Aug. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was banned from baseball without pay through the 2014 season, the longest doping suspension ever imposed by the sport.
The three-time Most Valuable Player and holder of the biggest salary in Major League Baseball will be able to keep playing as he appeals the penalty to arbitrator Frederic Horowitz. Rodriguez is starting at third base and hitting cleanup in tonight’s road game against the Chicago White Sox. The ban takes effect Aug. 8 and runs 211 games.
“I am disappointed with the penalty and intend to appeal and fight this through the process,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “I am eager to get back on the field and be with my teammates in Chicago tonight.”
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement that 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.
The Yankees’ third baseman was joined by 12 other players punished today for involvement with Biogenesis of America LLC. The others -- including All-Stars Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers; Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and minor leaguer Fernando Martinez; and New York Mets minor-leaguers Jordany Valdespin and Cesar Puello -- all accepted 50-game bans.
Rodriguez, who said four years ago that he used banned substances from 2001-03 as a member of the Rangers, declined to answer a question before today’s game 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,” Rodriguez told reporters. “That’s as much as I feel comfortable telling you right now.”
Michael Weiner, the head of the MLB Players Association, said today the Rodriguez appeal may take until the end of October to resolve. He said that, while the 50-game suspensions were consistent with the punishments set forth in the joint drug agreement, the union believes Selig acted inappropriately in the discipline given to Rodriguez. He said the union supported Rodriguez’s decision to appeal.
“The union’s members have made it clear that they want a clean game,” Weiner said in a statement. “They support effort to discipline players, and harshly, to help ensure an even playing field for all.”
If the ban is upheld on appeal, Rodriguez, the active career home-run hitter in the major leagues with 647, won’t be eligible to return until the season in which he turns 40. He would lose his pay for the rest of this season, when he was due to make $29 million, plus $25 million from 2014, a total of about $32 million. He will still have three years and $61 million remaining on the 10-year, $275 million deal when he’s eligible for reinstatement, according to figures compiled by baseball-reference.com.
The Yankees may try to cut a deal with Rodriguez regarding those final three years, said Michael McCann, director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. The team would get an immediate financial benefit from his ban as it attempts to pare payroll to less than $189 million next year from what USA Today lists as a major-league high of $228.8 million this season. Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, has set that goal to save the franchise from MLB’s luxury tax payments. Wages affected by the suspension won’t count against the luxury tax, said Pat Courtney, a spokesman for MLB.
“The Yankees could argue that they’re going to try to void the contract, and certainly Alex Rodriguez would oppose that through grievance, and in all likelihood it would end with some kind of buyout rather than either side entirely winning,” McCann said in a telephone interview on July 29.
The fourth-place Yankees are 57-53 and a season-high 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. Attendance for games at Yankee Stadium has dropped 7.5 percent from the same point last year, according to baseball-reference.com, and television ratings on the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network were down 39 percent two weeks ago.
Rodriguez, 38, hasn’t played in the major leagues since last October’s postseason series against the Detroit Tigers, rehabilitating first from offseason hip surgery and then what was diagnosed by the Yankees’ doctor as a mild quadriceps strain.
The player known as A-Rod and the 27-time World Series championship franchise that traded for him in 2004 have waged an increasingly public feud in recent weeks over his physical condition, with Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman telling Rodriguez to shut up about his rehab schedule and Rodriguez refusing to say if he trusted how the team was handling his case.
In a televised news conference after a minor league rehab game in Trenton, New Jersey, on Aug. 2, Rodriguez became more pointed.
“I think we all agree that we want to get rid of PEDs,” Rodriguez said. “That’s a must. I think all the players, we feel that way. But when all this stuff is going on in the background and people are finding creative ways to cancel your contract and stuff like that, I think that’s concerning for me, it’s concerning for present, and I think it should be concerning for future players, as well.”
The Yankees said today in an e-mailed statement that the team was in full support of the drug agreement between baseball and the players’ union. They also rebutted some of Rodriguez’s recent claims.
“The New York Yankees in no way instituted and/or assisted MLB in the direction of this investigation; or used the investigation as an attempt to avoid its responsibilities under a player contract; or did its medical staff fail to provide appropriate standard of care to Alex Rodriguez,” the team said in the statement.
Rodriguez received banned substances from Anthony Bosch, the founder of the now-shuttered Biogenesis of America LLC anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Florida, Selig said. Bosch cooperated with investigators from MLB, which prior to its Biogenesis investigation had suspended a total of 19 major-league players for drug use in the past six years.
Rodriguez’s ban is the largest involving performance-enhancing drugs in the history of Major League Baseball, which previously imposed one 105-game drug suspension and 16 100-game bans, with one coming to a MLB player, pitcher Guillermo Mota. Outfielder Manny Ramirez also failed two drug tests but retired from the major leagues before his suspension could be served. Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun, the 2011 NL Most Valuable Player, was suspended on July 22 for the remaining 65 games of the regular season and postseason for taking banned substances also provided by Bosch and Biogenesis.
Because Rodriguez and Braun didn’t fail drug tests, their penalties weren’t limited by terms of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, which sets a 50-game ban for a first offense, 100 games for a second and lifetime banishment for a third.
Other players banned are Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners; Everth Cabrera and Fautino De Los Santos of the San Diego Padres; Sergio Escalona of the Houston Astros; Antonio Bastardo of the Philadelphia Phillies; and free-agent Jordan Norberto.
The investigation opened a new chapter in baseball’s fight against performance enhancing drugs, which Sports Illustrated in 2009 called the top sports story of the decade. Three years ago, Selig declared that baseball’s steroid era was “clearly a thing of the past” and as recently as last month said the sport was cleaner than ever.
The baseball suspensions mirror recent news in track and cycling, which also have a history of drug use among their most famous athletes. Two of the three fastest sprinters in the world this year, Asafa Powell of Jamaica and Tyson Gay of the U.S., tested positive for banned substances in the past two months, and Chris Froome, the winner of the Tour de France, voiced frustration over repeated questions about doping, less than a year after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven titles in the race and admitted using drugs.
They also come eight days after the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted a class with no living members for the first time since 1965. Those eligible for the Hall for the first time this year included seven-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher Roger Clemens and single-season and career home-run leader Barry Bonds, who have both been linked to steroid use. Neither came close to admission by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
The suspensions of Rodriguez, Braun and any other players will have little financial effect on the sport outside of saving teams money while they sit out, according to Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, who has written 12 books on the business of sports. Baseball fans have known suspensions were likely coming for months, Zimbalist said, and both fans and corporate sponsors appreciate MLB’s dedication to cleaning up the sport.
“It just enhances the general appreciation at this point that baseball probably has the strongest drug testing and punishment policy in professional sports,” Zimbalist said in a telephone interview.
The Miami New Times reported in January that it obtained medical records from Biogenesis linking banned substances to players including Rodriguez and Cruz. MLB then started its own investigation, which obtained Biogenesis records listing about 20 players, and later struck an agreement for Bosch’s cooperation, according to ESPN.
Baseball also sued Bosch and Biogenesis for allegedly helping players obtain banned drugs and damaging the sport’s reputation by inducing players to violate contractual obligations. In exchange for Bosch’s cooperation, ESPN reported, MLB said it would drop the lawsuit and report his help to law-enforcement agencies that might be considering charges against the former clinic operator.
Rodriguez said after the Jan. 29 New Times report that he wasn’t a patient of Bosch and was never treated or advised by him. ESPN reported that Rodriguez received injections from Bosch at the player’s Florida home.
Rodriguez was benched in last year’s playoffs, when he batted .120 with three hits and 12 strikeouts in 25 at-bats. He had surgery in January to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and last month started a rehab assignment within New York’s minor league system.
“The last seven months has been a nightmare, probably the worst time of my life,” Rodriguez said today. “For the circumstances that are at hand, dealing with a very tough surgery and a rehab program, and being 38. I’m thrilled and humbled to have the opportunity to put on this uniform again.’
Braun, the NL MVP in 2011, was suspended for unspecified violations of baseball’s drug policy. He accepted the suspension, acknowledging mistakes and apologizing to fans, teammates and the Brewers’ organization.
Prior to the suspension, Braun repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing drugs. He failed a drug test during the 2011 postseason, and had the 50-game drug suspension for a first-time offense overturned at arbitration by arguing that his urine test sample had been mishandled.
Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera weren’t included in the discipline because each served a 50-game suspension last year for his connections to Biogenesis, according to the New York Daily News.
The Biogenesis investigation represents baseball’s widest-ranging drug-related case since the 2007 Mitchell Report, compiled by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, which identified 89 players connected to banned substances, including Clemens and Bonds. In the aftermath of Mitchell’s 21-month investigation, both Bonds and Clemens appeared in court for denying under oath their use of banned substances.
Bonds was convicted in April 2010 by a federal jury in San Francisco of obstruction of justice, while a mistrial was declared on his four counts of perjury. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and 30 days of house arrest and has appealed the ruling. Clemens’ first prosecution for lying to Congress ended in a mistrial in July 2011 after government lawyers showed jurors evidence that that the judge had excluded, and he was acquitted in a second trial last year.
Baseball has suspended more than 650 players for violations of its substance-abuse program since 2005, with 42 at the major-league level. The year with the most MLB-level suspensions was 2005, with 12.
Derek Lowe, a 17-year major-league pitcher who played nine games this season with the Rangers, said the 50-game penalty for a first offense isn’t enough to deter those who want to use performance-enhancing drugs. He said the sport needs a harsher penalty, such as allowing teams out of contracts with drug users.
“It just doesn’t seem like these 50-game suspensions are putting a complete halt to it,” Lowe, 40, said on a conference call last month. “Science is always going to be ahead of us and I think people are always going to try to find a way.”
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