MLB Drops an A-Bomb on A-Rod

On January 20, 2014, in MLB, Sports Law Journal, by admin

By:  Matthew Cali on January 18, 2014

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Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz recently reduced Major League Baseball (MLB) superstar Alex Rodriguez’s record 211-game suspension to a yearlong suspension from the MLB for his use and possession of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and for his attempts to obstruct the MLB’s investigation into the now-defunct South Florida anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis.[1]  The reduced suspension is for the full 2014 season, including all 162 regular season games and all playoff games.[2]  Although the sentence was reduced, Alex Rodriguez recently filed suit in federal court seeking to vacate the Horowitz ruling.[3]


Origin of the Suit


Pursuant to the MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, all players must abide by the MLB’s banned substance policy or else face discipline ranging from repeat tests to suspension.  The MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program states that an “Arbitration Panel shall have jurisdiction to review any determination that a Player has violated the Program . . . .”[4]  Further, the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program states that if a player wishes to challenge a positive test result, the Commissioner’s Office will have the burden of proving the violation.[5]  After receiving the 211-game suspension, A-Rod appealed the discipline and succeeded in having his sentence reduced; however, he did not succeed in proving that he did not use PEDs.  Horowitz’s findings were published and among the findings were that Horowitz gave Rodriguez three 50-game suspensions for his use of three banned substances, and a twelve game suspension for impeding the progress of the MLB’s investigation.[6]  Rodriguez still claims his innocence and has decided to appeal the Arbitration Panel’s decision to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.


Likelihood of Success


Rodriguez has a slim, if any, chance for successfully overturning the MLB Arbitration Panel’s suspension.  All MLB players’ previous attempts to overturn an arbitration panel’s decision have failed.  Most notably, the Supreme Court of the United States denied Steve Garvey’s appeal of an arbitration panel’s decision to deny Garvey’s grievance in collusion cases because it did not see any error or chance of error by the arbitration panel.[7]  The Court provided great deference to the arbitration panel because the MLB Players and the MLB created their Collective Bargaining Agreement to include an arbitration clause that precluded players from seeking remedies in federal court.  Thus, legal precedent is against A-Rod in overturning an arbitration panel’s decision since the federal courts have emphasized the significance of collective bargaining agreements in labor law cases.


A-Rod’s Road Out


There are only two ways that an Arbitration Panel’s decision may be successfully overturned in federal court.  Jeff Kessler, partner at Winston & Strawn, recently stated the specific grounds for overturning an arbitration award:


Either there has to be a showing of partiality by the arbitrator, or there has to be a showing that there as a manifest disregard of some settled legal principle, or there has to be a fundamental denial of what’s called arbitral due process — the procedures were completely defective — or it could be in a collective bargaining context a decision that’s contrary to what we call the essence of the CBA.  So basically there are four targets and they have to hit one of them, and they’re not easy.[8]


Thus, Rodriguez has the burden to prove there has been some specific misstep or disregard for the procedural protocol by the MLB in order to have his suspension overturned in federal court.

The odds are against Rodriguez in this case.  MLB went through an exhausting investigation of all sources of possible evidence and data, including statements from Tony Bosch detailing the banned substances—or “treatments”—that Bosch provided to Rodriguez.  In a shocking tell-all interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, Bosch revealed the drugs and treatments he provided to Rodriguez and explained how they planned and conspired to “beat the system,” the main goal of which was to successfully use PEDs while never failing a drug test.[9]  Further, Bosch and investigators disclosed that some of Rodriguez’s known associates tried to silence and threaten Bosch, first by offering to send Bosch out of the country for a while and later by expressing their willingness to send Bosch on a more permanent vacation.  With all the evidence stacked against him, it is extremely unlikely that Rodriguez will be able to successfully overturn the Arbitration Panel’s decision.

[1] See Wallace Matthews, Alex Rodriguez Sues to Overturn Ban, ESPN, (Jan. 14, 2014, 11:30 AM) (providing results of arbitration hearing); see also Terri Thompson, Bill Madden, Christian Red, Michael O’Keefe and Nathaniel Vinton, Alex Rodriguez Hit with Unprecedented 211-Game Drug Suspension by Major League Baseball; Yankee Star Will Fight the Ban Which Starts Thursday, NY Daily News (Aug. 6, 2013, 1:55 AM), (providing details of Alex Rodriguez’s original suspension that led to his appeal of arbitration panel’s ruling).

[2] See generally Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, MLB, available at (last visited Jan. 18, 2014) (providing Drug Prevention and Treatment Program MLB players must abide by).  The proffered goals of the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, as set forth by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, are to:

(i) [E]ducate Players on the risks associated with the use of Prohibited Substances (defined in Section 2 below); (ii) deter and end the use Prohibited Substances by Players; and (iii) provide for, in keeping with the overall purposes of the Program, an orderly, systematic, and cooperative resolution of any disputes that may arise concerning the existence, interpretation, or application of [the] Program.


[3] See Matthews, supra note 1 (stating Rodriguez filed lawsuit against MLB in District Court for Southern District of New York on January 13, 2014).

[4] See Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, supra note 2, § 8(A), at 28 (stating jurisdiction Arbitration Panel has jurisdiction in ruling over MLB grievances).

[5] See id. (providing options for MLB players that wish to appeal Arbitration Panel’s decision).

[6] See Matt Snyder, Entire A-Rod Arbitration Case Released, Shows Crushing MLB Win, CBS, (Jan. 13, 2014, 6:44 PM), (providing overview of Arbitrator Horowitz’s findings).

[7] See Major League Baseball Players Ass’n v. Garvey, 532 U.S. 504 (2001) (providing example of litigation where federal court did not overturn Arbitration Panel’s decision against MLB player, reasoning application of labor law provides that deference should be given to collective bargaining agreements).

[8] See Ronald Blum, Odds Against Alex Rodriguez in Federal Court, ABC News (Jan. 12, 2014), (providing prominent attorney’s insight into arbitration panel appellate process).

[9] See Anthony Bosch Discusses A-Rod in Explosive ’60 Minutes’ Interview, CBS New York (Jan. 12, 2014, 10:06 PM), (providing details of tell-all interview with Rodriguez’s former “nutritionist” Tony Bosch).


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