NEW YORK – Defiant till the end, Alex Rodriguez is intent on evading baseball’s most sweeping punishment since the Black Sox scandal.
Rodriguez was suspended through 2014, and All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera were banned 50 games apiece Monday when Major League Baseball disciplined 13 players for their relationship to Biogenesis of America, a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.
The harshest penalty was reserved for Rodriguez, the New York Yankees slugger, a three-time Most Valuable Player and baseball’s highest-paid star. He said he will appeal his suspension, which covers 211 games, by Thursday’s deadline. And because arbitrator Fredric Horowitz isn’t expected to rule until November or December at the earliest, Rodriguez was free to make his season debut Monday night and play the rest of this year.
Rodriguez began his professional career with the Seattle Mariners. He was the first player selected in the 1993 amateur draft by the M’s. He made his major league debut for Seattle in July 1994, and he played for the M’s through the 2000 season before leaving for the Texas Rangers as a free agent. He played for three seasons with Texas, then left for the New York Yankees.
Sidelined since hip surgery in January, Rodriguez rejoined the Yankees five hours after the suspension in a series opener at the Chicago White Sox, playing third base and batting fourth.
“The last seven months has been a nightmare, has been probably the worst time of my life for sure,” Rodriguez said before the game.
Booed loudly each time he walked to the plate, Rodriguez went 1 for 4 in New York’s 8-1 loss. He blooped a single to left field in the second inning, flied out in the fourth and sixth, then struck out in the eighth. He acknowledged he felt rusty in the field, though he made all his plays.
“It was fun to go out there and play the game again,” Rodriguez said. “I love the fans here.”
The other 12 players agreed to their 50-game penalties, giving them a chance to return for the playoffs.
Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension last month and previous penalties bring to 18 the total number of players sanctioned for their connection with Biogenesis.
At the center of it all was Rodriguez, once the greatest player of his time, reduced Monday night to saying that he was humbled, at 38, just to “have the opportunity to put on this uniform again” and adding if he didn’t fight for his career, no one else would.
A-Rod’s drug penalty was for “his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years,” MLB said.
His punishment under the labor contract was “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.”
In Chicago, Rodriguez wouldn’t deny using PEDs, saying “when the time is right, there will be an opportunity to do all of that. I don’t think that time is right now.”
He added: “It’s been the toughest fight of my life. By any means, am I out of the woods? This is probably just phase two just starting. It’s not going to get easier. It’s probably going to get harder.”
Rodriguez admitted four years ago that he used PEDs while with Texas from 2001-03 but has repeatedly denied using them since. His penalty was more than double the previous high for a PED suspension, a 100-game ban given last year to San Francisco pitcher Guillermo Mota for a second offense.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, minutes after losing captain Derek Jeter for the third time this year, was ready to welcome A-Rod back. “I’m not here to judge people. That’s not my job,” Girardi said. “He’s a player as long as he’s in our clubhouse.”
Girardi called the suspensions “another black eye for us, but we’re trying to clean this game up.”
As for the other All-Stars, Cruz, an outfielder, leads Texas in RBIs and Peralta has been a top hitter and shortstop for Detroit, a pair of teams in the midst of pennant races. They will be eligible to return for the postseason.
Others agreeing to 50-game bans included Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and outfielder Fernando Martinez; Philadelphia pitcher Antonio Bastardo; Seattle catcher Jesus Montero; New York Mets utilityman Jordany Valdespin and outfielder Cesar Puello; Houston pitcher Sergio Escalona; and free agent pitchers Fautino De Los Santos and Jordan Norberto.
While the players’ association has fought many drug penalties in the past three decades, attitudes of its membership have shifted sharply in recent years and union staff encouraged settlements in the Biogenesis probe.