Major League Baseball, determined to put an end to the doping era that has tarnished its last two decades, suspended Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez on Monday, along with a dozen other players, two of them starters for pennant contenders, for their connection to Biogenesis, a defunct Florida anti-aging clinic that allegedly supplied them with banned performance-enhancing drugs.
The punishments were the most sweeping since the Black Sox game-fixing scandal of 1919.
Rodriguez, the highest-paid performer in the sport’s history and the most prominent to be sanctioned for doping, was handed a 211-game suspension through the end of the 2014 season — a potentially career-ending punishment. He plans to appeal. The others were given 50-game bans, reportedly in exchange for agreeing not to contest them.
The suspensions generally were supported by the players’ peers, many of whom resent being linked to a sport in which exceptional performances routinely come under suspicion from the news media and the public.
“Today is a sad day for MLB, the fans of this great game and all players who may have been negatively affected by others’ selfishness,” tweeted Evan Longoria, the Tampa Bay Rays’ All-Star third baseman.
Along with Rodriguez, those suspended include: Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, and Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, all of whom were selected for last month’s All-Star Game; Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo, Mets outfielder Jordany Valdespin, Mariners catcher Jesus Montero, and free agent pitcher Jordan Norberto.
Add to that four minor leaguers: Fernando Martinez (Yankees), Cesar Puello (Mets), Fautino De Los Santos (Padres), and Sergio Escalona (Astros).
“This case resoundingly illustrates that the strength of our program is not limited only to testing,” commissioner Bud Selig said in a prepared statement. “We continue to attack this issue on every front — from science and research to education and awareness, to fact-finding and investigative skills.”
Rodriguez, the charismatic 38-year-old third baseman who’d been considered a certain Hall of Famer, was tagged with a much heavier penalty than the others because of his use and possession over multiple years of numerous forms of prohibited drugs. Those included steroids, testosterone, and human growth hormone, as well as “engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate” the investigation by the commissioner’s office.
Rodriquez’s misconduct reportedly included intimidating witnesses, destroying evidence, and lying to investigators about his doping, according to Major League Baseball.
Rodriguez is seen as unlikely to come back to the majors after such a long suspension. His appeal was supported Monday by MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, who called the length “way too harsh.”
Rodriguez, who is earning $28 million this year and is signed for an additional $86 million through 2017, will be eligible to play while his appeal is handled by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, which likely will take at least a few weeks.
Rodriguez suited up for the Yankees Monday for the first time since his January hip surgery and a subsequent quadriceps injury, getting one hit in four at-bats in an 8-1 loss to the White Sox and being booed roundly by the Chicago fans. “I’m not going to bring him up to sit him,” said manager Joe Girardi.
Before the game, Rodriguez said “I'm fighting for my life” in contesting the suspension.
After Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player, agreed to accept a 65-game suspension last month for the balance of the season for his involvement with Biogenesis, it was considered inevitable that the other players with connections to the clinic also would be punished. Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera, Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon, and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal, also linked to Biogenesis, already had served 50-game suspensions after positive tests, and Rodriguez was considered a decidedly more significant target.
Though Rodriguez had admitted to using steroids for three years (2001-03) when he played for the Texas Rangers, he had not tested positive since then. But Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, who cooperated with MLB investigators in exchange for immunity and other considerations, provided evidence from e-mails, text messages, and payment records indicating that Rodriguez had bought and used drugs from the clinic and had recruited other players to become clients.
The suspensions came just eight days after the Baseball Hall of Fame enshrined no living candidates for the first time since 1965, with voters bypassing the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose doping links damaged what had been viewed as inevitable elections.
Rodriguez, whose 647 career home runs are the most of any active player and fifth all-time, was at one time considered an automatic choice to join the Hall of Fame.
“Despite the challenges this situation has created during a great season on the field, we pursued this matter because it was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do,” said Selig, who could have banned Rodriguez for life by invoking the “best interests of baseball” clause.
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.