By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Embattled New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez asked a federal judge on Monday to throw out an arbitrator’s decision suspending him for the 2014 baseball season for doping, escalating a battle with Major League Baseball that shows no signs of abating.
The lawsuit, filed by Rodriguez’s attorneys at the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, said arbitrator Fredric Horowitz exhibited “blatant partiality” toward MLB.
MLB was named as a defendant along with Commissioner Bud Selig’s office and the players’ union. Rodriguez, baseball’s highest-paid player, asserted that the union failed in its duty to provide him adequate representation during the investigation.
The Players Association reacted angrily.
“It is unfortunate that Alex Rodriguez has chosen to sue the Players Association. His claim is completely without merit, and we will aggressively defend ourselves and our members from these baseless charges,” MLBPA chief Tony Clark said in a statement.
“The Players Association has vigorously defended Mr. Rodriguez’s rights throughout the Biogenesis investigation, and indeed throughout his career,” said Clark, calling his allegation “outrageous.”
The suit included a copy of Horowitz’s decision, which had not previously been made public, giving the first glimpse of a proceeding that took place behind closed doors.
Horowitz concluded that Anthony Bosch, who ran a Florida anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis, supplied Rodriguez with testosterone, insulin growth factor and human growth hormone from 2010 to 2012, and that Rodriguez attempted to obstruct MLB’s investigation.
The suspension of Rodriguez has pushed baseball news into the U.S. sports headlines at a time when other major sports usually predominate coverage. On Sunday night, Bosch described injecting Rodriguez with performance-enhancing drugs on the CBS television news program “60 Minutes.” Selig and other MLB officials also appeared on the program, which Rodriguez’s lawsuit slammed as part of a “carefully orchestrated smear campaign.”
Neither MLB nor the players’ union offered any immediate comment on the lawsuit, which was assigned to U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos.
Horowitz ruled on Saturday that Rodriguez would miss all 162 regular season games this year as well as the playoffs.
The ban, which was reduced from 211 games, is the longest ever in baseball for the use of performance-enhancing drugs and will cost Rodriguez $25 million in salary.
Horowitz wrote that a review of the evidence and arguments “clearly and convincingly establishes that Rodriguez committed multiple violations…warranting a substantial disciplinary policy.”
The 38-year-old third baseman, popularly known as A-Rod, is currently fifth on baseball’s all-time home run list with 654 and was once widely expected to challenge Barry Bonds’ record of 762 home runs. Bonds was also repeatedly linked to doping.
Rodriguez’s complaint may represent a long-shot bid. MLB and the players’ union agreed on the arbitration process, and federal judges typically afford independent arbitrators great deference under such circumstances.
MLB Commissioner Selig handed down suspensions last August to Rodriguez and other players who were implicated in an investigation into Biogenesis, a now-defunct clinic that had been accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.
Rodriguez claimed in the lawsuit that the testimony of Bosch, who ran Biogenesis, was unreliable, in part because MLB sued him in an apparent attempt to obtain his cooperation.
But in his decision, Horowitz wrote that Bosch’s testimony was “direct, credible and squarely corroborated” by his personal notebooks.
Those notebooks were stolen from Bosch’s office and leaked to a weekly newspaper in Miami, which first published stories about Rodriguez’s alleged connection to the clinic. According to the decision, MLB bought copies of the notebooks and other documents for $125,000.
Rodriguez seized on that payment as evidence that MLB had committed misconduct, but Horowitz said Rodriguez’s associates were themselves guilty of offering money for documents. He also dismissed an “indiscreet sexual liaison” between an MLB investigator and a former Biogenesis employee, saying it yielded no relevant information for the case.
The arbitrator’s ruling said Bosch and Rodriguez exchanged more than 500 text messages in 2012 and met numerous times, including once in a Starbucks bathroom in Miami. Horowitz wrote that in October 2012, Rodriguez summoned Bosch to Detroit for a new supply during the playoffs, when the 14-time All Star was struggling at the plate.
Thirteen other players were suspended for their alleged ties to Biogenesis, with 12 agreeing to 50-game suspensions, and Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger Ryan Braun, a former National League most valuable player, accepting a 65-game ban.
Baseball’s rules call for a 50-game ban for first-time offenders, but MLB lengthened Rodriguez’s suspension for allegedly using drugs over several years and interfering with the investigation.
Horowitz found that even if Rodriguez was only subject to a 50-game suspension for each use, he would face at least a 150-game ban, without considering steps Rodriguez took to impede MLB’s investigators.
In appealing the suspension, Rodriguez said he did not use any illicit drugs supplied by Biogenesis and claimed he had been made a scapegoat.
He also filed a lawsuit against MLB in October, asserting that its investigators had acted unethically in the Biogenesis probe, including intimidating witnesses and buying evidence. That case is separate from the petition filed on Monday.
The Yankees said in a statement on Saturday that they accepted Horowitz’s decision. Under Rodriguez’s contract, the team will still owe him $61 million for three more seasons after this year as well as potential bonus payments when he reaches certain home run milestones.
Rodriguez has previously acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs more than a decade ago when he was a member of the Texas Rangers, but has denied doing so since then.
Long considered one of baseball’s top players, Rodriguez has seen his production diminish in recent seasons after a series of injuries sapped his effectiveness.
The case is Rodriguez v. Major League Baseball et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 14-244.
(Additional reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish, G Crosse, David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)