Alex Rodriguez was suspended to the end of the 2014 season and three other All-Stars were also handed bans as 13 players were punished by Major League Baseball on Monday for their role in a doping scandal which has rocked the sport.
Rodriguez, the game's highest-paid player and a three-time league MVP, remained defiant and appealed the decision, allowing him to play for the New York Yankees for the first time this season on Monday as he makes his comeback from a long-term hip injury.
Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera were the All-Stars given 50 game bans for their relationship to Biogenesis of America, a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Rodriguez confirmed he will appeal his suspension, which covers 211 games, by Thursday's deadline.
And since the arbitrator isn't expected to rule until November or December at the earliest, Rodriguez will likely be able to play the rest of this year.
He received a hostile reception from Chicago fans in Monday's game against the White Sox, being relentlessly booed and jeered, while being subject to chants of "Steroids! Steroids!"
He had one hit in four at-bats as the struggling Yankees lost 8-1.
"The last seven months has been a nightmare — has been probably the worst time of my life for sure," Rodriguez said.
The other 12 players agreed to their 50-game penalties before the punishments were announced, giving them a chance to return in time for the playoffs.
Ryan Braun's 65-game suspension last month and previous penalties bring to 18 the total number of players sanctioned for their connection with Biogenesis.
MLB said Rodriguez's drug penalty was for "his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years."
His punishment under the labour contract was "for attempting to cover up his violations of the programme by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the office of the commissioner's investigation."
Asked Monday, Rodriguez did not seek to deny using PEDs, saying "when the time is right, there will be an opportunity to do all of that. I don't think that time is right now."
"It's been the toughest fight of my life. By any means, am I out of the woods? This is probably just phase two just starting. It's not going to get easier. It's probably going to get harder."
Rodriguez admitted four years ago that he used PEDs while with Texas from 2001-03 but has repeatedly denied using them since.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi welcomed 'A-Rod' back. "I'm not here to judge people. It's not my job," Girardi said. "He's a player as long as he's in our clubhouse."
Girardi called the suspensions "another black eye for us, but we're trying to clean this game up."
The suspensions are thought to be the most at once for off-field conduct since 1921, when eight Chicago White Sox players were banned for life for taking bribes to throw the 1919 World Series: Shoeless Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsh, Chick Gandil, Fred McMullen, Charles "Swede" Risberg, Buck Weaver and Claude "Lefty" Williams. They were penalized by baseball even though they had been acquitted of criminal charges.
As for the modern-day All-Stars, Cruz, an outfielder, leads Texas in RBIs and Peralta has been a top hitter and shortstop for Detroit, a pair of teams in the midst of pennant races. They will be eligible to return for the postseason.
Others agreeing to 50-game bans included Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and outfielder Fernando Martinez; Philadelphia pitcher Antonio Bastardo; Seattle catcher Jesus Montero; New York Mets infielder Jordany Valdespin and outfielder Cesar Puello; Houston pitcher Sergio Escalona; and free agent pitchers Fautino De Los Santos and Jordan Norberto.
The players' union accepted the penalties for all the other players, yet sided with Rodriguez in his decision to fight his ban "We've never had a 200-plus (game) penalty for a player who may have used drugs," union boss Michael Weiner said. "That's way out of line."
Rodriguez had intimated that New York did not want him to return; something the Yankees denied in a statement on Monday.
"We are compelled to address certain reckless and false allegations concerning the Yankees' role in this matter," the team said. "The New York Yankees in no way instituted and/or assisted MLB in the direction of this investigation; or used the investigation as an attempt to avoid its responsibilities under a player contract; or did its medical staff fail to provide the appropriate standard of care to Alex Rodriguez."
Rodriguez is making $28 million this year, and his salary drops to $25 million next year and $21 million in 2015. If the 211-game penalty is upheld, his lost pay could range from $30.6 million to $32.7 million, depending on when exactly the suspension is served.
Rodriguez's suspension might dampen his future chances for election to the Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire all set impressive record statistical accomplishments but voters blocked them from Cooperstown because of the drug cloud.
Cruz attributed his action to a gastrointestinal infection, helicobacter pylori, and said he had lost 40 pounds following the 2011 season.
"I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error," he said in a statement. "I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse."
Peralta can rejoin Detroit for a season-ending three-game series at Miami — not far from the former office of Biogenesis.
In a statement released by the Tigers, Peralta said in "spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret." Peralta apologized to his teammates and "the great fans in Detroit," saying he knows he let "many good people down."
MLB's investigation began last year after San Francisco outfielder and All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera tested positive for elevated testosterone, as did Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal. The probe escalated in January when the Miami New Times published documents obtained from former Biogenesis associate Porter Fisher that linked several players to Biogenesis.
MLB said Melky Cabrera, Colon and Grandal will not receive additional discipline and it found no violations for Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez and Baltimore infielder Danny Valencia, both linked to Biogenesis in media reports.
"Those players who have violated the program have created scrutiny for the vast majority of our players, who play the game the right way," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. "We continue to attack this issue on every front — from science and research, to education and awareness, to fact-finding and investigative skills."
Picked first in the 1993 amateur draft, Rodriguez reached the majors at age 18 with Seattle and was an All-Star by 20. He seemed destined to become one of the greatest players in the history of the game, and appeared in line to break the all-time career home run record — he ranks fifth with 647.
Yet for all his accomplishments, Rodriguez has been reviled by fans as much as celebrated, especially later in his career. His off-field antics, enormous paycheck and playoff failures have often overshadowed his feats at the plate.
The Yankees are now saddled with an aging star slowed by two hip operations. They still owe him around $94 million, raising questions about whether his dwindling production is worth that price.