RAY SUAREZ: Major League Baseball ejected a bevy of big names today in a doping scandal. The A-list of players was led by the man known as A-Rod, and his punishment topped them all: the rest of this season and all of next. He planned to appeal.
For weeks, the question had not been whether, but how long Alex Rodriguez would be suspended. Today, baseball’s highest-paid player found out. It’s the toughest penalty since Pete Rose was banned for life in 1989 for gambling on baseball. In 2009, Rodriguez, widely known as A-Rod, admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in the early 2000s.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, New York Yankees: I screwed up big time, but I think the only thing I ask from this group today and the American people is to judge me from this day forward. That’s all I can ask for.
RAY SUAREZ: But Major League Baseball said today Rodriguez continued to use and lied about it. He’s part of a group that allegedly procured drugs from a company called Biogenesis in Miami.
In a statement, Major League Baseball said Rodriguez’s suspension was “based on his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances and for attempting to cover up his violations by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the investigation.”
Selig had already banned Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, the National League’s most valuable player in 2011, for the rest of this year. Today, he also handed out 12 other suspensions of 50 games each, essentially the remain of the regular season.
Among the marquee names on that list, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta. But Rodriguez, a three-time MVP, has eclipsed all the others and joins Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and a host of others as fallen icons of the game.
The 14-time All-Star had off-season surgery, but as fate would have it, he’s ready to return to big league play tonight in Chicago. He addressed the matter Friday night after hitting a towering home run in a minor league tune-up game.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: I think there’s a lot of people that are confused and a lot of people that don’t understand the process. There is a lot of layers. I will say this. There’s more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping back on the field. And that’s not my teammates. And it’s not the Yankee fans.
QUESTION: Who is it? Who benefits?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you that right now. And I hope I never have to.
RAY SUAREZ: That clearly was a reference to Major League Baseball and the Yankees. The team reportedly has considered trying to void the $100 million-plus left on Rodriguez’s 10-year $275 million contract. As to whether he would rejoin the Yankees?
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Yes, unless I get hit by lightning. And these days, you never know.
RAY SUAREZ: For now, his appeal of today’s suspension means A-Rod gets to play and be paid his $173,000 a game while the case goes to arbitration.
To help walk us around the bases of these penalties, I’m joined by Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today and a commentator for ABC News, and by William Rhoden, a sports columnist at The New York Times.
And, Bill Rhoden, let me start with you.
Thirteen men heading for the showers today, but along with Alex Rodriguez, some pretty good players, no? Let’s look at the rest of the list a little bit. Who stands out for you?
WILLIAM RHODEN, The New York Times: Well, yes, I mean you have Peralta, Colon, Bartolo Colon.
These are all people who were going to figure in mightily in their teams’ pennant race. But make no mistake, Ray. The guy that they wanted, the big fish is Rodriguez. And I’m happy to see that he’s going to fight it. Everybody else gets 50 games. This guy gets almost four times as many games.
He’s going to fight it. He should fight it. I mean, I hope he fights it. I hope the Players Association fights it. I hope they take it to federal court if the arbitrator doesn’t make the correct ruling. I just think that it’s really not fair in terms of the process.
RAY SUAREZ: And why do you say that? Why do you hope he fights it?
WILLIAM RHODEN: Well, because of the due process.
You can’t — too often in this whole process there’s been too much of a selection process. You know, Barry Bonds, you know, we don’t like Barry Bonds so there’s an added venom that goes into the pursuit of Barry Bonds, not only baseball, but the federal government. We don’t like Alex Rodriguez. And what baseball has a way doing is whipping up or exploiting the fans’ distaste for a particular player and then using that as sort of a cover to do things like this. Like, we’re going to give everybody else 50, but we’re going to give you 211.
RAY SUAREZ: Christine Brennan, the other 12 are taking their medicine for taking their medicine. What about Alex Rodriguez? What do you think of what William Rhoden just said?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Well, Bill is a good friend, but I could not disagree more.
This is a lifetime achievement award for A-Rod. And, yes, it is four times more. Bill is right about that. But I think A-Rod is worth four times more. Let’s look at the record here. He has admitted that he took steroids from 2001 to 2003, was never, of course, punished for that because baseball had not yet started its drug testing.
There’s number one. Number two, according to Major League Baseball — and we know A-Rod was trying to work a deal, so MLB has to have something right. I think they have probably everything right.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Just a second, Bill.
MLB, they were trying to have a — you know, this deal with A-Rod. MLB says he obstructed the investigation. That is a very big deal. And, of course, A-Rod, if he was a Biogenesis boy to the max and using this stuff for several years, my goodness, is baseball going to get serious or not? Are they going to send a message not just around the league, but to kids, that their role models are going to be caught?
This is a major watershed for Major League Baseball. I think it’s terrific what they’re doing and I think A-Rod deserves the brunt of all of this.
RAY SUAREZ: Bill Rhoden, go ahead.
WILLIAM RHODEN: Yes, but, you know, Christine — and you know I love you, Christine.
This is not about lifetime achievement. This is not a lifetime achievement award. This is about this specific penalty. This is about this specific incident. It’s not about everything else. You know, you go back to that list, about four or five years ago, there were 99 people on a list of people who supposedly flunked the test.
The only name, the only name that came out was A-Rod’s. So, you know, while we’re talking about cheering, there are a lot of people who are going to work who are on rosters who are probably on that list, people who were using, who we never know.
Tonight, guess who is pitching, ironically enough? Andy Pettitte, who used. Roger Clemens is working in — I think he’s with the Astros. Mark McGwire is a hitting coach.
I just don’t like this piecemeal approach. And if they have got the evidence, I want us to — let’s go — let’s follow the truth where it leads, Christine, because if you have noticed, there have been no executives named so far. The only people who have been whipped up on players.
You mean to tell me that there were no executives that knew about all this when the turnstiles were whirring? I think there were commissioners who knew about this. I think that, if we’re going to really get to the bottom of this, let’s not just punish these days and say the wicked witch is dead.
Let’s follow the truth where it leads and find out everybody, who knew what when. I don’t think Major League Baseball wants to do that because the implications will lead up to some very high places.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, I don’t disagree with Bill on that at all, Ray.
As you know, I have been incredibly critical of Major League Baseball. They’re so late here to the party. The Olympics started drug testing in 1972. Major League Baseball started in 2004. They’re 32 years behind the Olympics.
And one of the reasons we know is because they love the home runs flying out of the ballpark, brought fans back after the strike in the ’90s. So, there are a lot of issues here. I think, Bill, what you and I are disagreeing on — and understandably so — is the issue of A-Rod himself.
And I think it’s a new world order. And if A-Rod does become the poster child for this, so be it. But I think the rules of the game going forward are different. I’m guessing Major League Baseball will end up with a punishment policy very similar to the Olympics, and it should. Two years for the first offense. Lifetime ban for the second.
A-Rod may be the beginning point here of this new get-tough policy, and I have no trouble with that.
RAY SUAREZ: There’s one critical difference between Alex Rodriguez and some of the other players on that list, Everth Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, some terrific players. He’s 38. If he loses this arbitration, Bill, is that pretty much it?
WILLIAM RHODEN: Well, it is it. And I’m sure that has a lot to do with the appeal.
His career is basically done if this goes — if this suspension holds. But, again, you know, getting back to Christine’s point, yes, I do agree with you, Christine, that this is the new world order. And I do like the idea that now, just like with gambling, going forward everybody knows the rules. It’s concrete. As soon as you go in the locker room, there will be rules.
But don’t beat up on somebody to make a point. This is about justice. If it’s 50, then it’s 50. You’re not going to fault this guy 200 extra times because of a lifetime achievement because of what you did three years ago, when the rules were ambiguous. I don’t like that. And I think that every media person, every journalist, forget whether you like the guy or not. No, there’s been too much of that. Same thing with Bonds.
Let’s follow the truth where it leads. Let’s deal with justice.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a quick response on Bill’s point about equal penalty and facing equally harsh justice for this infraction.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It seems to me from everything we have heard, all the reporting from Major League Baseball and what they have got, is that A-Rod was by far the worst offender. He was obviously impeding the investigation, according to Major League Baseball.
And if that’s the case, then he deserves a worse penalty. I have absolutely no problem with this. You have got to start teaching players lessons, Ray. And what the bottom line is, is baseball going to be tough on this or not? This is absolutely baseball’s chance and Bud Selig’s chance to say enough is enough after all the years of cheating.
RAY SUAREZ: Christine Brennan, William Rhoden, thank you both.
WILLIAM RHODEN: Thank you, Ray.