NEW YORK -- Defiant until the end, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is intent on evading baseball's most sweeping punishment since the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Rodriguez was suspended through 2014 and All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera were banned 50 games apiece Monday when Major League Baseball disciplined 13 players for their relationship to Biogenesis of America, a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.
The harshest penalty was reserved for Rodriguez, a three-time MVP and baseball's highest-paid star. He will appeal his suspension, which covers 211 games, by deadline Thursday. And since arbitrator Fredric Horowitz isn't expected to rule until November or December at the earliest, Rodriguez was free to make his season debut Monday night against the White Sox in Chciago and play the rest of this season.
Out since hip surgery in January, Rodriguez rejoined the Yankees five hours after the suspension officially was announced in a series opener against the White Sox, playing third base and batting fourth. Rodriguez hit a bloop single in his first at-bat.
"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 they were announced, giving them a chance to return for the playoffs.
Ryan Braun's 65-game suspension in July and previous penalties bring to 18 the total number of players sanctioned for their connection with Biogenesis.
At the center of it all was Rodriguez, once the greatest player of his time, reduced Monday night to saying that he was humbled, at 38, just to "have the opportunity to put on this uniform again" and adding if he didn't fight for his career, no one else would.
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," MLB said.
His punishment under the labor contract was "for attempting to cover up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the office of the commissioner's investigation."
In Chicago, Rodriguez wouldn't 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."
He added: "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.
"I am disappointed with the penalty and intend to appeal and fight this through the process. I am eager to get back on the field and be with my teammates in Chicago tonight," Rodriguez said in a statement.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, minutes after losing captain Derek Jeter for the third time this year, was ready to welcome Rodriguez 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."
While the players association has fought many drug penalties in the past three decades, attitudes of its membership have shifted sharply in recent years and union staff encouraged settlements in the Biogenesis probe.
"The accepted suspensions announced today are consistent with the punishments set forth in the Joint Drug Agreement and were arrived at only after hours of intense negotiations between the bargaining parties, the players and their representatives," union head Michael Weiner said. "For the player appealing, Alex Rodriguez, we agree with his decision to fight his suspension. We believe that the commissioner has not acted appropriately. ... The union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously."
Rodriguez intimated Friday that New York did not want him to return; Yankees answered Monday with a statement:
"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.