New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez faces a brutal showdown Friday — not in the batter’s box, but in front of Major League Baseball’s big guns.
MLB investigators, bent on cleaning up the steroid-tainted sport for good, not only believe they have the evidence to prove that one of baseball’s most feared hitters has been using banned substances — but they also aim to show that Rodriguez was so desperate to hide his cheating that he purchased and destroyed evidence of his doping, sources told the Miami Herald Wednesday.
The allegation that he may have tried to hinder the investigation is just one piece of ammunition that MLB hopes to use as leverage against Rodriguez, who has denied using performance-enhancing drugs except in 2003, when he tested positive while a member of the Texas Rangers. The positive test came to light years later.
On Friday, MLB officials are scheduled to meet face to face with Rodriguez to grill him about his ties to Biogenesis, the now-defunct Coral Gables anti-aging clinic at the center of one of baseball’s largest drug scandals.
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The meeting, likely to be held in Tampa, where Rodriguez is rehabbing with the Yankees’ minor-league affiliate, could lead to a 100-game suspension at a time when Rodriguez, baseball’s highest-paid player at $28 million a year, is struggling to bounce back from a second hip surgery.
Despite baseball having him its sights, the 38-year-old onetime golden boy from Miami says he won’t quit and hopes to remain a Yankee.
“You hear all of the doubters,’’ Rodriguez told USA Today in an interview last week. “And that just fuels me. They don’t know me. I’m not giving up. I never will. I’m not wired that way.’’
A spokesman for Rodriguez declined to comment on the meeting or the evidence the MLB alleges it has collected. A source close to the Yankees’ third baseman said Rodriguez will invoke baseball’s equivalent of the Fifth Amendment. The players’ powerful union has not commented, but is expected to fight any suspensions, which could postpone implementation indefinitely. The Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, another player tied up in the scandal, was summoned to a meeting by MLB officials, but refused to answer questions, The New York Daily News reported.
Critics — mainly lawyers whose clients have been targeted in connection with the scandal — have called the inquiry a “witch-hunt” in part because star witness Anthony Bosch, Biogenesis’ founder, has serious credibility issues, having given the impression he was a doctor even though he had no medical credentials. Bosch has agreed to cooperate with MLB and in exchange, baseball will help indemnify him against future litigation and help shield him from possible criminal prosecution.
Rodriguez is among 20 players who are allegedly listed in the clinic’s records that were leaked to the Miami New Times and other media outlets in January, launching a legal and journalistic frenzy. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig authorized a full-scale investigation, and filed a civil lawsuit against Bosch, two of his partners and others suspected of being involved in the doping.
On Monday, lawyers for two witnesses in the case — Rodriguez’s cousin, Yuri Sucart, and former University of Miami pitching coach Lazaro Collazo — hope to persuade a Miami-Dade circuit court judge that MLB has no legal right to force them to give depositions. MLB wants to talk to them because Sucart was mentioned in Biogenesis records and Rodriguez once identified him as his steroid deliveryman when he played for the Rangers and tested positive. They also suspect that Collazo has information that can help them, a charge Collazo says is untrue.
If their effort is successful Monday, they may be able to get the lawsuit thrown out of Miami-Dade on the grounds that the suit should have been filed in federal court, which has jurisdiction over collective bargaining agreements, such as the one negotiated between MLB and its players.