NEW YORK — One by one, for three weeks already, players accompanied by their lawyers have been summoned to interviews as part of baseball’s latest investigation into performance-enhancing drugs — and the process is a long way from finished.
Some pretty big names, led by Alex Rodriguez, could be on the hot seat.
A-Rod, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon are among the 20 or so players who may be disciplined for their links to the now-closed Miami anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis of America.
The players’ union says it has been assured no decisions regarding discipline will be made until the interviews are completed.
“It would be unfortunate if anyone prejudged those investigations,” union head Michael Weiner said in a statement Wednesday.
And it appears the process has a while to run.
Interviews with players started three weeks ago and are scheduled until the end of June, according to people with knowledge of the process who spoke on condition of anonymity because statements on those details weren’t authorized. Dan Halem, Steven Gonzalez and Patrick Houlihan, lawyers in baseball’s labor relations department, conducted several interviews, and some players haven’t been scheduled.
“Every player has been or will be represented by an attorney from the players’ association,” Weiner said. “The players’ association has every interest in both defending the rights of players and in defending the integrity of our joint (drug) program. We trust that the commissioner’s office shares these interests.”
MLB has been seeking the cooperation of Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch since Miami New Times reported in January that it obtained what the paper said were records detailing drug purchases by Rodriguez, Cabrera, Cruz and Colon. Yahoo Sports reported that Braun, the 2011 NL MVP, was mentioned in the records.
MLB sued Biogenesis and its operators in a Florida court in March, an attempt to pressure Bosch. A person familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that Bosch agreed to talk to MLB, a deal first reported by ESPN. MLB wants to speak with Bosch in the next few days,
“Due to ongoing litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment on any aspect of this matter at this time,” Bosch’s lawyer, Susy Ribero-Ayala, said in a statement.
Among the players linked to the clinic, Cabrera, Colon and San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal already have served 50-game suspensions following positive tests for testosterone announced by MLB last year.
“It looks like it could be getting to the bottom of this and finding some information that hopefully would help Major League Baseball as far as cleaning this game up,” said San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, who managed Cabrera last year. “I always thought they should be a little stricter to keep these players from trying to beat the system and cheat. I’m all for stiffer penalties.”
Once MLB interviews Bosch and the players, it will have to determine what penalties to impose.
“WADA commends the decision of Major League Baseball to seek suspension of an estimated 20 players,” World Anti-Doping Agency Director General David Howman said in a statement.
“More and more, information and evidence gathered in the investigative process is proving an effective means of uncovering doping in sport. MLB has approached this issue in a professional way, and the evidence gathered will undoubtedly be pivotal,” Howman said.
Any suspensions for first offenders would be put on hold if the union files a grievance, a process that would put the matter in front of an arbitrator and delay possible sanctions for weeks or months. Second offenders would serve suspensions during the grievance process.
Baseball’s drug agreement calls for a 50-game suspension for a first violation, 100 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third for positive tests for banned PEDS or their use or possession. The agreement also allows discipline for “just cause” for a violation not specified.
Any player disciplined could file an individual grievance, and it isn’t likely that cases would be combined into one proceeding. If Bosch testifies at a hearing, he would be subject to cross-examination, and players’ lawyers likely would try to attack his credibility.
The Florida Department of Health sent Bosch an unlicensed activity citation on April 25, accusing him of practicing medicine without a license from 2009 through 2012 and asking him to sign a “cease and desist agreement.” That action was first reported by the New York Daily News on May 6.
Most players have denied the Biogenesis link either directly or through spokesmen or lawyers.
Rodriguez admitted in 2009 that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03. As baseball’s highest-paid player with a $28 million salary this year, he would lose $7.65 million during a 50-game ban.
Rodriguez, who turns 38 next month, has not played since hip surgery in January and is not expected to be available to the New York Yankees until after the All-Star break. The third baseman, a three-time AL MVP, has been working out since May at the team’s minor league complex in Tampa, Fla., and he drove past reporters without stopping when he arrived and left three hours later Wednesday after batting practice, fielding and agility drills.
A-Rod drove a black Chevrolet SUV rather than the black Maybach he usually arrives in
In addition to Rodriguez, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli was linked to the clinic. Cervelli, currently on the DL because of a broken hand, said he consulted Biogenesis for a foot injury, but didn’t receive any treatment.
“My focus is not on what MLB is investigating. I don’t want to get caught up in that,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “My job is to manage the guys in the clubhouse.”
Girardi said the Yankees still planned for Rodriguez to rejoin the team after the All-Star break. Asked what he would do if A-Rod were suspended 100 games, Girardi responded: “We’ll cross that bridge.”
Braun’s 50-game suspension for a positive test was overturned by an arbitrator in February 2012 after the union filed a grievance and challenged the handling of his urine sample. Braun has acknowledged he was mentioned in Biogenesis records because his lawyers used Bosch as a consultant during the grievance.
After the Brewers’ 4-3, 10-inning win over Oakland at Miller Park on Tuesday night, the 2011 NL MVP said he was finished talking about the clinic.
“I’ve already addressed everything related to the Miami situation. I addressed it in spring training. I will not make any further statements about it,” he said. “The truth has not changed.”
Braun said the speculation hasn’t affected him on the field.
“No, of course not. I’ve dealt with this for two years now. I’m pretty good at avoiding distractions,” he said.