Third baseman returns to Yankees; Cervelli receives 50-game ban
Bryan Hoch and Joey Nowak
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star and three-time Most Valuable Player Award winner, was suspended by Major League Baseball on Monday through the remainder of the 2013 season, beginning Thursday, and all of the 2014 season for violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and the Basic Agreement.
Rodriguez's attorney, David Cornwell, said on Monday that they "will appeal the discipline and pursue all legal remedies available to Alex." Rodriguez therefore can play with the Yankees until the appeals process runs its course and a decision is made. The case will be heard by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, who could uphold, overturn or shorten MLB's punishment.
While Major League Baseball Players Association executive vice president Michael Weiner said there was no timetable for Horowitz to hear the arguments and make a ruling, he predicted that this phase of the saga wouldn't be concluded until November or December.
That sets in motion another twist in the complex story, as Rodriguez made his 2013 debut on Monday in Chicago after returning from offseason left hip surgery. Playing third base, Rodriguez was in the lineup in the cleanup spot and singled once in four at-bats in the Yankees' 8-1 loss to the White Sox.
"I felt OK, for the first game," Rodriguez said afterward. "It was hard today, that's for sure. [A] long day. I felt pretty good. From this moment on I want to focus on baseball like it's do or die. Every game's very important for us."
The court of public opinion seems to have already issued judgment on Rodriguez. His return Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field was filled with boos each time he stepped into the batter's box.
A light chant of "P-E-Ds" -- in reference to performance-enhancing drugs -- could be heard during pregame warmups, while a "steroids" chant was started during his at-bat in the eighth inning that ended in a strikeout.
It was just the latest public display of animosity toward Rodriguez, who said he will continue to fight in an attempt to clear his name.
Rodriguez took a somber, reflective tone when addressing the media before Monday's game.
"The last seven months have been a nightmare," Rodriguez said, "probably the worst time of my life for sure -- obviously, for the circumstances that are at hand and also dealing with a very tough surgery and a rehab program and being 38.
"I'm obviously disappointed with the news today. No question about it. What we've always fought for is the process, and I think we have that. At some point, we'll sit in front of an arbiter and give it our case.
"There's nothing about it that's been easy. All of it has been challenging. I'm sure there have been mistakes made. I'm a human being."
Ultimately, Rodriguez didn't hide his excitement as his season debut was just hours away.
"I spoke with [general manager Brian Cashman] yesterday afternoon, and we just talked about playing third base today. He welcomed me back. For me, it's just going to be business as usual. ... My focus is: What can I do to help this team win?"
Manager Joe Girardi had said this weekend in San Diego that he expected to have Rodriguez available, and to play him.
"People have speculated for a while now that it was going to be the rest of this year and next year," manager Joe Girardi said of Rodriguez's suspension before Monday's game, "but I knew there was a possibility that he would appeal and that's why we kept him going, because we felt if he was ready, we could put him in the lineup on Monday.
"It's clear what the expectations are by where I put him in the lineup. ... I think guys were happy to see him. He's a teammate of ours. He's a friend of ours."
About the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Girardi was direct.
"I don't think there's any room for PEDs in baseball," Girardi said. "I think the records should be accomplished the right way. … The only way to do it is through hard work."
Other players suspended in the scandal linked to the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in South Florida are All-Stars Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz and Everth Cabrera, as well as Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli. There were 13 total players punished in total in Monday's announcements, not including Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera or Yasmani Grandal, who were also linked to Biogenesis but considered to have already been punished with their past suspensions. Cruz and Peralta are among those accepting their 50-game suspensions.
"Rodriguez's discipline under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program is based on his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years," Major League Baseball said in a statement. "Rodriguez's discipline under the Basic Agreement is for attempting to cover up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation."
Currently baseball's highest-paid player, Rodriguez, 38, stands to lose a substantial portion of his salary if the suspension is upheld. He is owed an additional $86 million by the Yankees over the next four years: $25 million in 2014, $21 million in '15 and $20 million in each of the final two seasons.
His record-setting $275 million deal with the Yankees -- signed after the third baseman's 2007 AL MVP season, at a time when Rodriguez was still being touted as a "clean" challenger to Barry Bonds' home run title -- also includes approximately $30 million in home run-based incentives that Rodriguez is unlikely to reach. He owns 647 career home runs and is 99 hits shy of 3,000.
A lengthy suspension for Rodriguez, if upheld, would figure to help the Yankees meet the $189 million payroll objective that managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has publicly set for the 2014 season.
Rodriguez reportedly reached out to both MLB and the Yankees this past weekend to discuss either a suspension negotiation or the terms of a buyout from his contract. He was rebuffed by both parties, one day after he suggested to reporters in Trenton, N.J., that he was the subject of a conspiracy intended to void the remainder of his contract.
"There are a lot of layers," Rodriguez said after homering Friday for Double-A Trenton. "I will say this: There is more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping back on the field. And that's not my teammates and it's not the Yankee fans."
Said Rodriguez on Monday: "I said what I said. That's Friday night. Today is another day."
The Yankees refuted the claims Rodriguez made Friday in a statement on Monday.
"We are compelled to address certain reckless and false allegations concerning the Yankees' role in this matter," the statement read. "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 the appropriate standard of care to Alex Rodriguez."
Additionally, the Yankees said in the statement that they support MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, but also recognize and respect the appeals process.
The ordeal began in late January, when the Miami New Times published information that the now-shuttered clinic in Coral Gables, Fla., and its proprietor, Anthony Bosch, had supplied performance-enhancing drugs to several notable Major League players, potentially including Rodriguez and the Brewers' Ryan Braun as the most prominent names. Braun was the first of the group to be punished, as the former National League MVP Award winner was suspended in July for the remainder of the 2013 season.
"As a social institution with enormous social responsibilities, Baseball must do everything it can to maintain integrity, fairness and a level playing field," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "We are committed to working together with players to reiterate that performance-enhancing drugs will not be tolerated in our game."
Rodriguez's name or several nicknames appeared at least 16 times on documents obtained from the clinic dating back as far as the 2009 season. Through a spokesman, Rodriguez said at the time that the documents were "not legitimate."
But his claim was dented when several players -- including Cervelli -- acknowledged that they did, in fact, have contact with Bosch or Biogenesis. Rodriguez's claims of falsification were dealt an even heavier blow when Braun agreed to his suspension, therefore acknowledging some level of wrongdoing on his part with the Biogenesis operation.
In a 2009 notebook, Rodriguez is marked as having paid $3,500 for a product identified as "1.5/1.5 HGH (sports perf.) creams test., glut., MIC, supplement, sports perf. Diet." Human growth hormone is banned by Major League Baseball, as are testosterone creams.
The newspaper reported that Bosch's records continue through last season, and a notebook labeled "2012" bears a heading with "A-Rod" and notes that the Yankees third baseman "is paid through April 30th."
Multiple media reports initially suggested that Selig had threatened to levy a lifetime ban upon Rodriguez for his performance-enhancing drug use and recruiting other players to Biogenesis, as well as efforts to impede MLB's investigation of the clinic by allegedly attempting to purchase documents relating to the operation this season, and not being truthful to MLB's investigators in the past when he discussed his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, who pleaded guilty two years ago to a federal charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States from Canada.
Selig did wield the power to implement that punishment if he had banned Rodriguez for violations of baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, under Article XI(A)(1)(b) of the Basic Agreement -- known as the "integrity of the game" clause, which would have prevented him from playing while the union filed a grievance and an arbitrator determined whether the penalty met a "just cause" standard.
However, it was thought to be unlikely that Selig would actually carry through on a lifetime ban because doing so would strain the league's relations with the MLB Players Association, and that such a penalty would be unlikely to be upheld by an arbitrator for Rodriguez -- who is still technically considered a first-time offender under MLB's collectively bargained Joint Drug Agreement despite acknowledging previous performance-enhancing drug use while with the Rangers from 2001-03. Rodriguez met with baseball investigators on July 12 but is believed to have refused to have answered their questions, as Braun also did.
Working his way back from hip surgery performed in January, Rodriguez played in 15 Minor League games at various levels of the Yankees' farm system before being added to the roster on Monday, most recently playing for the Trenton Thunder on Friday and Saturday.
Rodriguez had been expected to join the Yankees last month for a game in Arlington, but was diagnosed with a Grade 1 left quadriceps strain -- a diagnosis that Rodriguez challenged, even enlisting the help of a physician, Dr. Michael Gross, to appear on New York's WFAN radio station and declare that he had examined Rodriguez's MRI exam and saw no injury. Ultimately, after a conference call with Cashman and team president Randy Levine, Rodriguez agreed to return to Tampa, Fla., for further rest and rehabilitation.
Rodriguez was asked multiple times Monday if he had every taken PEDs, but didn't directly respond, saying only that he would speak on that when the time is right.
"I'm fighting for my life," Rodriguez said Monday. "I have to defend myself. If I don't defend myself, no one else will."