Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees’ third baseman, sued Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig, accusing them of attempting to destroy his reputation and career in their crackdown on performance-enhancing substances.
Rodriguez, 38, filed a complaint yesterday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, accusing Selig and MLB of singling him out for an “unprecedented” 211-game suspension, the “longest non-permanent ban in baseball history.”
“It’s motivated largely to give Rodriguez a bargaining chip with baseball, specifically that there’s a lawsuit now against the league,” said Michael McCann, director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. “Rodriguez and his attorneys hope that this will persuade baseball to offer to reduce the suspension.”
Selig and MLB engaged in “vigilante justice” during a probe of Coral Gables, Florida-based anti-aging clinic Biogenesis of America, Rodriguez said in his complaint. Selig and MLB also ignored procedures set forth in labor agreements, including confidentiality provisions, and paid millions of dollars for documents and testimony, Rodriguez said. MLB “bullied and intimidated” people who “refused to cooperate with their witch hunt,” he said.
“Commissioner Selig and MLB persistently have employed powers not available to them under the collectively bargained agreements between MLB and its union in order to make an example of Mr. Rodriguez, so as to gloss over Commissioner Selig’s past inaction and tacit approval of the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball (not to mention his multiple acts of collusion) and in an attempt to secure his legacy as the ‘savior’ of America’s pastime,” Rodriguez said in the complaint.
Major League Baseball said in a statement that the lawsuit is a “clear violation” of confidentiality provisions of its drug program and “nothing more than a desperate attempt to circumvent the collective bargaining agreement.”
“While we vehemently deny the allegations in the complaint, none of those allegations is relevant to the real issue: whether Mr. Rodriguez violated the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by using and possessing numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years and whether he violated the basic agreement by attempting to cover up his violations of the program,” MLB said.
Selig said when he announced the discipline on Aug. 5 that Rodriguez used testosterone and human growth hormone for “multiple years” and tried to “obstruct and frustrate” baseball’s investigation.
Rodriguez was allowed to play as he appeals the suspension. He has acknowledged taking performance-enhancing drugs as a member of the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003, and denied any use after that.
Rodriguez, who is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, finished the sixth season of a 10-year, $275 million contract, the largest in baseball. He was activated from the disabled list the day the suspension was announced in August and hit .244 with seven home runs in 44 games this season.
A three-time American League Most Valuable Player, Rodriguez is fifth on MLB’s career list with 654 home runs, six behind Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays.
Rodriguez’s ban is supported by 72 percent of U.S. sports fans, with almost half of those saying he should be kicked out of the game for life, according to a poll by Seton Hall University.
Rodriguez’s suit accuses Major League Baseball of filing a “sham” lawsuit in Florida to get information about players, then continuing to seek the information after his suspension and procuring settlements with other players “in a desperate attempt to gather evidence that will retroactively justify their unprecedented punishments,” according to the complaint.
MLB agreed not to pursue claims against Biogenesis owner Anthony Bosch in exchange for his cooperation in testifying and providing evidence against players, Rodriguez said in the complaint.
MLB is paying Bosch $5 million in monthly installments in exchange for his cooperation, Rodriguez said in the complaint, citing unidentified people familiar with the deal. MLB provided Bosch with personal security, is paying his legal fees and has promised to indemnify him for any civil liability that might stem from his cooperation, according to Rodriguez.
Bosch hasn’t been paid “$5, let alone $5 million,” a spokeswoman for Bosch, Joyce Fitzpatrick, said in a phone interview.
“He will not be paid,” Fitzpatrick said. “Has not been nor will be paid.”
The Miami New Times reported in January that Rodriguez’s name was included on a list of Biogenesis clients, citing documents provided by Porter Fischer, a former employee of the clinic who says Bosch owed him money.
The article “breathed new life” into MLB’s “moribund” probe of the clinic, and Selig “quickly jumped” at the opportunity to cement his legacy, show he was tough on performance-enhancing drugs and harm Rodriguez, according to the suit.
While the Biogenesis documents identified more than a dozen players, two players became the target of the MLB probe -- 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun, who was suspended for the final 65 games of this season, and Rodriguez, according to the suit.
“Taking down Mr. Rodriguez would vividly demonstrate that Commissioner Selig had learned from the errors of his previous explicit or tacit tolerance of steroid use,” Rodriguez said in his suit.
Major League Baseball then sued Bosch, Biogenesis and others in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court in Florida in an attempt to get evidence that would allow it to “publicly shame” and ultimately suspend Rodriguez, according to the suit.
MLB “relentlessly harassed” people in an attempt to get information and documents and offered cash payments to former Biogenesis employees in exchange for testimony and evidence, according to Rodriguez’s suit.
Fischer told the Miami New Times in June that he turned down an offer of a salary of $1,000 a week for consulting work and $125,000 for all of his Biogenesis records and an affidavit attesting to their authenticity.
Fischer also told the newspaper that boxes of Biogenesis documents were stolen from his car in March 2012. An MLB investigator later purchased what he was told were the stolen documents for $150,000 in cash, which was handed over at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale area, according to Rodriguez’s suit.
Rodriguez’s suit also accuses MLB of leaking information about its probe to the media and sending officials to appear on national media outlets to discuss the investigation, such as Selig himself, who appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” in July.
“MLB officials tortuously and maliciously made statements to, and/or allowed leaks to be received by, the media in order to damage Mr. Rodriguez’s public reputation and prevent him from performing his agreement with the New York Yankees,” Rodriguez said in the suit. “It believed that doing so would turn public opinion against Mr. Rodriguez, and strengthen their ability to impose a harsh punishment on him, consistent with Bud Selig’s goal of cementing his legacy as the commissioner who cleaned up baseball.”
The biggest challenge for a case like Rodriguez’s is that a judge is likely to say the timing of the lawsuit is premature and that the record is still being developed by the arbitrator handling the appeal of the suspension, said McCann. It’s likely that the case will be dismissed, he said.
“In my opinion that’s the most likely outcome, but it’s not a certain outcome,” said McCann of the University of New Hampshire School of Law “Most lawyers would probably position this lawsuit as unlikely to work for the time being, at least until the arbitration process is over. Now when that’s over, if he doesn’t like the outcome, I would expect he would sue again.”
The case is Rodriguez v. Major League Baseball, 653436/2013, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).