NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez was dealt the most severe punishment in the history of baseball's drug agreement when an arbitrator ruled the Yankees third baseman is suspended for the entire 2014 season as a result of a drug investigation by Major League Baseball.
The decision by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, announced Saturday, reduced the suspension issued Aug. 5 by commissioner Bud Selig from 211 games to this year's entire 162-game regular-season schedule plus any postseason games. The three-time American League MVP will lose just more than $22 million of his $25 million salary.
Rodriguez, who has said that Selig was motivated by a vendetta, vowed to continue his fight in federal court to reverse the decision. The odds are against him, as the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently set narrow grounds for judges to consider when evaluating lawsuits to overturn arbitration decisions.
"It's virtually impossible. The arbitration will stand. I think it's almost inconceivable that a federal court would overturn it," said former commissioner Fay Vincent, a graduate of Yale Law School. "The arbitration is itself an appeal from the commissioner's judgment. How many appeals do you do?"
Rodriguez is the most high-profile player to be punished under baseball's drug rules, which were agreed to in 2002 as management and union attempted to combat the use of performance-enhancing drugs. In sustaining more than three-quarters of the initial penalty, Horowitz's decision will be widely viewed as a victory for Selig, 79, who has ruled baseball since 1992 and says he intends to retire in January 2015.
A 14-time All-Star, Rodriguez has been baseball's highest-paid player under a $275 million, 10-year contract. He has spent parts of the past six seasons on the disabled list and will be 39 years old when he is eligible to return to the field in 2015. He is signed with the Yankees through the 2017 season.
Rodriguez admitted five years ago that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with the Rangers from 2001-03 but has denied using them since. He already sued MLB and Selig in October, saying they are engaged in a witch hunt and trying to use him as an example.
"The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one," Rodriguez 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 in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable."
The Major League Baseball Players Association had filed a grievance last summer saying the discipline was without "just cause."
Selig suspended Rodriguez in August, citing his "use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited, performance-enhancing substances" over many years. The suspension came six months after baseball launched an investigation into Biogenesis of America, a now-defunct southern Florida antiaging clinic.
The Miami New Times, a weekly newspaper, reported that the clinic had obtained patient records that appeared to connect a number of professional players, including Rodriguez, to the clinic, and that the clinic's director, Anthony Bosch, was supplying the players with banned performance enhancers.
After the article appeared, Major League Baseball quickly responded, but as its investigators descended on southern Florida to verify the New Times account, it ran into substantial resistance. Witnesses could not be trusted or sought cash payments. People associated with players targeted in the investigation appeared to be interfering. And Bosch was denying that he had distributed performance enhancers.
Making little headway, baseball's lawyers filed a lawsuit in March claiming that Bosch and other individuals connected to the clinic had interfered in baseball's business. Baseball's investigators also decided to pay for information in the case, including $125,000 for documents from the clinic itself — a controversial decision that would later be cited by Rodriguez's lawyers as an example of baseball's inappropriate tactics in the Biogenesis investigation.
In June, Bosch, concerned about the lawsuit, agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball, becoming its star witness and putting him on a path to testify against Rodriguez at his arbitration hearing, which ran, with interruptions, through most of October and November and easily outlasted baseball's postseason.
Bosch, who through his spokeswoman said Saturday that he took no joy in seeing Rodriguez punished, also provided information that baseball used in suspending 13 other players tied to Biogenesis. All were suspended for 50 games, except for the Brewers' Ryan Braun, who received a 65-game ban. Rodriguez was the only player to appeal his suspension, doing so Aug. 5 after spending much of the 2013 season rehabilitating his hip after surgery in January.
Baseball rules allow Rodriguez to participate in spring training and play in exhibition games, although the Yankees might try to tell him not to report. They are off the hook for the $25 million they were obligated to pay him for the 2014 season, enhancing their chances of remaining under the $189 million payroll threshold. But when the suspension ends, Rodriguez will still be owed $61 million under a contract that runs through 2017.