A-Rod despicable, but Dempster out of line

The following is not meant to offer an ounce of sympathy toward Alex Rodriguez, who safely has placed himself on that infamous list of athletes having made the most spectacular falls from grace in sports history.

As cheaters defined by their incessant denials go, the Yankees third baseman might as well be related to Lance Armstrong.

Maybe that’s what Rodriguez needs to come clean. A little chat with Oprah.

But in purposely hitting Rodriguez with a pitch Sunday night, Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster brought to light an issue that could emerge several times before Rodriguez begins serving a suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, one he is appealing with a team of attorneys and boatloads more of denials.

What player has the right to take matters into his own hands as Dempster did and represent the conscience of clean athletes by sending Rodriguez a 92 mph message to the body?

None, actually.

The line between clean and dirty for major league players has been distorted for some time, meaning it’s a (very) safe bet anyone who puts on a uniform today either has used performance-enhancing drugs or had a teammate who did.

Dempster once shared a clubhouse with Sammy Sosa in Chicago.

’Nuff said.

It’s not Dempster’s place to act the part of martyr or try to represent the game by plunking its most famous cheater. It’s not his job to police baseball.

Dempster received a five-game suspension for beaning Rodriguez, which will have little effect on Boston’s pitching staff. In the big picture of a divisional race, it’s nothing.

Reports surfaced that Dempster hit Rodriguez because the latter reportedly snubbed him at a public event, which makes me wonder if Wikipedia has Dempster’s age wrong and he’s 6, not 36.

There has to be more to it. It would be far too embarrassing for Dempster if there wasn’t.

“It wasn’t Dempster’s place,” former major league player Jose Canseco told ESPN Radio on Wednesday. “If I was Alex, I would have charged (the mound) and broken one of his arms. Dempster was obviously trying to hit him. It’s very foolish for a guy who throws in the mid-90s to do that.

“What if he hits him in the face and cracks his nose? What if he breaks his wrist? There is a process to (suspensions), and guys have to let it play out. They can’t start hitting people with pitches on purpose.”

No one in baseball is more old-school than Dempster. I imagine he holds those who are known PED users in the same light Kanye West does the paparazzi, that he has a framed copy of baseball’s unwritten rules and can recite down through the game’s history each time a pitcher let a fastball fly with intentions of missing a spot and nailing a hitter.

Plenty of precedent exists from which to draw.

Clean players despise dirty ones. Hate them. Fine. They have grown tired of cheaters who for years now stole money and lied about how they produced such historic statistics. Fine again. Most would like to shove the Rodriguezes and Sosas and Ryan Brauns off the nearest cliff. Fine and dandy.

But those same irate players agreed to a collective bargaining agreement that allows Rodriguez and any other player suspended to appeal such a disciplinary move. This is their union, and, like it or not, Rodriguez at the moment is a member. Canseco is right — this is a process by which players negotiated. It’s on them to follow the rules set forth.

In truth, Dempster got what he deserved when Rodriguez later in the game hit a home run off him and the Yankees went on to win, 9-6. If you’re going to do something stupid, you at least deserve to see one of your pitches crushed over the wall for it.

Dempster is the only pitcher to throw at Rodriguez since the New York star returned to his team’s lineup Aug. 5. Maybe no one else will. Maybe it’s an isolated incident from a guy who couldn’t get past his intense dislike for another.

I suppose it’s easy for opponents and teammates alike to loathe Rodriguez, a known PED user who reportedly sold out fellow players in an attempt to defend himself. In my book, the guy is Lance Armstrong without a bike.

But as far as policing the game, there is a reason the likes of Ryan Dempster doesn’t wear a badge.

Not his place. Not his right.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.