NEW YORK — The most compelling and potentially lucrative stretch of the New York Yankees’ schedule will be the return of a 38-year-old third baseman just handed the longest performance-enhancing drug ban in baseball history.

Alex Rodriguez made his season debut Monday night against the Chicago White Sox, five hours after being suspended without pay for 211 games following an investigation into a defunct Florida anti-aging clinic that allegedly supplied drugs to major leaguers. Though 12 players linked to the inquiry accepted 50-game bans, Rodriguez chose to appeal and can play until the matter is resolved.

With arbitration unlikely to conclude until October, the Yankees stand to see a short-term spike in television ratings and attendance during a season marked by injury and mediocrity. The team also will have operations nightmares as it tries to keep emotions surrounding Rodriguez in check, sports marketers and media executives said.

“Welcome to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Baseball,” said Andy Dolich, a consultant who’s worked in operations for all four major U.S. sports leagues. “You take a player that was paid a half-billion dollars and have him as a poster child for something that baseball would never want as a poster.”

Rodriguez, the three-time AL MVP, went 1 for 4 on Monday night in Chicago in his first big-league game since a hip injury sidelined him last October.

The game drew the YES Network’s highest rating this year for a Yankees game even though New York lost, 8-1.

YES, the team’s cable television partner, said the game had a 4.34 rating and averaged 393,000 viewers. The previous high was a 4.16 rating.

The most viewers were around the time of his first at-bat, with the 8:30 to 8:45 p.m. period drawing an 8.22 rating and 756,000 viewers.

As of July 25, ratings on the YES Network were down 39 percent compared to last season. Through the first 54 games at Yankee Stadium this season, New York has drawn 173,000 fewer fans than at the same point last year. Its average of 39,977 per game ranks fourth among baseball’s 30 teams after finishing second behind Philadelphia in 2012. The last time the Yankees finished lower than second in average attendance was 2001, according to ESPN data.

To have Rodriguez playing, even temporarily, is “good for YES, which has under-delivered on advertising,” said Leo Hindery, managing partner of InterMedia Partners who was chief executive officer of YES from 2001-04. “There is a correlation between viewership and performance on the field.”

Increased ratings and walk-up ticket sales would provide a “rounding error” in revenue gains for the Yankees, said Dolich, who works for the London-based executive search firm Odgers Berndtson.

“But if you got paid by the word, tweet, video or media review of this, it’s either the perfect storm or the imperfect storm, or maybe the perfectly imperfect storm,” Dolich said.

Handling expressions of anger and support toward Rodriguez and related security measures will be the “No. 1 focus of an operations team’s life” for home and away games while the third baseman plays, said Dolich. His return may even lead to protests outside ballparks, he said.

“People are going to express themselves because of their constitutional right,” Dolich said. “The question is, how do you prohibit an escalation of emotions, outside of the stadium and inside?”

Rodriguez is making $28 million this season and scheduled to make $25 million next season, meaning he would have forfeited about $33 million had he accepted the initial terms of the ban. He’s due $61 million from 2015-17.

“It’s clear to me the team is not upset” about not having to pay Rodriguez if his appeal fails, Hindery said. “His value to them doesn’t match up with the dollars they owe him.”


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