Thursday 21 September 2017

Baseball: Rodriguez glittering career on line in new scandal

Image change: Alex Rodriguez Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Image change: Alex Rodriguez Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Rupert Cornwell

Six years after supposedly closing the books on its "steroid era", baseball is embroiled in a new drug scandal that has already felled one of its top stars, and could end the career of Alex Rodriguez, its highest-paid player.

The latest dark shadow has been cast by a now-defunct clinic in south Florida called Biogenesis of America, which appeared to have peddled Human Growth Hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs (PED) to a score of top players.

This week the affair claimed its first major victim, as Major League Baseball suspended Milwaukee Brewers batsman Ryan Braun for the rest of the season without pay, a 65-game ban. But the biggest name involved is Rodriguez, the New York Yankees' third baseman.

Over a glittering career he has hit 647 home runs, fifth on the all-time list. But he has also been dogged by allegations of PED use, even after he admitted in 2009 having once used steroids but insisted he had been clean since. Now his name is said to be on the list of Biogenesis' baseball customers supplied by its founder Tony Bosch, who is co-operating with the league.

Lifetime

Rodriguez is variously said to be negotiating a deal with baseball officials, or facing a long suspension, even a lifetime ban.

Yesterday the 'New York Daily News' proclaimed him "the most wanted criminal in baseball history," claiming he not only lied about using drugs but tried to interfere in the investigation.

Such disgrace would surely leave the Yankees with mixed feelings, with their injury-hit line-up in need of Rodriguez in the battle to reach the post-season games.

On the other hand, the franchise might be relieved of some of the burden of the biggest contract ever in baseball – his $275m 10-year deal may still be the richest for any in team sports, working out at $170,000 per game.

When he signed, Rodriguez was 33, elderly in baseball terms. On Sunday he turns 38, having missed more than half the Yankees' games since the start of 2011, plagued by injuries. Yet the Yankees still owe him $100m – barring disqualification for drugs.

A few years ago, when baseball had one of the laxest drug regimes in sport, that prospect would have been unthinkable. But after a 2007 report naming 89 players who had used steroids, attitudes changed.

A first offence warrants a 50-game suspension (almost a third of the 162-game season); a third means a ban for life. And if baseball is serious about ridding itself of drugs, so are the players.

"If guys cheated, they should be punished, and we should clean the game up once and for all," St Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said. (© Independent News Service)

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