Alex Rodriguez vowed Saturday to "take this fight to federal court" after an arbitrator ruled the three-time MVP would sit out the 2014 season for violating Major League Baseball's rules against performance-enhancing drugs.
Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced Rodriguez's suspension from 211 games to 162 plus the postseason, but MLB and commissioner Bud Selig were clear winners in the decision.
The suspension is without pay and therefore will cost Rodriguez $25 million in salary. He remains under contract with the New York Yankees for another $61 million over the 2015-17 seasons. In the short term, the Yankees benefit, as they endeavor to limit mounting luxury tax penalties while fielding a competitive team.
Because of the unprecedented nature of a full-season suspension, it is unclear whether Rodriguez will be allowed to attend spring training, or if the Yankees would want him to, or if that, like so much going forward, would have to be hashed out in court. A spokesperson for Rodriguez said it was Rodriguez's intention to report to spring training with his teammates.
Horowitz's verdict would appear to support many findings from a yearlong MLB investigation into Rodriguez's relationship with a South Florida wellness clinic and its founder. The league accused Rodriguez of obtaining and using performance-enhancing drugs, including testosterone and human growth hormone, and obstructing its investigation. Thirteen other players, including Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz, were suspended as a result of the same investigation into Biogenesis and its founder, Anthony Bosch. Rodriguez's suspension was by far the heaviest. And only Rodriguez appealed.
Rodriguez issued a statement Saturday morning, about 45 minutes before the league announced Horowitz's decision.
It read, in part, "The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one. This is one man's decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury.
"I have been clear that I did not use performance-enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline, or violate the Basic Agreement or the Joint Drug Agreement in an matter, and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court."
In a statement, the Players' Association said it "strongly disagrees" with Horowitz's decision, but that, "We recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached." That would appear to suggest the union would not support Rodriguez in further actions against MLB in this matter.
MLB also issued a statement. It read, "While we believe the original 211-game suspension was appropriate, we respect the decision rendered by the Panel."
Rodriguez, by far the most accomplished player to be disciplined under MLB's drug guidelines, could challenge the ruling through a federal injunction. If granted, the injunction could allow Rodriguez to play for the Yankees – spring training opens next month – while his case is considered.
Rodriguez, 38, has received the two largest contracts in major-league history. Over a 20-year career, he stands fifth on the all-time home runs list, with 654, behind only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. In 2009, Rodriguez admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs early in his career after a report surfaced he'd tested positive for two banned substances during 2003 league survey testing. He has claimed to be clean since, and during his recent appeal accused MLB commissioner Bud Selig of conducting a "witch hunt" against him.
MLB countered, saying its investigation revealed Rodriguez's use of banned PEDs "was longer and more pervasive than any other player," and that Rodriguez's career was "tarnished" after engaging in "ongoing, gross misconduct."
For those reasons, MLB sought a ban greater than the typical penalty for a first-time offender of its Joint Drug Program, that being 50 games. Rodriguez's attorneys have said Rodriguez should not serve a single inning of a suspension.
Horowitz deliberated for seven weeks following the conclusion of hearings in which MLB accused Rodriguez of using banned drugs and then attempting to obstruct MLB's investigation. Rodriguez did not testify in the hearings, which witnesses described as often loud and rancorous. Near the end, Rodriguez stormed from a hearing in protest of Horowitz's decision not to require Selig to testify.
"The absurdity and injustice just became too much," Rodriguez said at the time.
Of the many players discovered in the pages of Biogenesis records, 12 were suspended for 50 games each. Braun, who had previously tested positive but successfully appealed on a technicality, was suspended 65 games.
MLB hit Rodriguez the hardest, at 211 games, the longest non-lifetime ban in league history. He then sued MLB, alleging the league and Selig "engaged in tortious and egregious conduct with one and only one goal … to destroy the reputation and career of Alex Rodriguez." He also accused MLB of unscrupulous – and at times illegal – conduct during its investigation. And, Rodriguez filed a medical malpractice suit against the New York Yankees team doctor and a New York hospital over their treatment of his hip injury.
The crux of MLB's case was Rodriguez's alleged relationship with Bosch, the proprietor of a wellness clinic that allegedly supplied numerous substances – many illegal without a valid prescription – to professional athletes and private citizens. Bosch, who is currently under federal investigation for potential illegal activities as they relate to Biogenesis, turned and became the league's key witness against Rodriguez.
Rodriguez would be eligible to return for the 2015 season. He will be 40 in July of that season and will have played 44 major-league games since the end of 2012. Rodriguez would not be allowed to play in Japan or Korea, either. Along with the $61 million remaining on his contract after 2014, Rodriguez would be due another $6 million each for surpassing 660 home runs (Mays), 714 home runs (Ruth), 755 home runs (Aaron) and 762 home runs (Bonds).
Rodriguez has made no suggestion he might retire in the face of a lengthy suspension.
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