Steven Stemerman, who attended California's Hastings College of the Law with Horowitz and has watched him handle numerous cases in the public and private sectors, added that Horowitz will be decisive. "The good arbitrators, they don't split the baby," he said. "They call it as they see it. If you please neither side, you have not distinguished yourself in the process. That will not be Fred."
Horowitz was mentored by former MLB arbitrator Thomas Roberts, best known for finding the baseball owners guilty of colluding to prevent free- agent movement after the 1985 season. Roberts presided over a $280-million settlement to about 840 players. Rodriguez has an estimated $34 million of his $275-million contract at stake.
Those who have worked at hearings with Horowitz said he does not display the usual stern demeanor often seen in the profession. "He's unique in that he makes everybody feel comfortable," said attorney Barry Jellison of Davis, Cowell and Bowe. "He makes sure that the employee understands what is going on and that the employee is comfortable being there." Rodriguez is not compelled to be at the hearing but has to right to attend and could be called by Horowitz, a source has said.
The complexities of Rodriguez's case go beyond the baseball arbitrator's usual job of interpreting the Basic Agreement and, in this matter, the joint drug agreement. MLB alleges that Rodriguez committed infractions in both areas, saying when it imposed the suspension that he has used performance-enhancing drugs in the course of "multiple years" and impeded baseball investigation into Biogenesis, the former Florida anti-aging clinic that MLB said supplied illegal substances to Rodriguez and other players.
Although the JDA provision spells out specific penalties, the Basic Agreement does not. Therein lies the arbitrator's job in determining if the unprecedented suspension should be upheld.
Horowitz is likely to hear testimony from Anthony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis. A spokesman for Bosch said the process is "working toward" his appearance. It is anticipated that Bosch's credibility will be questioned by Rodriguez's attorneys, and Horowitz likely will have to determine the value of his testimony.
"We are constantly faced with credibility determination," said Doug Collins, an arbitrator who works with Horowitz on the Los Angeles Employee Relations Board. "Is he a skilled liar or a nervous truth-teller? It's something that is part of the [process]. Fred is very experienced in this. Fred's nobody's fool."