Alex Rodriguez will sit out a full Major League Baseball season for violating the sport’s performance-enhancing-drug policy after an independent arbitrator reduced his original 211-game ban on an appeal by the New York Yankees third baseman.
An arbitration panel led by Fredric Horowitz notified both MLB and its players union that it was reducing the longest drug-related suspension in MLB history, given last year to the sport’s highest-paid player.
“While we believe the original 211-game suspension was appropriate, we respect the decision rendered by the panel and will focus on our continuing efforts on eliminating performance-enhancing substances from our game,” MLB said in an e-mailed statement.
The 162-game ban, which includes playoffs, will keep the three-time American League Most Valuable Player off the field until the 2015 season, during which he will turn 40. The decision will save the Yankees $25 million in salary, about three-quarters of the $31.4 million Rodriguez would have lost had the original sanction been upheld.
The team issued a one-sentence statement: “The New York Yankees respect Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the arbitration process, as well as the decision released today by the arbitration panel.”
Rodriguez said today in a statement that while he was not surprised by the decision, he intends to fight it in a federal court. He said the evidence was “not put before a fair and impartial jury.”
“No player should have to go through what I have been dealing with, and I am exhausting all options,” Rodriguez, 38, said.
He may be alone on that fight. The MLB Players Association said today in a statement that while it also disagreed with the ruling, it would not seek to have it overturned.
“We recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached, however, and we respect the collectively bargained arbitration process which led to the decision,” the statement said.
Rodriguez will lose his entire salary for the 2014 season, when he was scheduled to make $25 million, according to payroll figures compiled by baseball-reference.com. That will help the Yankees to reduce payroll below $189 million next year, a goal the team set in an attempt to avoid luxury taxes that can be as high as 50 percent of any amount over that threshold.
“The Yankees must continue to walk a fine line, on one side is the financial benefit derived from his absence, as well as the likelihood that he will not be contributing to an ongoing soap opera in the Bronx,” David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, said in an e-mail. “On the other side, however, the team must remain very aware of how they treat any of their players as every MLB ballplayer and agent will be closely watching.”
It will be difficult for Rodriguez’s lawyers to win a federal lawsuit because courts give “great deference” to the judgment of arbitrators, according to Mark Conrad, head of the sports business program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business.
“Only if there is a manifest disregard for the law or a blatant conflict of interest would you see a court overturn, or stay, an arbitration,” Conrad, who teaches sports law, said in a telephone interview. “I find that unlikely.”
The 14-time All-Star was initially suspended in August after MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said he used testosterone and human growth hormone over multiple years and tried to obstruct its investigation of Biogenesis of America LLC, a now-closed anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Florida. Rodriguez received banned substances from Anthony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis, according to MLB.
The suspension hurts Rodriguez’s attempts to move up MLB’s home run list. His 654 home runs rank first among active players and fifth all-time, six behind Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays in fourth place.
Scott Becher, managing director of Z Sports & Entertainment, a division of Florida-based Zimmerman Advertising, said Rodriguez could rehabilitate his image if he were to limit the off-field headlines and begin moving up the career home-run list. He called that a “one heck of a big if.”
“Rodriguez swung and missed at rule number one in crisis management -- quickly address the problem and get back to business as usual,” Becher said in an e-mail.
Becher added that the ruling has little effect on the Yankees brand, bolstered by an MLB-high 27 World Series titles.
Rodriguez, who admitted five years ago to using banned substances from 2001-03 as a member of the Texas Rangers, never failed a drug test in connection with Biogenesis and has denied use of performance-enhancing drugs since the Yankees in 2007 signed him to a 10-year, $275 million contract, the largest in the sport’s history.
Rodriguez filed an appeal against the ban on Aug. 6, one day after the suspension was announced. He was allowed to play during the process and hit .244 in 44 games with seven home runs and 19 runs batted in. The Yankees went 85-77 in 2013 and missed the playoffs for the second time in 19 years.
His appeal began on Sept. 30 at MLB’s Manhattan headquarters. Tempers flared at the end of the process, when Rodriguez stalked out Nov. 20 after Horowitz refused to order Selig to testify. The hearings ended the following day.
Conrad said Rodriguez’s lawyers may argue that there was a procedural problem with the handling of the arbitration that in some way violated the sport’s labor accord. He said they also may contend that MLB’s investigators obtained evidence in a way that violated fairness or due process.
Rodriguez last year sued MLB and Selig for attempting to destroy his reputation and career, claiming MLB investigators bought stolen documents and leaked information to the media. Conrad said those lawsuits could be consolidated with the player’s attempt to fight today’s ruling.
In November, Rodriguez added further details of misconduct to the complaint. He claimed investigators impersonated law-enforcement officers to get evidence and accused one investigator of beginning a sexual relationship with a potential witness after interviewing her twice. Selig and baseball denied the accusations.
Had the original sanction been upheld, it would have been more than double the record 105-game suspension given in August for amphetamine use to infielder Miguel Tejada, who was granted free agency by the Kansas City Royals in October. MLB has also previously handed out 16 suspensions of 100 games, one of them to a major-league player, pitcher Guillermo Mota.
MLB began its probe of Biogenesis after the Miami New Times reported in January 2013 that it obtained medical records from the clinic linking players, including Rodriguez, to the use of banned substances. MLB obtained Biogenesis records listing about 20 players, according to ESPN.
Baseball secured Bosch’s cooperation after saying it would drop a lawsuit against him for helping players to obtain banned drugs and damaging the sport’s reputation by inducing them to violate contractual obligations.
Joyce Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for Bosch, said the former clinic operator agreed with the arbitration decision. “He is glad to have the arbitration behind him and believes he can play a valuable role in the future by educating athletes about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs,” Fitzpatrick said in the e-mailed statement.
Rodriguez, who denied being a patient of Bosch, was among 13 players suspended for their involvement with Biogenesis. Others, including All-Stars Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz, accepted 50-game bans. Before its investigation of Biogenesis, MLB had suspended a total of 19 major-league players for drug use in the past six years.
Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, in July accepted a 65-game suspension for taking banned substances provided by Bosch and Biogenesis. Braun, 30, in 2012 successfully appealed a 50-game suspension for a failed test by arguing that testers didn’t follow protocol.
The collectively-bargained agreement between MLB and the players union lists a 50-game ban for a first violation of the joint drug agreement and a 100-game ban for a second violation. There is a lifetime ban for a third offense.
The original 211-game ban was supported by 72 percent of U.S. sports fans, according to an October poll conducted by Seton Hall University. The random telephone poll found that 37 percent of fans wanted the ban upheld, while an additional 35 percent said they favored having him banned for life.
Carter said that while the decision was a win for MLB because most of the suspension was upheld, it also enhances the public attention on the sport’s drug issues.
“Regardless of his guilt or innocence, Rodriguez will continue to remind fans and others that spend money on sports that he still represents what’s wrong in the industry -- that legal battles, word-smithing and finger pointing often trump accountability,” Carter said.
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