NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez benched himself at his own grievance hearing.
The New York Yankees star walked out in the middle of a session Wednesday, furious arbitrator Fredric Horowitz refused to order baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to testify. The move, followed by angry statements accusing Selig of bias and the entire arbitration process of flaws, appeared to be a prelude to a lawsuit challenging whatever ruling Horowitz makes on A-Rod’s 211-game suspension.
Horowitz was in the midst of the third week of hearings on the grievance filed by the players’ association to overturn the penalty given to the three-time AL MVP by Major League Baseball in August for alleged violations of the sport’s drug agreement and labor contract.
“I lost my mind. I banged a table and kicked a briefcase and slammed out of the room,” Rodriguez said during a 40-minute interview on WFAN radio. “I probably overreacted, but it came from the heart.”
Rodriguez has not testified in the grievance and said he had been warned that repeating his denials of wrongdoing on the stand could result in attempts at additional discipline by MLB.
MLB argued that it could decide what witnesses it wanted to present to justify the discipline, since the penalty must meet a “just cause” standard. The league said Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred spoke to reasoning behind the discipline during his six hours of testimony.
Rodriguez and the union asked Horowitz to compel Selig to testify. After the arbitrator refused, Rodriguez uttered a profanity at Manfred just before leaving the hearing room at MLB’s office, two people familiar with the proceedings said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because what takes place at the hearing is supposed to be confidential.
“In the entire history of the Joint Drug Agreement, the commissioner has not testified in a single case,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement. “Major League Baseball has the burden of proof in this matter. MLB selected Rob Manfred as its witness to explain the penalty imposed in this case. Mr. Rodriguez and the players’ Association have no right to dictate how baseball’s case is to proceed any more than baseball has the right to dictate how their case proceeds. Today’s antics are an obvious attempt to justify Mr. Rodriguez’s continuing refusal to testify under oath.”
The hearing continued for about two hours after Rodriguez left the room, one of the people said, and it is scheduled to resume Thursday morning.
“We have put on evidence. We have more evidence to put on. We are evaluating our options,” said James McCarroll, a lawyer for Rodriguez who also spoke during the WFAN interview. “We haven’t said the case isn’t being completed. We haven’t said that the case isn’t complete.”
Horowitz, chosen by management and the union as their independent arbitrator last year, has the discretion to eliminate the suspension or alter it. The statements by Rodriguez and McCarroll made it appear the 14-time All-Star intends to sue MLB and the union unless the penalty is eliminated.
Rodriguez already has filed one suit against MLB and Selig, accusing them of a “witch hunt,” and another against the Yankees team physician and his hospital, alleging malpractice in the diagnosis and treatment of a hip injury.
Manfred is technically part of a three-person arbitration panel that also includes union General Counsel David Prouty and is chaired by Horowitz
“I’m done. I don’t have a chance,” Rodriguez said during the WFAN interview.
He issued a statement earlier in the day attacking the procedures established in the agreements between MLB and the union.
“I am disgusted with this abusive process, designed to ensure that the player fails,” Rodriguez said. “I have sat through 10 days of testimony by felons and liars, sitting quietly through every minute, trying to respect the league and the process.
“This morning, after Bud Selig refused to come in and testify about his rationale for the unprecedented and totally baseless punishment he hit me with, the arbitrator selected by MLB and the players’ association refused to order Selig to come in and face me. The absurdity and injustice just became too much. I walked out and will not participate any further in this farce.”
The players’ association was disappointed with Horowitz’s decision but was less confrontational than Rodriguez.
“The MLBPA believes that every player has the right under our arbitration process to directly confront his accuser,” the union said in a statement. “We argued strenuously to the arbitrator in Alex’s case that the commissioner should be required to appear and testify. While we respectfully disagree with the arbitrator’s ruling, we will abide by it as we continue to vigorously challenge Alex’s suspension within the context of this hearing.”
McCarroll blamed Horowitz for precluding evidence Rodriguez wanted to introduce and hinted of a court fight.
“Whether the case is finally decided in this forum, created by Major League Baseball, Bud Selig’s forum, or another forum, nobody is throwing the case out,” he said.
Rodriguez denied using performance-enhancing drugs or obstructing MLB’s investigation into the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic. Rodriguez was the only one of the 14 players disciplined this summer to challenge his suspension.
“Over time, the arbitration process in baseball has been amazingly pro player,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. “It was that process which created free agency. It allowed Steve Howe to remain on the field despite numerous drug violations and resulted in the shortening of suspensions like John Rocker’s. The notion that this same process is not fair enough or good enough for Alex Rodriguez is ridiculous.”
Rodriguez said he had hoped to testify Friday. MLB had insisted Rodriguez submit to an “investigatory interview” prior to his testimony, but he canceled his scheduled appearance last week, claiming illness. MLB agreed to waive its right to penalize him for testimony during an interview it might deem untruthful, one of the people said.
“The system is wrong, and whether you’re in federal court or state court or in kangaroo court that we are today, players need protection,” Rodriguez said on WFAN. “The union has already told me that if I go on on Friday and they think I lied, they can give me say another 100 games, so now you’re to 311. So now we’ll appeal that. In the appeal process, I would say I didn’t do it, so now you’re up to 411, and this can go on for the next seven or eight years.”
He repeatedly disparaged Selig, who has been in charge of baseball since 1992 and said in September he plans to retire in January 2015. Rodriguez said Selig wants him as “a trophy” to put “in his big mantel on his way out.”
“My only message to the commissioner is, I know you don’t like New York, but come to New York and face the music. He hates my guts, there’s no question about it,” Rodriguez said. “One hundred percent it’s personal, and I think this is about his legacy, and it’s about my legacy, and he’s trying to destroy me.”
Rodriguez said four years ago he used PEDs while with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03. He has denied using them since.
He briefly discussed his relationship with Biogenesis head Anthony Bosch, who is cooperating with MLB’s investigation.
“It was nutrition and it was weight loss,” Rodriguez said. “And Bosch wasn’t the only guy. I traveled the world to see doctors, cutting-edge stuff, but always between the parameters of Major League Baseball. And I have hundreds of e-mails that will be part of evidence which I can’t get into that backs me up 100 percent.”
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