Some of baseball's most prodigious, iconic sluggers have fallen before — and fallen hard. Monday, it was New York Yankees' slugger Alex Rodriguez.
Major League Baseball suspended the third baseman for the remainder of this season and all of 2014 for, the league said, using performance-enhancing drugs — testosterone and human growth hormone — and covering up his transgressions while obfuscating the investigation.
Rodriguez, 38, joined three 2013 all-stars — San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera, Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta — in drawing suspensions Monday because of MLB's investigation into Biogenesis, the now-closed Miami clinic.
Last month, the league suspended former National League most valuable player Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers for 65 games because of his ties to the clinic, and three other players have already completed 50-game suspensions because of their involvement with Biogenesis.
The suspensions made it clear that Major League Baseball's drug problems, once hoped to be washed away by the breadth and depth of a damning report from former Sen. George Mitchell six years ago, are still prevalent.
With an arbitrator's decision not expected to come down until November at the earliest, Rodriguez will almost certainly play the rest of this season — delaying the 211-game penalty he was issued while receiving his $28 million salary.
If Rodriguez's ban is upheld, he would turn 40 during the 2015 season.
Sidelined since hip surgery in January, Rodriguez rejoined the Yankees in a series opener at the Chicago White Sox. Booed loudly when he walked to the plate, Rodriguez blooped a single to left field in the second inning and was stranded on third. He went 1-4 for the night as the Yankees lost 8-1.
"The last seven months has been a nightmare, has been probably the worst time of my life for sure," Rodriguez said in a news conference before the game.
He wouldn't deny using performance-enhancing drugs, saying "when the time is right, there will be an opportunity to do all of that. I don't think that time is right now."
He added: "It's been the toughest fight of my life. By any means, am I out of the woods? This is probably just phase two just starting. It's not going to get easier. It's probably going to get harder."
Rodriguez admitted four years ago that he used PEDs while with Texas from 2001-03 but has repeatedly denied using them since. His penalty was more than double the previous high for a PED suspension, a 100-game ban given last year to San Francisco pitcher Guillermo Mota for a second offense.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, minutes after losing captain Derek Jeter to injury for the third time this year, was ready to welcome Rodriguez back to his lineup. "I'm not here to judge people. That's not my job," Girardi said. "He's a player as long as he's in our clubhouse."
Girardi called the suspensions "another black eye for us, but we're trying to clean this game up."
Michael Weiner, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said the union agreed with Rodriguez's decision to fight the penalty. In a conference call with reporters, he would only say the penalty was "way too harsh" without providing specifics about the union's disagreement with the league.
Other players decided against appealing their penalties, and they began serving them Monday night, when most teams had roughly 50 games remaining in the regular season. Players such as Cruz and Peralta, whose teams are in pennant races, would be eligible to return for the playoffs.
Cruz, an essential cog in the Rangers' offense, said he lost 40 pounds due to a gastrointestinal infection in the 2011-12 offseason, and that he used performance-enhancing drugs to get himself ready to play that spring.
"Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret," Cruz said in a statement, "and I accept full responsibility for that error."
Peralta, whose Tigers reached the World Series last year, didn't specify his violation, but admitted to "a terrible mistake that I deeply regret."
When Mitchell released his report in late 2007, commissioner Bud Selig labeled it "a call to action." Baseball bargained with the players' union for a more stringent testing program — more tests each year, with more substances banned. Home runs totals subsequently decreased, and the popular narrative became simple: The sport had a problem, addressed it, exposed at least some who violated the game, and the "steroid era" was over.
Yet the reminders are still here. Barry Bonds, long linked to a notorious California clinic, broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record in 2007, but was convicted of obstruction of justice in 2011. He and Mark McGwire, the St. Louis Cardinals slugger who became the first player to hit 70 homers in a season, have been denied entry into the Hall of Fame.
And six years after Mitchell's report, baseball has suspended the most players since the infamous "Black Sox" scandal nearly a century ago because of their involvement with a single clinic.
"That's not a good thing," said Weiner. "We have to talk about how we can deal with it."
Other Yankee players who spoke before the game, while welcoming Rodriguez back, also drove home a general point regarding the suspensions:
Those caught cheating should pay a stiff penalty.
"That's what we're trying to do, we're trying to get it out of there," Lyle Overbay said of PEDs.
Veteran outfielder Alfonso Soriano, recently acquired from the Cubs, expressed a similar sentiment.
"God gave you the talent,'' Soriano said. "Just play with the talent God gave to you and see what happens."
Information from the Associated Press and Newsday was used in this report.