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.

Anger, apologies, incompetence and the chaos surrounding the Houston Astros

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It’s hard to keep track of the silliness and drama surrounding the Astros these days, but since it’s virtually the only story of note so far this spring training, let us get ourselves up to speed, shall we?

In case you missed it over the weekend, round 27 of “are the Astros’ apologies sincere?” took place. There was nothing terribly new in all of this. A lot of people have become armchair public relations experts as it relates to the Astros, but my personal view is that the Astros’ public statements are not lacking because they’re tone deaf or because they have bad P.R. It’s simply because they’re not sorry.

It’s pretty simple, really. Athletes are lauded and mythologized for being willing to do anything to win. A century and a half of pro sports has shown us, time and again, that that anything often includes cheating. And that with few exceptions, the reward is worth the risk. It’s also worth the fallout in the instances in which they are caught. The Astros won a title. They got glory and fame and in some cases money and no one can make them give any of that back (and Rob Manfred reiterated last night that he won’t do that). There is really nothing that can be done. And, on some level, the Astros know this. To the extent they feel bad it’s because they got caught and because they are being scrutinized now. It is not because they feel genuine sorrow that, dang it, they simply cannot properly express.

These kinds of dilemmas usually cause people to search for solutions. If we did THIS or if we do THAT the problem will be addressed. Sorry, nope. This is just a thing that has happened. It may be put in the past for the most part, but it won’t be atoned for in a meaningful way. This is one of those basic things that anyone who is into high level sports just has to make peace with somehow. Or, even, if they can’t, it’s something they need to stop assuming is a stain on some pure thing. Baseball is not pure, nor are the men who play it. A lot of us know that, but we also need to accept the flip side of it: forgiveness or absolution is in no way guaranteed and the Houston Astros and their fans are gonna have to get cool with that. “What do you want from them? They can’t win?!” is a refrain you’re hearing more and more of. Well, yeah, maybe they can’t.

The fans are a whole other thing.

I realize that the social media sentiment one sees from a fan base is not necessarily representative of a fan base, but it’s worth noting that a LOT of that sentiment has Astros fans, and some radio personality types, vacillating between “see, they apologized!” and “they have no reason to apologize because everyone else was cheating and no one else is talking about that, are they?!”

This last bit is what’s most fascinating to me, because it involves two levels of cognitive dissonance on the part of those who hold the opinion.

First off, I’m struck by the notion that for seven years the Astros and their fans have insisted that the Astros do everything better, earlier, faster, and more efficiently than the rest of the league. Then, the moment they get busted for something that their better and faster front office innovated — Codebreaker — they insist that they were merely doing what everyone else was doing across the league. I guess the Astros are only at the cutting edge of exploiting competitive inefficiencies in non-rule-breaking ways. Pretty convenient!

Second off, a lot of people are telling me that the Astros are being singled out, and that no one is reporting on all of the other teams who were doing it. While I’ve slammed Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball for apparently ignoring allegations that several other teams have cheated in this manner, I have to take issue with the idea out there that “no one is reporting on this.”

Folks, I know a lot of reporters, and I can assure you that almost every one of them with sources who are former players for the teams they cover have reached out to said sources to try to get a scoop like the one Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic got on the Astros.  The media has every incentive in the world to break the story of the A’s or the Rangers or the Braves or the Cubs or whoever doing it and they have no incentive to bury it. That no one has broke it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it does not mean that there is a massive conspiracy to single out the Astros.

Finally, even if the Astros are being singled out, it does not absolve them. I would hope that’s not a difficult concept to grok — “I may have been copying Billy’s test but Billy was copying from Suzy” hasn’t washed as an excuse, basically ever — but you’d be amazed at how many Astros fans I’ve encountered who are arguing, basically that. Down with whataboutism, folks. It’s simply crap logic.

Now on to Rob Manfred.

Last Wednesday I emptied both barrels on Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball for what is, quite obviously, their massive mishandling of the sign-stealing scandal. In that column I wrote that Manfred was “obligated, for the sake of his legitimacy as Commissioner of Baseball and for the sake of the game itself, to answer publicly for why he let it get to this state in the first place.”

Manfred tried to do that yesterday afternoon and it went miserably. You can read Bill’s whole writeup of it here, but the most telling part is when he made a snide and dismissive remark about Wall Street Journal reporter Jared Diamond’s story which revealed (a) how much more sophisticated and front office-led the sign-stealing was; and (b) how Manfred apparently buried all of that in his January report on the matter. Manfred:

“You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.”

How immature. How peevish. In this Manfred comes off like a whining child. Like someone so out of his depth in the job of commissioner that the echo sounder can’t gauge it.

I mentioned before that there are a lot of reporters who would love to break another team’s sign-stealing, and that’s true, but on the flip side there are very, very few reporters who are super critical of the league or Manfred from an editorial perspective. The reason for this is simple: a substantial part of the baseball press corps is employed by MLB itself or work for MLB rights holders like ESPN, RSNs or radio outlets which broadcast games. That Manfred can’t handle even the very small amount of heat he gets from the press — that a simple factual support inspires an ad hominem attack on the reporter who, via basic reporting, revealed Manfred’s own incompetence — is simply sad.

Anyway, it’s a whole new week now. Maybe now people will begin to accept that not all apologies are required to be accepted. Maybe they’ll begin to accept that not all bad behavior has a defense. Maybe they’ll begin to accept that Major League Baseball cares far less about getting to the bottom of issues that reflect poorly on the league than it does about burying said issues in the bottom of a quarry someplace. Maybe they’ll move on to baseball. To the parts about it that aren’t ridiculous and pathetic.

OK, maybe they won’t.