BY FRANK FITZPATRICK
Twelve of the 13 players involved in baseball’s Biogenesis investigation accepted 50-game suspensions Monday. However, the biggest name in the sport’s latest drug scandal, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, remained locked in a legal rundown with Major League Baseball.
According to an MLB statement, Rodriguez likely will appeal his suspension for the remainder of this season and all of 2014. He can continue to play until that process is complete. Baseball reportedly has threatened him with a lifetime ban if he fails to accept the punishment.
The game’s Joint Drug Agreement allows players to appeal suspensions in front of an independent arbitrator, Fredric Horowitz of Santa Monica, Calif. Rodriguez’s case is expected to be heard within three weeks.
The 38-year-old superstar received the harshest penalty, MLB said, because he tried to impede its probe; used and possessed numerous illegal substances, including testosterone and human-growth hormone; and misled officials about his past drug use.
After hip surgery in January and a recent minor-league rehabilitation stint that included stops in Reading and Trenton, the third baseman returned to the Yankees for Monday night’s game against the White Sox in Chicago.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed with the news today,” Rodriguez said during a news conference before the game.
“What we’ve always fought for is the process, and I think we have that and I think at some point we’ll sit in front of an arbiter and we’ll give our case. That’s as much as I feel comfortable saying right now.”
Without Rodriguez this season, the Yankees’ record is 57-53. They are in fourth place in the American League East, 91/2 games behind division-leading Boston.
“We are in full support (of MLB’s decision),” the Yankees said in a statement. “We all recognize and respect the appeals process. Until the process under the drug program is complete, we will have no comment.”
Phillies relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo and the others, a group that includes all-stars Nelson Cruz of Texas and Jhonny Peralta of Detroit plus National League stolen-base leader Everth Cabrera of San Diego, will begin their suspensions immediately.
“Obviously, the Phillies are very disappointed to learn of Antonio Bastardo’s violation,” Phillies president Dave Montgomery said in a statement. “We look forward to a time when performance-enhancing drugs are completely out of baseball.
Hopefully, the sanctions announced today will bring us closer to that day.”
Florida clinic connected
Two weeks ago, former National League most valuable player Ryan Braun of Milwaukee accepted a 65-game ban for his connections to the now-shuttered Biogenesis of America, an anti-aging clinic in South Florida that is suspected of providing performance-enhancing substances to the suspended players.
Three other players connected to the clinic — Oakland’s Bartolo Colon, Toronto’s Melky Cabrera, and San Diego’s Yasmani Grandal — have completed 50-game bans.
Officially, Rodriguez’s punishment is for 211 games. Notified Monday, Rodriguez had three days to appeal before the penalty began. At that point, 49 games would remain in the Yankees’ regular season.
16,000 urine, blood tests
The mass suspensions mark the most sweeping penalties in the sport since the lifetime bans imposed on several White Sox players suspected of fixing the 1919 World Series.
“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,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “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. …
“It is important to point out that 16,000 total urine and blood tests were conducted on players worldwide under MLB’s drug programs in 2012. With the important additions of the HGH testing and longitudinal profiling this season, we are more confident than ever in the effectiveness of the testing program.”
At the heart of the Rodriguez matter is his record salary. He is owed $8.56 million of his $28 million salary this season as well as $86 million for the final four years of his Yankees contract.
The others suspended Monday were Jesus Montero of Seattle; Francisco Cervelli of the Yankees; Jordany Valdespin of the New York Mets; and minor-leaguers Jordan Norberto (free agent), Fautino De Los Santos (San Diego), Sergio Escalona (Houston), Cesar Puello (Mets), and Fernando Martinez (Yankees).
Peralta and Cruz, both of whose teams are in contention for a playoff spot, can serve their suspensions before the postseason would commence.
“I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret,” Peralta said. “I apologize to everyone that I have hurt as a result of my mistake. … I take full responsibility.”
Cruz told officials he used the drugs to recover from an illness that caused him to lose 40 pounds before spring training in 2012.
“I was unsure whether I would be physically able to play,” Cruz said. “ … I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret.”