One of 13 players suspended in baseball s latest steroid scandal Monday 38 year old Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez stepped into the batter s box to face White Sox left hander Jose Quintana as darkness fell at U.S. Cellular Field.
The crowd let him have it just as Commissioner Bud Selig had earlier with a 211 game suspension. Fans booed jeered and held up derogatory signs as Rodriguez played for the first time since January hip surgery. He has until Thursday to file an appeal or step away quite possibly forever even though his record setting contract runs through 2017.
He will file an appeal triggering one of the ugliest fights in recent Major League Baseball history. Selig and his staff will try to prove Rodriguez is a longtime user of banned substances and that he interfered with the investigation into Biogenesis a now shuttered Miami clinic that provided performance enhancing drugs to baseball players and other athletes.
I m human Rodriguez told reporters before the game. I m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself. If I don t defend myself nobody else will.
With an appeal to be heard by arbitrator Frederic Horowitz at a time to be determined Rodriguez could remain with the Yankees through the season. But if he loses that appeal he would stand to lose as much as $35 million and be ineligible to play until 2015 when it s possible no team would want him.
He would have as much as $60 million remaining on his contract but that could be severance pay from the Yankees possibly underwritten by their insurance policies.
Rodriguez said he hasn t considered that these upcoming games could be the last of a career in which he has batted .300 with 647 homers behind only Barry Bonds Henry Aaron Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
I m so focused on tonight said Rodriguez who hadn t played in a game since going 3 for 25 in playoff games against the Orioles and Tigers last year when manager Joe Girardi eventually benched him. It s been a long time for me. The last time I was on the field wasn t pretty. It was horrific.
In a statement detailing the reason for Rodriguez s suspension MLB cited his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance enhancing substances including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years as well as engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the (commissioner s) investigation.
Some players are pushing for penalties on a first offense to be increased from 50 games to lifetime and Rodriguez receives only token support from even his own teammates. But Michael Weiner head of the Major League Baseball Players Association believes MLB has overstepped in its punishment of Rodriguez.
In a statement he said Selig has not acted appropriately under the Basic Agreement.
Pressed by reporters during a conference call Weiner questioned the length of Rodriguez s suspension.
We ve never had a 200 plus (games) penalty for a player who may have used drugs Weiner said. That s among other things we think that s way out of line.
While Rodriguez vowed to fight a suspension that would run through the end of the 2014 season 12 players including Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz and Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta agreed to 50 game suspensions historic for MLB because they were non analytic positives handed out based on the collection of evidence not urine.
Cruz and Peralta are especially significant because their teams like Rodriguez s Yankees have a chance to reach the postseason and advance toward the World Series. Their suspensions are timed to allow them to return after the regular season if their teams are involved in the playoffs.
Like the Brewers Ryan Braun the 2011 National League MVP who accepted a season ending suspension on July 22 for his connection to Biogenesis all the players except Rodriguez will be returned to full eligibility for next season.
Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera an All Star is the most significant player suspended behind Rodriguez Cruz and Peralta. Also suspended were Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli (currently on the disabled list) Mariners catcher Jesus Montero (currently with Triple A Tacoma) A s left hander Jordan Norberto (season ending surgery in June) Yankees Triple A outfielder Fernando Martinez Mets Double A outfielder Cesar Puello and free agent right hander Fautino de los Santos.
Three players not previously linked to Biogenesis Phillies left hander Antonio Bastardo Mets utility man Jordany Valdespin and Astros left hander Sergio Escalona (currently in Double A) were also suspended.
Minor league pitcher Cesar Carrillo a former All State shortstop/pitcher at Mt. Carmel High was suspended for 100 games in March. He is a former first round pick of the Padres who was Braun s roommate at the University of Miami. The reason for his suspension was not announced but he was among the Biogenesis clients named by the Miami New Times in their January expose which triggered MLB s aggressive investigation of the clinic.
Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal were also named in the Biogenesis investigations but were not suspended. All three tested positive for banned substances in 2012 and served penalties and MLB did not discipline them further. MLB said on Monday that Nationals left hander Gio Gonzalez and Orioles third baseman Danny Valencia who had been named in the investigation were cleared.