Alex Rodriguez made his season debut for the New York Yankees on the same day he received the longest drug-related suspension in Major League Baseball history and was jeered by fans in Chicago every time he came up to bat or fielded a ball at third base.
Rodriguez, who can keep playing as he appeals the ban through next season, went 1-for-4 with a single in the Yankees’ 8-1 loss to the White Sox last night at U.S. Cellular Field.
Rodriguez started at third base and hit cleanup for the Yankees hours after baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said Rodriguez used testosterone and human growth hormone over “multiple years” and tried to “obstruct and frustrate” the investigation of performance-enhancing substances supplied from a now-closed anti-aging clinic in Florida. Of the 13 players punished yesterday by MLB for involvement with Biogenesis of America LLC, Rodriguez was the only one to appeal his ban.
“It was a hard day, a long day,” Rodriguez told reporters in the locker room after the game. “It’s been crazy, but from this point on I’m going to do my very best to focus on baseball. It was good to get the first one behind me.”
Rodriguez, who said four years ago that he used banned substances from 2001-03 as a member of the Rangers, declined to answer questions last night about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs in recent years.
“At some point we’ll sit in front of an arbiter and give our case,” said Rodriguez, the active career home-run hitter in the major leagues with 647. “That’s as much as I feel comfortable telling you right now. We’ll have a forum to discuss all of that and we’ll talk about it then.”
Rodriguez was back in the Yankees’ lineup for the first time since the 2012 postseason, as he missed 110 games while rehabilitating from offseason hip surgery and then what was diagnosed by the Yankees’ doctor as a mild quadriceps strain. Rodriguez, 38, said before last night’s game he was “thrilled and humbled” to have the opportunity to put the Yankees’ uniform on again and play at the major-league level.
Rodriguez spent some time chatting with White Sox players on the field before the game and also signed autographs for a large throng of fans after taking batting practice.
Rodriguez was loudly booed the first time he came to bat in the second inning last night in Chicago, where the White Sox said they sold 2,500 extra seats after it was announced that Rodriguez would be playing. With MLB Network breaking in for live national coverage of his first at-bat, the three-time American League Most Valuable Player hit a bloop single that dropped in front of sliding leftfielder Casper Wells.
Rodriguez flew out just short of the warning track in his next two at-bats before striking out looking at a full-count slider during the eighth inning. The White Sox ended a 10-game losing streak and dropped the Yankees to 57-54, 9 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
Michael Weiner, the head of the MLB Players Association, said yesterday that Rodriguez’s appeal may take until the end of October to resolve. Weiner said the union supported Rodriguez’s decision and that Selig acted inappropriately in its discipline of the player, whose ban is set to take effect Aug. 8 and run 211 games.
The other 12 players suspended yesterday in the Biogenesis probe -- including All-Stars Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers -- each received a 50-game ban the union said is consistent with punishments set forth in the joint drug agreement.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he didn’t have any problem plugging Rodriguez back into the lineup even though the commissioner’s office handed down a penalty more than twice the length of its longest previous drug-related ban. MLB previously imposed one 105-game drug suspension and 16 100-game bans, with one coming to a major-league player, pitcher Guillermo Mota.
“There is an appeals process, so you let it play out,” Girardi said, adding he doesn’t think there’s room for performance-enhancing drugs in the sport. “I don’t believe in shortcuts because I think everybody gets shortchanged when there’s shortcuts.”
If Rodriguez’s ban is upheld on appeal, he won’t be eligible to return until the 2015 season, when he turns 40, and would lose a total of about $32 million in pay, including his $25 million salary for 2014. Rodriguez would still have three years and $61 million remaining on his MLB-record 10-year, $275 million deal when he’s eligible for reinstatement.
The 27-time World Series champion Yankees may try to cut a deal with Rodriguez regarding his contract’s final three years, said Michael McCann, director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
“The Yankees could argue that they’re going to try to void the contract, and certainly Alex Rodriguez would oppose that through grievance,” McCann said in a July 29 telephone interview. “In all likelihood it would end with some kind of buyout rather than either side entirely winning.”
Rodriguez and the Yankees had waged an increasingly public feud in recent weeks.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman in June told Rodriguez to shut up after the player’s public comment about his rehabilitation contradicted those that had been made by the team. Following an Aug. 2 minor league rehab game in Trenton, New Jersey, Rodriguez said it was concerning that “all this stuff is going on in the background” and that “people are finding creative ways to cancel your contract.”
The Yankees rebutted some of Rodriguez’s recent claims yesterday in a statement, saying they didn’t institute or assist MLB in the direction of the investigation.
The team also said it didn’t use the investigation as an attempt to “avoid its responsibilities under a player contract,” and that at no time did its medical staff fail to provide appropriate care to Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said last night there were no awkward feelings in his return, which he called “business as usual,” and said Cashman had welcomed him back.
“I’ve got a job to do,” Rodriguez said. “We have challenges ahead of us, but my focus is what can I do to help this team win.”
How long Rodriguez continues playing for the Yankees becomes the next question in a saga that started in January, when the Miami New Times reported it obtained medical records from Biogenesis linking banned substances to Rodriguez and other players including 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. MLB later started its own investigation, obtaining Biogenesis records and gaining the cooperation of clinic founder Anthony Bosch.
Braun on July 22 accepted a suspension for the final 65 games of the regular season and any playoff games for taking banned substances provided by Bosch and Biogenesis.
Rodriguez has said he wasn’t a patient of Bosch and was never treated or advised by him. Yet Selig said yesterday that Rodriguez’s suspension was based on “his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances” and attempting to cover-up his violations.
Yankees players such as Robinson Cano said Rodriguez’s return isn’t a distraction, though ex-Yankee Aaron Boone said there’s probably a significant difference between what Rodriguez’s teammates say publicly and how they actually feel.
“It’s a big time distraction in that locker room,” said Boone, now an MLB analyst for ESPN. “You’re just wondering what’s going to happen next and what question am I going to have to answer. If I’m a player in that locker room, I feel like I’m in for a long, distracted road.”
Rodriguez said yesterday the past seven months have been “a nightmare, probably the worst time of my life.” He said a second phase is just now starting with the appeals process.
“I’m fighting for my life,” Rodriguez said. “I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one will. There’s a process and I’m happy there’s a process. In due time, whatever happens, happens.”
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