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 since 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.
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 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.
The suspensions are thought to be the most at once for off-field conduct since 1921, when Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned eight White Sox players for life for throwing the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati. They had been suspended by the team the previous year and were penalized by baseball even though they had been acquitted of criminal charges.
As for the modern-day All-Stars, Cruz, an outfielder, leads Texas in RBI 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 were Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and outfielder Fernando Martinez; Philadelphia pitcher Antonio Bastardo; Seattle catcher Jesus Montero; New York Mets infielder 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.
“The accepted suspensions announced today are consistent with the punishments set forth in the Joint Drug Agreement, and were arrived at only after hours of intense negotiations between the bargaining parties, the players and their representatives,” union head Michael Weiner said. But the union will fight Rodriguez’s discipline.
“We’ve never had a 200-plus (game) penalty for a player who may have used drugs,” Weiner said. “And among other things, I just think that’s way out of line.”
A-Rod intimated Friday that New York did not want him to return. The Yankees answered Monday with a statement:
“We are compelled to address certain reckless and false allegations concerning the Yankees’ role in this matter,” the team said. “The New York Yankees in no way instituted and/or assisted MLB in the direction of this investigation; or used the investigation as an attempt to avoid its responsibilities under a player contract; or did its medical staff fail to provide the appropriate standard of care to Alex Rodriguez.”
Rodriguez is making $28 million this year, and his salary drops to $25 million next year and $21 million in 2015. If the 211-game penalty is upheld, his lost pay could range from $30.6 million to $32.7 million.
Players have often succeeded at persuading arbitrators to overturn or shorten drug suspensions. In the era before the drug agreement, LaMarr Hoyt, Ferguson Jenkins, Pascual Perez and Willie Wilson were among those who had success in hearings, and Steve Howe’s lifetime ban for a seventh suspension related to drugs or alcohol was cut to 119 days.
Weiner said a settlement before Horowitz’s decision is possible but not likely. David Cornwell, an attorney for one of Rodriguez’s three law firms, called the penalty an “unprecedented action.”
Rodriguez’s suspension might dampen his chances for the Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire all compiled big numbers, too, but voters blocked them from Cooperstown because of the drug cloud.
Cruz attributed his action to a gastrointestinal infection and said he had lost 40 pounds following the 2011 season.
“I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error,” he said in a statement. “I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.”
Peralta can rejoin Detroit for a season-ending three-game series at Miami – not far from the former office of Biogenesis.
MLB’s investigation began last year after San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera tested positive for elevated testosterone, as did Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal. The probe escalated in January when the Miami New Times published documents obtained from former Biogenesis associate Porter Fisher that linked several players to Biogenesis.
MLB said Melky Cabrera, Colon and Grandal will not receive additional discipline and it found no violations for Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez and Baltimore infielder Danny Valencia, both linked to Biogenesis in reports.
“Those players who have violated the program have created scrutiny for the vast majority of our players, who play the game the right way,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. “We continue to attack this issue on every front – from science and research, to education and awareness, to fact-finding and investigative skills.”