New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez answering questions from the media at a news conference in August, 2013. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Alex Rodriguez is suing Major League Baseball because he believes it has irreparably defamed his character. As his lawyers wrote, Commissioner Bud Selig has “improperly marshaled evidence that they hope to use to destroy the reputation and career of Alex Rodriguez, one of the most accomplished Major League Baseball players of all time.”

The thirty-three-page legal document’s central argument is the sterling character of the man himself. It catalogues A-Rod’s numerous charitable efforts, including the fact that he funded a new baseball diamond for the University of Miami, is on the University of Miami Board of Trustees and won “The University of Miami’s Edward T. Foote II Alumnus of Distinction Award.” (He never actually went to the school, but details, details.)

Subtle as The Walking Dead, this brief argues that Alex Rodriguez is such a beautifully charitable human being, there is no way he would ever be the sort of amoral cur who would lie, cheat and obstruct justice, as Selig claims.

I frankly have no idea what is true and what is not, although Bud Selig vs. A-Rod is like rewatching the 2000 vice-presidential debates between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman: you just want everyone to lose. I do however think it is telling that when it comes time to defend his character from defamation, A-Rod turns his legal guns on the statements emanating from Major League Baseball and not what people are saying about him ten minutes from my house.

I live just around the way from Langley Park, Maryland, part of Prince George’s County and site of one of the highest concentrations of Latino day laborers in the United States. In Langley Park sit 1,000 units of the Bedford Station, Victoria Station and Newbury Square housing complexes where many of these workers and their families live. The apartments are managed by a Coral Gables, Florida, company called Newport Property Ventures, which is owned by, you guessed it, Alex Rodriguez. According to A-Rod’s tenants, he is a “slumlord”, a “scumbag” and several phrases in Spanish that don’t have easy translations but involve using your own head to have a certain kind of sex with yourself.

The Washington Post did its own in-depth exposé of the three housing projects, describing the “hundreds” of complaints from residents ranging from massive rat infestation to layers of mold to a lack of ventilation that produces heat so overbearing residents sleep outside in the summer months.

My own initial observation upon visiting and speaking to tenants was that the article in the Post didn’t do justice to just how crumbling and dilapidated the surroundings are. They did not write about, as I learned, the bed bugs, gas leaks, and “two [gas] explosions in the last three years.” I witnessed a group of children returning home, running and laughing, as several rats scurried away (although a couple of particularly well-fed ones waddled off, looking more inconvenienced than frightened). I saw wires sticking out at odd angles from the sides of buildings. Even though it has been hot and dry in the DC area, the patches of grass had a softness to them and an odor that suggested there were problems with the sewage.

Many of the residents there were more than happy to talk about their situation. “It’s disgusting, ” a man named Diego said to me. “We sent in our complaints. We tried going through channels. But it hits Florida and it is a dead end. They tell us if we complain, we are gone.” A woman named Ana said to me that people were fed up. “I worry about my kids,” she said. “If I am not watching them every second, I feel like there is something that could hurt them.” Her son was wearing a Washington Nationals shirt, so I asked her if she and others knew about A-Rod’s ownership of Newport Ventures. “We know about Alex Rodriguez. We know who he is. I don’t care if he ever plays again or returns to baseball. I just want him to say, ‘I am not a slumlord. I care about other Latinos’ and make these buildings safe and not be a rich guy who doesn’t care.”

I spoke with Gustavo Andrade, organizing director of Casa de Maryland, a leading community organization that has been trying to fight to bring Rodriguez’s slums up to some kind of livable code. He said to me,

“Tenants living in A-Rod-managed properties in Maryland, largely working-class immigrants from Latin America, have had to deal with the most horrific living conditions. To add insult to injury, local managers blame the tenants themselves for the situation, hire goonish private security officers to intimidate them, and threaten folks who organize their neighbors with eviction.”

Given what Diego, Ana, Gustavo and others said about Alex Rodriguez, I have a question: Why isn’t he suing them? They are certainly saying far worse things about him than Bud Selig ever did. They are calling him a repellent, soulless slumlord who doesn’t care if little kids sleep among rats, roaches and rubble. He should be bringing a whole van of Florida lawyers up to Langley Park to attack all those who are defaming his character. But he won’t. He won’t, because people are telling the glaring, visible truth. He won’t, because—as we are seeing on Capitol Hill—the voices of poor and working people just don’t rank on the concerns of people in A-Rod’s income bracket. And lastly, he won’t because if you have no character, it becomes something pretty damn difficult to defame.

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