A long and contentious legal battle between Alex Rodriguez and Major League Baseball came to a head Saturday when arbitrator Fredric Horowitz slapped the New York Yankees slugger with a 162-game, possibly career-ending suspension. The ruling reduced an original 211-game penalty but banned Rodriguez for the 2014 season and postseason.
Rodriguez, punished for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, has vowed to continue his fight. His attorney said he will file a suit in federal court Monday contesting Saturday's decision. Rodriguez plans to report to spring training in February in Tampa, Fla.
"The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one," Rodriguez, a three-time American League most valuable player and 14-time All-Star, said in a statement.
"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 because they are false and wholly unreliable."
Rodriguez, 38, will seek an injunction that would allow him to play next season while awaiting trial. But for a federal judge to issue such an order, Rodriguez must show a strong probability of success at trial and that he will suffer irreparable harm beyond the financial ramifications of the ban, namely, a lost year of his career he can't get back.
Daniel Lazaroff, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the chance of Rodriguez winning such an injunction "is about as likely as the 'steroid-era' players being elected to the Hall of Fame." Lazaroff also doubts Rodriguez would prevail in an appeal.
"The arbitration process in the collective bargaining context is widely respected by the federal courts, and absent of showing some bias or prejudice on the part of the arbitrator or some sort of corruption or some flagrant ignoring of the law, he's just not going to succeed," Lazaroff said. "And because the likelihood of success is small, it basically makes this a waste of time."
Another legal hurdle for Rodriguez: As a member of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., he agreed to the process by which Saturday's decision was rendered.
The union issued a statement criticizing the ruling but respecting the decision, an indication it will not back the third baseman in further legal proceedings.
"The MLBPA strongly disagrees with the award issued today in the grievance of Alex Rodriguez," the union said. "We recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached, however, and we respect the collectively-bargained arbitration process which led to it."
Twelve other players, including Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun, were suspended as a result of the investigation into Biogenesis, the now-closed Florida-based anti-aging clinic that was accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs, but Rodriguez's name was the biggest. And the sanction is the longest drug-related suspension in MLB history. Kansas City's Miguel Tejada was issued a 105-game suspension for amphetamines in August.
The testimony of Anthony Bosch, the clinic's operator, was key in baseball's case against Rodriguez. Bosch said in a statement that while he "doesn't take joy in seeing Alex Rodriguez suspended from baseball, I believe the arbitrator's decision was appropriate."
Rodriguez, who has 654 home runs and would receive a $6-million bonus for reaching 660, reiterated his claim that he has not taken PEDs during his 10 seasons with the Yankees, "and in order to prove it, I will take this fight to federal court," he said in his statement.
"I am confident that when a federal judge reviews the entirety of the record, the hearsay testimony of a criminal whose own records demonstrate that he dealt drugs to minors, and the lack of credible evidence put forth by MLB, that the judge will find that the panel blatantly disregarded the law and facts, and will overturn the suspension."
Rodriguez is owed $25 million this season, $61 million from 2015 to 2017, the final years of a 10-year, $275-million contract. But coming off a 2013 season in which two hip surgeries limited him to 44 games, there is a chance he will be released before 2015.
The suspension will clear $24.1 million from the Yankees' 2014 payroll, which should enable them to make a strong run at Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and help them get under the $189-million luxury tax threshold.
MLB seemed satisfied with Saturday's ruling.
"For more than five decades, the arbitration process under the Basic Agreement has been a fair and effective mechanism for resolving disputes and protecting player rights," MLB said in a statement. "While we believe the original 211-game suspension was appropriate, we respect the decision rendered by the panel."