NEW YORK – Alex Rodriguez ended his extended and acrimonious fight with Major League Baseball on Friday, withdrawing a pair of lawsuits and accepting a season-long suspension that marks the longest penalty in the sports history for performance-enhancing drugs.
Rodriguez, who has steadfastly denied using banned substances while with the New York Yankees, made the decision nearly four weeks after arbitrator Fredric Horowitz largely upheld the discipline issued last summer by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
“I think it’s a good move for him,” former Commissioner Fay Vincent said. “A-Rod had no chance legally, and the commissioner got his authority validated.”
Rodriguez was among 14 players suspended last summer following MLB’s investigation of a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned substances. A-Rod was the only player to contest his penalty.
The Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance, arguing Rodriguez’s 211-game ban was unwarranted or at the very least excessive. Rodriguez also sued MLB and Selig in October, accusing them of “vigilante justice” as part of a “witch hunt” against him.
Horowitz presided over 12 days of hearings last fall highlighted by Rodriguez’s decision not to testify. Horowitz concluded on Jan. 11 there was “clear and convincing evidence” Rodriguez used three banned substances over the course of three years – human growth hormone, testosterone and Insulin-like growth factor 1. Horowitz also ruled A-Rod twice tried to obstruct baseball’s investigation, but he nonetheless reduced the suspension to 162 games plus the 2014 postseason after weighing it against baseball’s “just cause” standard.
Rodriguez sued MLB and the union two days later in federal court in Manhattan.
But the Supreme Court has established narrow grounds for overturning arbitration decisions, and legal experts said Rodriguez had virtually no chance of succeeding in his attempt to have Horowitz’s decision vacated. Without making any admissions, Rodriguez’s lawyers filed notices of dismissal in both cases Friday.
MLB issued a low-key statement calling the decision to end the litigation “prudent.”
“We believe that Mr. Rodriguez’s actions show his desire to return the focus to the play of our great game on the field and to all of the positive attributes and actions of his fellow major league players,” the sport said. “We share that desire.”
Rodriguez had angered many of his fellow players by suing his own union in an attempt to avoid a suspension. Withdrawing the lawsuits was perhaps the start of mending relationships with fellow players.
“Alex Rodriguez has done the right thing by withdrawing his lawsuit,” the union said in a statement. “His decision to move forward is in everyone’s best interest.”
Rodriguez in 2009 admitted he used banned substances from 2001-03 while with Texas, before baseball had penalties in place for PEDs. After MLB’s investigation was sparked 13 months ago by a report in Miami New Times, Rodriguez repeatedly said he had not failed any drug test and claimed evidence provided to MLB by Anthony Bosch, founder of the Biogenesis of America clinic, was not trustworthy.
When Horowitz issued his decision, the three-time AL MVP defiantly proclaimed, “No player should have to go through what I have been dealing with.” He announced, “I am exhausting all options to ensure not only that I get justice, but that players’ contracts and rights are protected.”
But a few hours after the Arizona Diamondbacks became the first team this year to start spring training workouts, and with the Yankees a week from opening camp, Rodriguez folded quietly. He was in Miami on Friday and made no public remarks.
“The statements that were issued say everything that needs to be said. We have no further comments on this matter,” Joseph Tacopina, one of Rodriguez’s nine attorneys, said in an email.
Tacopina said Rodriguez no longer intended to report this month to the Yankees’ training camp in Tampa, Fla. Suspensions only cover regular-season games and the postseason, with exhibitions specifically exempted.
Rodriguez will lose most of his $25 million salary – Horowitz ruled he is entitled to 21-183rds, which comes to $2,868,852.46. The third baseman will be 39 when he is eligible to return in a year, and he has incentive to play during the final three seasons of his contract. The Yankees owe him $21 million in 2015 and $20 million in each of the final two seasons of the record $275 million, 10-year deal.
But the 14-time All-Star has been hobbled by injuries in recent years and has not played a full season since 2007.
The timing of Rodriguez’s decision was set in motion by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos, who on Jan. 30 told the player’s lawyers to respond by Friday to arguments from MLB and the union that the case should be dismissed.
Rodriguez does have one lawsuit remaining. He sued Yankees physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad and New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York State Supreme Court in October, claiming they mishandled his medical care during the 2012 AL playoffs. Rodriguez later was diagnosed with a hip injury that required surgery and did not return to the Yankees until Aug. 5 – hours after his suspension was announced by Selig.