Kendall Rodriguez/for New York Daily News
Alex Rodriguez takes another big hit in his battle with baseball as arbitrator gives Yankee slugger 162-game ban, plus the postseason.
Alex Rodriguez, once Major League Baseball’s biggest star, was slammed Saturday with an historic drug suspension that encompasses all of the 2014 season, including the postseason, and will cost the Yankee third baseman $ 25 million in this year’s salary, plus millions in any performance incentives he would have earned.
The ban comes after a year of vicious attacks on Major League Baseball and the Yankees, public denials that he acquired massive amounts of performance-enhancing drugs from a seedy Miami dope den, and millions in legal bills from a team of high-profile lawyers, crisis managers and private investigators.
Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz struck the 14-time All-Star and three-time Most Valuable Player with the 162-game suspension, plus the offseason, in an endorsement of MLB’s accusations that Rodriguez scored an array of PEDs from Biogenesis, a now-shuttered Miami-area anti-aging clinic operated by Anthony Bosch, in clear violation of the game’s collectively bargained drug program.
MLB announced the suspension — the longest drug suspension in the history of the program — Saturday morning in a short statement.
For the 38-year-old Rodriguez, the ruling is a death blow to his already PED-tainted career, even though the decision by Horowitz reduces the 211-game ban baseball commissioner Bud Selig imposed in August and is based on non-analytical evidence — Rodriguez has not failed a drug test since baseball’s 2003 survey testing year. He is unlikely to take that small victory as a sensible stopping point in his legal crusade, however, and his attorneys have threatened to immediately file an injunction asking a judge to stay the suspension pending further legal action. Rodriguez has already commenced a lawsuit against the league and others he claims have conspired to frame him as the most tainted ballplayer since Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
The decision comes about seven weeks after Rodriguez stormed out of his grievance hearing on Nov. 20, professing that he had been treated unfairly. The walkout saved him at the last minute from going under oath with denials.
Assuming the suspension stands — it is highly unlikely a judge would interfere with a ruling issued under binding arbitration — Rodriguez’s suspension is immediately effective, meaning he will not be allowed to participate in spring training or any other Yankee activities. He will lose his entire 2014 salary — $ 25 million — plus millions in the performance bonuses he was closing in on.
The decision wraps up a tumultuous process that began Aug. 5, the day Selig banned Rodriguez for doping and interfering with MLB’s Biogenesis probe. While Rodriguez immediately elected arbitration, more than a dozen other players implicated in the scandal accepted their bans. Most of them have already served 50-game suspensions (Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game suspension) and are now free to take the field in spring training, something Rodriguez will not be allowed to do.
The arbitration process was a slow-motion disaster for Rodriguez, the best-paid player in baseball and once its biggest star. Evidence in the case suggests Rodriguez continued using steroids and human growth hormone long after he vowed he was clean — even after his relationship with Canadian HGH guru Anthony Galea embroiled Rodriguez in the federal grand jury probe that made Galea a felon.
The voluminous text messages and detailed descriptions of an extremely close relationship between Rodriguez and Bosch were apparently too persuasive to allow Horowitz to significantly reduce the suspension. “The 211 games made sense when Selig issued it,” said one source of MLB’s original suspension, “because they wanted him out of the game in 2013, too. But this is validation of their program. Of all the guys that were suspended, he was the biggest violator.”
Rodriguez’s involvement with Bosch and Biogenesis also destroyed his relationship with the Yankees — he has sued Yankee team doctor Christopher Ahmad, accusing him of misdiagnosing a hip injury that led to surgery last January — and may have torpedoed any lingering hope Rodriguez had of getting into the Hall of Fame.
“He would have been better off admitting he got drugs from Bosch and tried to make a case for 50 games as a first-time violator,” said a baseball source who has closely followed the case.
Instead, Rodriguez publicly denied a relationship with Bosch, at one point describing him as a “consultant,” and escalated his attacks on the arbitration process.
Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News
Alex Rodriguez was originally given a 211-game ban for his role in baseball’s Biogenesis scandal before appealing the decision.
By Nov. 20, after claiming to be outraged that Selig wouldn’t be forced by Horowitz to testify, A-Rod walked out of the negotiating session, hopped in a waiting car and headed straight to the studio of radio host Mike Francesa, where Rodriguez adamantly denied doping beyond the years in which he has already confessed to using steroids (2001-03, when he was with the Texas Rangers).
Those claims contradicted voluminous evidence of drug use, including a stream of electronic communication between Rodriguez and Bosch, who authenticated the messages while testifying at MLB’s behest during the arbitration and is believed to have provided detailed descriptions of injections gone awry, schemes to avoid the drug testers and records of payments for drugs.
In an apparent gesture toward transparency, Rodriguez’s PR rep vowed in November that Rodriguez’s legal team would release MLB’s evidence for public consumption, but never followed through with that promise.
It’s unclear what the arbitrator’s ruling means for Joe Tacopina, the bombastic lawyer A-Rod hired to lead an army of lawyers and public relations wizards to fight the ban. Tacopina, who told a television interviewer that Rodriguez didn’t deserve a single inning of suspension, worked hard throughout the fall to reframe the Biogenesis scandal as a story about MLB’s anti-doping enforcement tactics even as Rodriguez’s team put on a limited defense of their client in the arbitration room.
Meanwhile, MLB was presenting the results of the most intense investigation in the history of its drug program. The Biogenesis scandal had erupted in the summer of 2012, soon after MLB banned former Yankee Melky Cabrera, who tested positive for testosterone and then orchestrated a bizarre cover-up scheme that involved a fake website. Cabrera, a Biogenesis customer, was assisted by an employee of Seth and Sam Levinson’s sports agency.
MLB’s Department of Investigations deployed numerous agents and resources during its months-long probe, and ultimately 14 professional baseball players were suspended in the case. Among them was Braun, the Brewers star who successfully appealed a 50-game ban after testing positive for synthetic testosterone in 2011 but later confessed when his name surfaced in media reports as a Biogenesis client and accepted a 65-game ban.
Bosch was only faintly familiar in baseball circles when the Daily News first reported A-Rod’s association with Bosch and MLB’s interest in him on Jan. 26, 2013, three days before a Miami New Times report linked Rodriguez and numerous other baseball players to doping through Bosch and his Biogenesis anti-aging clinic. When former slugger Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games in 2009 for a doping violation, Bosch’s father, Pedro, was reportedly the source for a banned female fertility drug that Ramirez had obtained and used. A DEA probe into Pedro Bosch and his son ensued.
When the New Times report was published, Rodriguez’s name was the biggest in the litter, and came on the heels of the slugger’s second hip surgery in four years. Enmeshed in the most extensive doping scandal since BALCO, Rodriguez was banished from his team while he rehabbed the hip and dealt with the fallout from Biogenesis. His PR flack at the time issued a statement saying the documents published in the New Times were “not legitimate.”
In the ensuing months, as the MLB Biogenesis probe heated up, a cast of oddball characters surfaced in the saga — everyone from former Biogenesis employee Porter Fischer, who gave the stolen Biogenesis documents to the New Times, to Bosch, who went from MLB target in a lawsuit to MLB informant, to Tacopina, the attention-grabbing attorney who joined Rodriguez’s legal team late in the summer of 2013.
The Biogenesis investigation represented an unprecedented step by Selig, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to steroid use during the 1990s and early 2000s, to clean up a game that has been hit hard by performance-enhancing drugs. Several high-profile players failed drug tests in 2012, including Melky Cabrera, Guillermo Mota, Bartolo Colon, Marlon Byrd, Yasmani Grandal and Carlos Ruiz. Those incidents led MLB and the Players Association to revamp the drug-testing program to include the more sophisticated carbon isotope ratio exam that can detect the presence of exogenous testosterone in a player’s urine sample.
MLB used every means at its disposal to bring the players it believed were using PEDs to justice, filing what was considered to be a longshot lawsuit against Bosch and others involved in Biogenesis, and purchasing damaging Biogenesis documents from Bosch’s associates. Without subpoena power, MLB faced an uphill battle in convincing witnesses to cooperate — but once the lawsuit was filed, and the defendants’ lawyers’ fees began to pile up, the wall of silence crumbled.
Bosch became a cooperating witness after MLB agreed to drop him from the lawsuit, pick up his legal bills and indemnify him as long as he provided them with credible evidence and information.
Now it looks likely that the 38-year-old third baseman will be near 40 by the time he is allowed back on the field, assuming his health allows him to return. The Yankees still owe him about $ 84 million — minus the 2014 salary — on a contract that doesn’t expire for four and a half more seasons but Rodriguez has endured two hip surgeries in the last five years, including one last January, and is markedly diminished as a player.
If he heads to court, he faces millions more in legal fees and the prospect of having to testify. As one source told the Daily News last week: “It’s great to feign outrage and file something. But once the ball starts rolling, you could lead yourself into criminal exposure. Is he going to testify that he never got performance-enhancing drugs?”