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A-Rod handed 211-game ban; eligible pending appeal

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New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was one of 13 Major League Baseball players who were suspended on Monday for receiving performance-enhancing drugs from a shuttered Miami wellness clinic, the league announced.

Rodriguez received a 211-game punishment from the league, which would be effective on Thursday and last through the end of the 2014 season. He is appealing the ban, the league said, and is eligible to play until an appeals verdict is rendered.

“I’m fighting for my life,” an emotional Rodriguez said at a press conference just after 6 p.m. “I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one will.”

Rodriguez called the last seven months “a nightmare” and refused to admit he used performance enhancing drugs.

The bans to the other players linked with the Biogenesis clinic are effective immediately, which knocks out those players for virtually all of the remaining games this regular season. They would be eligible for the postseason, should their teams reach and the terms of their suspensions end.

“As a social institution with enormous social responsibilities, baseball must do everything it can to maintain integrity, fairness and a level playing field,” MLB Commissioner Bud 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.”

MORE: A-Rod’s suspension is crazy and should be reduced

Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday that he planned to fight his suspension through the appeals process.

“I am eager to get back on the field and be with my teammates in Chicago tonight,” Rodriguez said. I want to thank my family, friends and fans who have stood by myself through all this.”

Rodriguez also spoke to the media in a pair of news conferences over the weekend. He declined to discuss the case in details, citing an ongoing investigation, but he seemed to hint that forces were conspiring to keep him from playing.

“There is more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping on the field,” Rodriguez said Friday night. “It is not my teammates, it is not the Yankees fans. People have been trying to get creative trying to cancel my contract.”

The Yankees took the unusual step of distancing themselves from the league’s investigation of Rodriguez, saying that they agreed with the punishment but did not help the inquiry.

“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,” the team’s statement said.

MLB Players Association head Michael Weiner agreed with the 50-game punishments but took issue with Rodriguez’s suspension, saying that Selig was not acting within his rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and union.

“Mr. Rodriguez knows that the Union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously,” Weiner said.

MORE: MLBPA believes Selig acted improperly

Rodriguez’s attorney David Cornwell, echoed the union’s sentiment.

“It is regrettable that the Commissioner’s office has taken this unprecedented action,” Cornwell said in a statement. “Major League Baseball has gone well beyond the authority granted to its Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement. Consequently, we will appeal the discipline and pursue all legal remedies available to Alex.”

The full list of suspended players is: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers; Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres; Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers; Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees; Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners; Jordany Valdespin, New York Mets; Sergio Escalona, Houston Astros; Fautino De Los Santos, San Diego Padres; Cesar Puello, New York Mets; Fernando Martinez, New York Yankees; Antonio Bastardo, Philadelphia Phillies; Jordan Norberto, free agent.

MORE: Several Biogenesis players are stunningly equally ashamed of themselves

Cruz, who is a free agent after this season, said in a statement that he began using PEDs to recover from illness that caused him to lose 40 lbs before the 2012 season. Concerned that he would not recover quickly enough, he said he began doping.

“Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error,” he said. “I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.”

A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon, Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal also were connected to the clinic by several reports, but all three were suspended for positive tests over the past year — which reportedly overlaps with MLB’s Biogenesis records — so another suspension would be considered double jeopardy. Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game ban last month for his involvement with the clinic.

Selig lauded the success of the league’s drug policy, which succeeded despite only one known positive test: Braun was caught for a PED violation before the 2012 season but won his case on appeal. Players suspended Monday were done so for non-analytical positives, which occur when the league has evidence of a player’s use despite not having a positive test.

In this case, the league received cooperation from Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, who agreed to cooperate and share evidence in exchange for the league’s dropping a lawsuit against him, indemnifying him against further damages and paying some, or all, of his legal fees according to ESPN. MLB had no comment about its involvement with Bosch.

MORE: MLB statement on the Biogenesis suspensions

“This case resoundingly illustrates that the strength of our Program is not limited only to testing,” Selig said. “We continue to attack this issue on every front – from science and research, to education and awareness, to fact-finding and investigative skills.

The allegations against Rodriguez and others were first revealed in late January, when the Miami New Times published a report that connected them to Bosch and his clinic. Bosch reportedly provided a group of MLB players with human growth hormone and steroids as early as December 2011. The New Times story, along with reports by Yahoo! Sports and ESPN, reportedly spurred MLB’s investigation.

“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.

Bosch faces a federal inquiry into whether Biogenesis illegally distributed steroids to high school students and major leaguers, according to reports by ESPN and the Miami Herald. Bosch’s lawyer, Susy Ribero-Ayala, has not responded to messages left by NBC Sports.

The matter reportedly is being handled by Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who directed investigations of BALCO, a clinic in the Bay Area that was found to have distributed steroids to athletes.

Rodriguez, 38, is fifth on MLB’s career home run list, with 647 spread over two decades with three teams. Barry Bonds holds the record, with 762, but many fans believe that mark to be illegitimate because of Bonds’ tie to BALCO.

Rodriguez admitted in 2009 that he used steroids for three years, from 2001-03, while he was a member of the Texas Rangers. His name also appeared on a list of 104 players who tested positive for PEDs in a 2003 MLB survey, according to a report by Sports Illustrated.

The survey, which was confidential, reportedly was done to measure the extent of baseball’s problem with performance-enhancing drugs, not to determine who was actually using them. So Rodriguez’s alleged positive test could not have resulted in punishment.

Rodriguez has yet to play this year after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left hip in January. His recovery efforts stalled in mid-July, when he strained his left quadriceps. Rodriguez claimed he was ready to return. The Yankees said he was not.

Rodriguez sought a second opinion from a New Jersey doctor, who examined an MRI of the slugger’s leg and proclaimed him fit both over the telephone and in a subsequent media blitz. The Yankees were displeased that Rodriguez sought a second opinion without informing them in writing first, according to ESPN.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]