NEW YORK — Major League Baseball suspended three-time most valuable player Alex Rodriguez for the rest of this season and all of 2014 for, the league said, using performance-enhancing drugs and covering up his transgressions while essentially obfuscating the investigation.
In addition, 2013 all-stars Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers, Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers, and Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres were banned 50 games apiece Monday when MLB 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 kept for Mr. Rodriguez, the New York Yankees slugger who is baseball’s highest-paid player.
The third baseman said he will appeal his suspension, which covers 211 games, by Thursday’s deadline.
However, Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz isn’t expected to rule until November or December at the earliest, so Mr. Rodriguez was free to make his season debut Monday night, play the rest of this year, and receive his salary of $28 million for the year.
Sidelined since hip surgery in January, Mr. Rodriguez rejoined the Yankees five hours after the suspension in a series opener at the Chicago White Sox. He got a single in his first at bat.
At a pregame news conference, Mr. Rodriguez would not say whether he had used PEDs. “I’m sure there’s been some mistakes made along the way,” he said. “We’re here now. I’m a human being. ... I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one else will.
“The last seven months has been a nightmare, has been probably the worst time of my life for sure,” he said.
The other 12 players agreed to their 50-game penalties, giving them a chance to return for the playoffs.
Along with a 65-game suspension last month for Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, previous penalties bring to 18 the number of players sanctioned for their connection with Biogenesis.
MLB said Mr. Rodriguez’s suspension is “based on his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years.”
It added he received additional punishment “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.”
Michael Weiner, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said the union agreed with Mr. Rodriguez’s decision to fight the penalty. Mr. Weiner said the union believes Commissioner Bud Selig “has not acted appropriately under the basic agreement.”
In a conference call, he would only say the penalty was “way too harsh” without providing specifics about the union’s disagreement with the league.
“We’ve never had a 200-plus [game] penalty for a player who may have used drugs,” Mr. Weiner said, “and among other things, I think that’s way over the line.”
Mr. Rodriguez admitted four years ago that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas from 2001-03 but has repeatedly denied using them since.
His penalty was more than double the previous high for a PED suspension, a 100-game ban given last year to San Francisco pitcher Guillermo Mota for a second offense.
Other players decided against appealing their penalties and they began serving them Monday night — when most teams had roughly 50 games remaining in the regular season.
Players such as Mr. Peralta and Mr. Cruz, whose teams are in pennant races, would be eligible to return for the playoffs.
Mr. Peralta, whose Tigers reached the World Series last year and are in first place again, didn’t specify his violation, but admitted to “a terrible mistake that I deeply regret.”
The other players who were suspended: Philadelphia reliever Antonio Bastardo; Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Houston reliever Sergio Escalona, Seattle catcher Jesus Montero and New York Mets outfielder Jordany Valdespin, along with minor leaguers Fernando Martinez (Yankees), Fautino de los Santos (San Diego), Cesar Puello (Mets), and Jordan Norberto, a free agent.
The suspensions are thought to be the most at once for off-field conduct since 1921, when Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned eight White Sox players for life for throwing the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati.
They had been suspended by the team the previous year and were penalized by baseball even though they had been acquitted of criminal charges.
“We pursued this matter because it was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do,” Mr. Selig said.