Three days after voters for baseball’s Hall of Fame again rejected some of the game’s legends because of their involvement — some proven, some suspected — with performance-enhancing drugs, an arbitrator delivered the most damning punishment to one of the game’s legends in waiting, suspending Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season because of his involvement with a south Florida anti-aging clinic that provided steroids to several major leaguers.
In a ruling delivered Saturday, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced Rodriguez’s suspension, originally levied by Major League Baseball in August, from 211 to 162 games and ordered that the New York Yankees third baseman be banned from any 2014 postseason games as well. Though the players’ union, which had helped with Rodriguez’s defense, said in a statement that it “strongly disagrees” with the penalty, it said it would honor Horowitz’s ruling — leaving Rodriguez to fight for himself in federal court, a path Rodriguez and his team said Saturday they would pursue.
“The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one,” Rodriguez said in a statement posted on his Facebook page and issued by his publicist. “This is one man’s decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury, does not involve me having failed a single drug test, is at odds with the facts and is inconsistent with the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement, and relies on testimony and documents that would never have been allowed in any court in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable. . . .
“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 any manner, and in order to prove it, I will take this fight to federal court.”
Horowitz’s ruling leaves Rodriguez with the longest suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball history and brings to a close the investigation into Biogenesis, the Miami clinic whose owner, Anthony Bosch, was found to have distributed steroids to several major league players, leading to 13 suspensions in August.
Rodriguez, fifth on the all-time home run list, was the only one among them to fight baseball’s ruling, and he played the final two months of the 2013 season as something of a pariah — hitting just .244 in 44 games for the Yankees, who were often at odds with their one-time star.
Now, Rodriguez has a stain on his record unmatched by the other players with on-the-field Hall of Fame credentials who have been denied induction to Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers Association of America’s voting. The group of players is led by all-time home run king Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. Neither Bonds nor Clemens — nor Mark McGwire nor Sammy Sosa — was suspended during his playing career. Among players of that caliber, Rodriguez, a three-time MVP and 14-time all-star, holds that distinction to himself.
Saturday’s ruling by Horowitz, an independent arbitrator selected jointly by MLB and the players’ association, allowed both sides to claim a measure of victory. The union could argue it helped get Rodriguez a lighter sentence by 49 games, nearly a third of a season. And the league could argue that its drug policy had teeth even in the absence of a positive test.
“While we believe the original 211-game suspension was appropriate, we respect the decision rendered by the Panel and will focus on our continuing efforts on eliminating performance-enhancing substances from our game,” MLB said in a statement.
Rodriguez, 38, was scheduled to make $25 million this season, and he is under contract with the Yankees through 2017, three seasons in which he is due to make an additional $61 million. But this could be a messy process. Rodriguez, who has averaged just 105 games over the past five years because of injuries, in theory could show up for the Yankees’ spring training because his suspension begins on opening day.