By RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ Alex Rodriguez was suspended through 2014 and All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera were banned 50 games apiece Monday when Major League Baseball disciplined 13 players in a drug case –the most sweeping punishment since the Black Sox scandal nearly a century ago.
Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension last month and previous punishments bring to 18 the total number of players disciplined for their relationship to Biogenesis of America, a closed anti-aging clinic in Florida accused of distributing banned performing-enhancing drugs.
The harshest penalty was reserved for Rodriguez, a three-time Most Valuable Player and baseball’s highest-paid star. His suspension covers 211 games. Rodriguez has until Thursday to appeal, and if he does, he will remain eligible to play until a decision by the arbitrator.
The New York Yankees slugger admitted four years ago that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas from 2001-03 but has repeatedly denied using them since.
Rodriguez was suspended under both the drug agreement and labor contract.
MLB said the drug penalty was for “his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years.”
His penalty under the labor contract was “for attempting to cover up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the office of the commissioner’s investigation.”
The other 12 players have already agreed to their 50-game penalties.
The suspensions are thought to be the most at once for off-the-field conduct since 1921, when Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned eight Chicago White Sox players for life for throwing the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsh, Chick Gandil, Fred McMullen, Charles “Swede” Risberg, Buck Weaver and Claude “Lefty” Williams. They had been suspended by the team the previous year and were penalized by baseball even though they had been acquitted of criminal charges.
As for the modern-day All-Stars, Cruz, an outfielder, leads Texas in RBIs and Peralta has been a top hitter and slick-fielding shortstop for Detroit, a pair of teams in the midst of pennant races. They will be eligible to return for the postseason.
Others agreeing included Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and outfielder Fernando Martinez; Philadelphia pitcher Antonio Bastardo; Seattle catcher Jesus Montero; New York Mets infielder Jordany Valdespin and outfielder Cesar Puello; Houston pitcher Sergio Escalona; and free agent pitchers Fautino De Los Santos and Jordan Norberto.
Rodriguez was the lone holdout. Baseball’s drug agreement says the appeal hearing shall start no later than 20 days after the filing of the grievance and the arbitrator is charged with making a decision 25 days after the hearing starts. However, the schedule can be altered by agreement of management and the union.
Players have often succeeded at persuading arbitrators to overturn or shorten drug suspensions. In the era before the drug agreement, Lamar Hoyt, Ferguson Jenkins, Pascual Perez and Willie Wilson were among those who had success in hearings, and Steve Howe’s lifetime ban for a seventh suspension related to drugs or alcohol was cut to 119 days.
Cruz, eligible to return to Texas for the postseason if the Rangers make the playoffs, attributed his action to a gastrointestinal infection, helicobacter pylori, and said he had lost 40 pounds following the 2011 season.
“I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error,” he said in a statement. “I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.”
Peralta can rejoin Detroit for a season-ending three-game series at Miami _ not far from the former office of Biogenesis.
In a statement released by the Tigers, Peralta said in “spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret.” Peralta apologized to his teammates and “the great fans in Detroit,” saying he knows he let “many good people down.”
MLB’s investigation began last year after San Francisco outfielder and All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera tested positive for elevated testosterone, as did Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal. The probe escalated in January when the Miami New Times published documents obtained from former Biogenesis associate Porter Fisher that linked several players to Biogenesis.
MLB said Melky Cabrera, Colon and Grandal will not receive additional discipline and it found no violations for Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez and Baltimore infielder Danny Valencia, both linked to Biogenesis in media reports.
In June, baseball struck a deal for Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch to cooperate. After holding investigatory interviews with the players, MLB presented evidence to the players’ union along with its intended penalties, starting the final round of negotiations.
“Those players who have violated the program have created scrutiny for the vast majority of our players, who play the game the right way,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. “We continue to attack this issue on every front– from science and research, to education and awareness, to fact-finding and investigative skills.”
The first mass penalties for a baseball league occurred in 1877, the National League’s second season, when Louisville shortstop Bill Craver, pitcher Jim Devlin, left fielder George Hall and utilityman Al Nichols were banned for life following accusations they intentionally lost games for money.
In a 1946 dispute prompted by the Mexican League, Commissioner Happy Chandler handed down five-year suspensions to those who left their U.S. contracts to play abroad and didn’t return by opening day. No players were identified in his announcement, and ultimately about two dozen were penalized.
During an era when cocaine was a problem in baseball, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth conditionally suspended 11 players implicated in drug use in 1986, a group that included Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez and Joaquin Andujar.
But Ueberroth said at the time he announced the penalties that the players wouldn’t have to serve the bans if they donated a percentage of their salaries to drug-prevention programs, submitted to random drug testing and contributed time to drug-related community service.
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