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Baseball covers all its bases

Alex Rodriguez can continue kicking and screaming, continue denying the mountain of evidence against him, continue with delusional thoughts that he will be cleared and allegations against him will magically disappear. In fact, there's a better chance of A-Rod going away before his troubles do.

Rodriguez is headed toward a suspension through the 2014 season, but he could face lifetime banishment. It depends on how he plays his cards. If anything became clear in recent weeks, it's that Major League Baseball has done its homework and is finished messing around with players who violate the Joint Drug Agreement.

It's about time.

Players who merely attempt to purchase performance-enhancing drugs are in violation of the agreement. That's one strike and a 50-game suspension. If a player buys them and takes them, that's two strikes and grounds for a 100-game suspension. MLB reportedly has enough evidence for three strikes against A-Rod.

Major League Baseball has been investigating Rodriguez since January, when the Miami New Times reported he was among 20 players who received PEDs from Florida-based anti-aging clinic Biogenesis of America. Ryan Braun last week realized he was doomed and accepted a 65-game suspension. He will return next season.

A-Rod's career is likely over. The third baseman celebrated his 38th birthday last weekend. His skills have been in steady decline. He hasn't played a big-league game since undergoing offseason hip surgery. The Yankees don't want him. Once the best player of his era, he has become a troubled, pathetic shell of his former self.

If he has played his last game, it marks a sad ending to what would have been a Hall of Fame career if not for his involvement with steroids. The Baseball Writers' Association of America has shown little tolerance for PED users, which explains why no players were voted into Cooperstown last year even though several had Hall of Fame credentials.

Baseball has the stiffest anti-drug policy among the four major sports, but it's only as good as its enforcement. Melky Cabrera was banned for 50 games last season. Braun's suspension was another step in the right direction. Others could follow them. None had a bigger impact on the game than Rodriguez did over his 19-year career.

And that's why Major League Baseball is coming with both barrels.

The Joint Drug Agreement wasn't just drawn up to punish dirty players. Clean players wanted the policy, too, because they grew tired of being under suspicion after steroid use was exposed in the 1990s. A-Rod was once held up as a model player, one who he helped restore credibility in the game. Now that he's an admitted liar and cheater, he's an example of what the league stands against.

Let's face it, the last thing baseball wants is Exhibit A getting back on the field even though he's a three-time most valuable player with .300 lifetime batting average and 647 home runs. The Yankees certainly aren't going to argue against a suspension. They're looking for relief from the $100 million left on his contract extension.

This week, the New York Daily News reported that he has maintained his innocence and isn't interested in cutting any deals the way Braun did. One would have included Rodriguez being suspended through the 2014 season but still being allowed to collect some $60 million remaining on his contract. The agreement was reasonable enough.

It would allow Commissioner Bud Selig to come down hard on a star player, sending a message that MLB is finally attacking its biggest issue. It would allow Rodriguez to avoid a lifetime ban, collect his money and leave a slim possibility for a return. And it would punish the Yankees for signing him to a long-term extension.

Apparently, it wasn't good enough to satisfy A-Rod.

Selig was prepared to move in several different directions. He could suspend A-Rod for using PEDs based on testimony from Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, who sold damning evidence on Rodriguez and others to Major League Baseball. Rodriguez would have the right to appeal the suspension with the idea he could continue playing.

However, Selig could use his power and suspend Rodriguez under a “best interests of baseball” clause for interfering with the investigation and allegedly attempting to buy evidence against him. Rodriguez would not be allowed to play if he appealed that decision. Who is the guy who would listen to his appeal? Selig.

Of course, if Selig was serious about doing what's best for baseball, he and others wouldn't have ignored PED use in the first place. It has been a part of baseball for more than 20 years, amazing only because it feels like 40.

The worst part is that there are great stories that are being overshadowed by an aging has-been who hasn't been on the field. The Rays, who have about a dozen people in the stands for their home games, were atop the AL East. The Pirates are in contention for the first time in 20 years and playing the Cardinals in an important series.

Look at the Yankees, too. Mariano Rivera has been nearly unhittable while taking a victory lap in his final season. Derek Jeter returned from injury problems Saturday and hit a homer on his first pitch in his first at-bat. Alfonso Soriano had four hits in the same game. Manager Joe Girardi has been masterful, given the injuries and distractions.

At the top of the list: A-Rod.