Alex Rodriguez’s dizzying fall from the ranks of baseball royalty hit bottom Monday when Major League Baseball suspended him for an unprecedented 211 games — the rest of this season and the entire 2014 campaign — for using performance enhancing substances.
The Miami native, once expected to become baseball’s all-time home run king, will now forever be remembered as the central figure in one of the game’s worst scandals.
Twelve other players were given 50-game suspensions in connection with Biogenesis, the Miami-area doping clinic that supplied high-profile players, including the New York Yankees’ slugger, with banned substances from 2009 until last year, MLB alleges.
Rodriguez, 38, a three-time MVP and fifth on the all-time home-run list, can suit up and play while he appeals the ban. The announcement by baseball coincided with Rodriguez’s return to the big-league roster after months of rehab for a serious hip injury, his second. Monday night, he was in the Yankees’ lineup in Chicago, where the White Sox were hosting New York.
“The past seven months have been a nightmare — probably the worst time of my life,’’ the third baseman said, his voice cracking, as he spoke about returning to the game during a news conference in Chicago.
“I am thrilled and humbled to have an opportunity to put on this uniform again and to play Major League Baseball again.’’
The announcement by MLB Monday capped a lengthy and aggressive probe in which baseball issued subpoenas and offered to pay witnesses to help them gather evidence against players suspected of cheating. Ultimately, MLB persuaded the clinic’s founder, Anthony Bosch, to cooperate and turn over a cache of material, including emails, ledgers and phone records, that allegedly confirmed ballplayers were doping in violation of the players’ labor contract. Most of the evidence has not been made public.
The case also ensnared All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera in what some are calling the most sweeping punishments since the 1919 Black Sox scandal, which involved a scheme to rig the World Series.
“We pursued this matter because it was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in a written statement about the players’ suspensions. “For weeks, I have noted the many players throughout the game who have strongly voiced their support on this issue, and I thank them for it.”
Most of the players negotiated the terms of their suspensions over the past month, electing to admit responsibility, sit out their suspensions immediately and return as quickly as possible to the diamond.
Rodriguez had vowed from the beginning to fight the allegations.
“I’m in the toughest fight of my life and it’s not going to get easier,’’ he said Monday. “I’m fighting for my life.’’
He declined to answer questions about the use of performance enhancing drugs, though in the past he has said he had not used PEDs since his days as a Texas Ranger.
MLB, however, contends he continued to use testosterone and human growth hormone, and that his discipline was also based on his effort to cover-up and obstruct baseball’s investigation. The suspension, which is potentially career-ending, would take effect Aug. 8, if not for the appeal.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami last week said it was conducting a criminal inquiry into the clinic’s activities involving the illegal sale and distribution of drugs, including to high school athletes. It is possible that Rodriguez and other players could be subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, should the case rise to that level.
Rodriguez, who grew up in Miami, has a $275 million contract and is the highest-paid player in baseball. He previously admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs when he played for the Rangers in 2001-03, after the results of a confidential drug test were leaked, but has never been disciplined.
Reached by phone yesterday, his mother, Lourdes Navarro, declined to comment, as did his sister, Suzy Dunand. His nephew, Joe, an aspiring baseball player at Gulliver Prep, answered the door at the family’s home in a gated neighborhood in Kendall, where a maid was washing the glass front door.
“I really can’t say anything,’’ he said, as phones rang repeatedly inside the house.
Rich Hofmann, Rodriguez’s high school coach at Westminster Christian in Miami, said it was a sad day.
“Each one of us, depending on where we are in our lives, have decisions to make and we have to live with them. Unfortunately, he has to live with his and that will be his legacy.’’
Rodriguez, who had been rehabbing with a minor league affiliate of the Yankees until Monday’s call-up to the majors, has accused MLB and the franchise of sabotaging his career so that the Yankees won’t have to pay him the balance of his contract, estimated at about $60 million.
For several weeks, MLB had been rumored to be considering a lifetime ban under a provision in the players’ agreement that permits discipline for conduct that is detrimental to the interests of the game. In the end, it’s likely that Selig realized it would have been difficult to make a lifetime ban stick on appeal.
Though the players union has cooperated with baseball in its effort to clean up the sport — and has supported the suspensions — Executive Director Michael Weiner said the union would defend Rodriguez because Selig did not “act appropriately’’ in his case. Weiner did not elaborate.
The scandal broke in late January when one of Bosch’s partners, Porter Fischer, went to Miami New Times with records containing the names of major leaguers and other athletes who were buying steroids, testosterone and other prescription-only substances from the clinic. After the newspaper published the story, MLB launched an all-out campaign to build cases against the players.
In March, MLB filed a civil lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against Bosch and others, alleging that they conspired to assist ballplayers in violating the terms of the union’s collective bargaining agreement. MLB was able to use the lawsuit as a tool to force witnesses to give depositions and other evidence against the players. An MLB spokesman said Monday that the lawsuit would remain active.
Players who received 50-game suspensions in addition to Cabrera, Cruz and Peralta were: Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo; New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli; pitcher Fautino De Los Santos of the Double-A San Antonio Missions, a San Diego Padres affiliate; pitcher Sergio Escalona, of the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks, a Houston Astros affiliate; outfielder Fernando Martinez, of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, a Yankees affiliate; catcher Jesus Montero of the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers, a Seattle Mariners affiliate; free agent pitcher Jordan Norberto; outfielder Cesar Puello of the Double-A Binghamton Mets, a New York Mets affiliate; and infielder/outfielder Jordany Valdespin, of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s, also a Mets affiliate.
Norberto’s suspension will be effective once he signs with another major league organization.
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal, all of whom already have served 50-game suspensions as a result of violations stemming from their connections to Biogenesis, will not receive additional discipline.
MLB’s investigation found no violations by Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez or Baltimore Orioles infielder Danny Valencia, both of whom had previously been linked to the clinic.
The latest suspensions follows the July 22 ban of Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, a former University of Miami standout who was suspended for the rests of this season.