CHICAGO — Alex Rodriguez is back with the New York Yankees, and with him came a circus-like atmosphere.
Rodriguez, who is appealing Major League Baseball’s 211-game suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic, was activated from the disabled list and was set to hit fourth and play third base Monday as the Yankees face the Chicago White Sox.
The press box at the ballpark, usually half-filled to cover the last-place White Sox, was packed to capacity. Fans waited outside U.S. Cellular Field to see the former American League MVP arrive, and when he did, he waved. His return overshadowed Mariano Rivera’s last series in Chicago and even Derek Jeter’s latest trip to the disabled list.
Everything was about A-Rod.
“I think guys were happy to see him. He’s a teammate of ours. He’s a friend of ours,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “For the players, this is business as usual in a sense. There are things that happen when you’re in New York that some people are going to consider distractions, but the one thing that these guys understand is it’s your team. You go out and play as a team, and your goal is to try to win games, and you deal with the stuff off the field after the game.”
Monday’s game will be just the latest moment in Rodriguez’s strange trip. Once one of baseball’s shining stars, Rodriguez has gone through numerous controversies and spats. In the past year alone, Rodriguez has been benched during the postseason, undergone hip surgery, fought with the Yankees over his future and the health of his quadriceps, and been a focus of one of sports’ biggest drug investigations.
“I want to express to you guys and the fans of baseball that the last seven months have been a nightmare, probably the worst time of my life,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously for the circumstances that are at hand and also dealing with a very tough surgery and rehab program.”
In January, Rodriguez had an operation to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, but that wasn’t what most were asking him about. All anybody wanted to know was about his suspension and his decision to appeal on a day when 12 other players accepted 50-game bans related to their involvement with Biogenesis. The now-shuttered South Florida clinic allegedly provided the players with banned performance-enhancing substances.
Rodriguez said there was a lot that went into his decision, but he didn’t say much more.
“I’m not going to get into any of that today,” Rodriguez said. “I think … obviously disappointed with the news today, no question about it, but what we’ve always fought for is the process, and I think we have that. And at some point we’ll sit in front of an arbiter and give our case. That’s as much as I feel comfortable telling you right now.”
Rodriguez was also asked to deny his usage of PEDs but said, “I think we’ll have a forum to discuss all of that, and we’ll talk about it then.”
Rodriguez’s problems are far from over. It’s unclear when his appeal will be heard and what the outcome will be. In truth, Monday was just another bizarre day in the life of Rodriguez.
“There’s nothing about it that’s been easy. All of it has been challenging. I’m sure there’s been mistakes made along the way. We’re here now,” Rodriguez said. “I’m a human being. I’ve had two hip surgeries, two knee surgeries. I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one else will.”
As for the team, Girardi said Rodriguez will be in the lineup as long as he’s available.
“It really doesn’t change anything for us,” the manager said of Rodriguez’s suspension and appeal. “If he’s healthy and he feels good, we expect him to be productive and I’m going to play him.
“I think it’s kind of clear what the expectations are by where I put him in the lineup. I expect him to drive in runs and have productive at-bats for us and he’ll play third base. He’ll DH some, too, because I know he has to work into that everyday playing shape again and he’s worked hard to get to this point.”
While Rodriguez took center stage, not everybody at the ballpark was overly concerned with the slugger’s exploits. Some, like White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, are consumed with other issues, namely his team’s 10-game losing streak.
“You’ve seen this team play recently. I’ve got 99 problems and A-Rod ain’t one of them,” Hahn said.
Earlier Monday, a dozen players saw the evidence Major League Baseball had against them in the Biogenesis investigation and chose not to appeal 50-game suspensions announced Monday.
Rodriguez, who was suspended a total of 211 games through the 2014 season, is digging in his cleats and intends to fight.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced the suspensions Monday, highlighted by Rodriguez’s ban, which is categorized as violations of the Joint Drug and Prevention and Treatment Program, as well as the Basic Agreement, for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.
Twelve other players, including Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, accepted 50-game suspensions and will sit out the remainder of the 2013 regular season.
Rodriguez’s suspension is longer due to the league’s belief he used banned substances over the course of multiple seasons and mislead investigators when previously questioned.
In a statement regarding Rodriguez’s punishment, Selig said: “Rodriguez’s discipline under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program is based on his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years. Rodriguez’s discipline under the Basic Agreement is for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation. The suspension, which will become effective on Thursday, August 8th, will cover 211 Championship Season games and any 2013 Postseason games in which Rodriguez otherwise would have been eligible to play.”
The 12 players suspended for 50 games without pay and who have chosen not to appeal are:
–Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo
–San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera
–New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli
–Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz
–Padres pitcher Fautino De Los Santos, who is currently on the roster of the Double-A San Antonio Missions of the Texas League
–Houston Astros pitcher Sergio Escalona, who is currently of the roster of the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks of the Texas League
–Yankees outfielder Fernando Martinez, who is currently on the roster of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders of the International League
–Seattle Mariners catcher Jesus Montero, who is currently on the roster of the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League
–Free agent pitcher Jordan Norberto
–Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta
–New York Mets outfielder Cesar Puello, who is currently on the roster of the Double-A Binghamton Mets of the Eastern League
–Mets infielder/outfielder Jordany Valdespin, who is currently on the roster of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League
Norberto’s suspension will be effective immediately once he signs with another Major League organization. All other suspensions are effective immediately.
MLB also issued a statement saying Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal have already served 50-game suspensions as a result of their connections to Biogenesis and will not receive additional discipline. The league also found no violations by Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez or Baltimore Orioles infielder Danny Valencia.
Other than Rodriguez, the suspended players, including Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who accepted a 65-game suspension last week, can return for the postseason or the beginning of next season.
“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,” Selig said. “For weeks, I have noted the many players throughout the game who have strongly voiced their support on this issue, and I thank them for it.”
The players union reached out to MLB on Monday in a final attempt to negotiate down the length of Rodriguez’s suspension, according to ESPN, but was told by the league there would be no more negotiations. Selig was reportedly furious when Rodriguez told reporters following a rehab game on Friday that he believed the Yankees and the league wanted him banned so he wouldn’t receive the $95 million remaining on his contract, meanwhile his representatives were attempting to negotiate with MLB to trim the length of the suspension.
MLB officials responded by rejecting Rodriguez’s request to negotiate a suspension settlement as talks broke down Saturday, a league source told the New York Daily News.
Rodriguez also reached out to the Yankees on Saturday in an effort to negotiate a settlement on his remaining salary, according to the Daily News, but was told by the club this is a drug issue under the purview of MLB. Rodriguez has also frustrated Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and others in the front office during the process, and the team said in a statement Monday:
“We are in full support of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. We also recognize and respect the appeals process. Until the process under the Drug Program is complete, we will have no comment. We are confident that the process outlined in the Drug Program will result in the appropriate resolution of this matter. In the meantime, the Yankees remain focused on playing baseball.
“However, we are compelled to address certain reckless and false allegations concerning the Yankees’ role in this matter. 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.
“Separately, we are disappointed with the news today of the suspension of Francisco Cervelli. It’s clear that he used bad judgment.”
If Rodriguez had accepted the suspension, he would have lost $34.5 million in salary — he is due to earn $25 million in 2014 alone. But he is still due $61 million from 2015-17, as well as a possible $30 million in bonuses.
“As a social institution with enormous social responsibilities, Baseball must do everything it can to maintain integrity, fairness and a level playing field,” Selig said in a statement. “We are committed to working together with players to reiterate that performance-enhancing drugs will not be tolerated in our game.”
Rodriguez is a three-time AL MVP and 14-time all-star. He has missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing surgery on his left hip. In July he also suffered a strained quad that has delayed his season debut. He played two games over the weekend with Double-A Trenton on a rehab assignment.
Rodriguez’s appeal will be heard by a new arbitrator, Frederic Horowitz, a lawyer from Santa Monica, Calif. Horowitz was hired as the replacement for Shyam Das, who was fired after his decision to overturn Braun’s initial 50-game suspension last year based on a chain-of-custody dispute with his drug sample.
“We agree with his decision to fight his suspension,” players association chief Michael Weiner said in a statement. “We believe that the Commissioner has not acted appropriately.”
As for the other 12 players suspended Monday, several accepted responsibility for their ties to Biogenesis.
“In spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret,” said Peralta in a direct contrast to comments last week that he did not deserve a suspension. “I apologize to everyone that I have hurt as a result of my mistake, including my teammates, the Tigers organization, the great fans in Detroit, Major League Baseball and my family. I take full responsibility for my actions, have no excuses for my lapse in judgment and I accept my suspension.”
The Rangers were reportedly surprised by Cruz’s decision Monday, but the outfielder also admitted to using PEDs to help recover from losing 40 pounds due to a gastrointestinal infection in the 2011-12 offseason.
“By the time I was properly diagnosed and treated, I had lost 40 pounds,” Cruz said, per MLB.com. “Just weeks before I was to report to Spring Training in 2012, I was unsure whether I would be physically able to play. Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error. I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.
“I look forward to regaining the trust and respect of the Rangers organization, my teammates and the great Rangers fans, and I am grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the team for the playoffs.”