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It's the largest crackdown on doping in Major League Baseball history. After weeks of speculation, the MLB announced it's suspending more than a dozen players for violating the league's drug policy, and the toughest penalty went to Yankees all-star Alex Rodriguez. He's suspended through the 2014 season. That's 211 games. Although he says he will appeal the decision, most players agreed to a 50-game suspension. The players are accused of using performance-enhancing drugs tied to an anti-aging clinic in Miami.
NPR's Mike Pesca has been following the story, and he joins us now. And, Mike, as we say, Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod, suspended for 211 games, but he is still suiting up for tonight's game against the Chicago White Sox. Explain what happened.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, he's been hurt all year, and he finally is healthy enough to play. Actually, he argued he was healthy enough to play a few games ago, and he is playing. It's within his right if he appeals his suspension. It's within his right to play these games.
He and his camp clearly do not think it's fair that he's getting more than four times the suspension as all these other players. In the joint drug agreement that the union agrees to, if you get busted for steroids - and their language is a urinalysis test. But if you get busted for steroids the first time, you do 50 games. With Rodriguez, it's over 200 games.
Now why? Bud Selig, who's the commissioner of baseball, explained that it was an attempt 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. So it's a little bit punitive, but it's a little bit you got in our way.
And they also think that, you know, he was a little bit of a gateway. A few of these players have Yankee ties, and, you know, he did admit to doing steroids in the past. So that puts a greater onus on him in the eyes of baseball.
BLOCK: It's going to be really interesting to see the reaction if he does take the field tonight in Chicago. But let's talk about some of the other players. Texas Ranger Nelson Cruz, Detroit Tiger Jhonny Peralta, they're among those suspended for 50 games, both of them on teams that are actual playoff contenders. What does it mean for them?
PESCA: Right. So this is exactly why baseball timed the announcement till today because there's 50 games left in the season. So - a few more for the Tigers. So if they take their suspensions now, which they're going to, they get to come back in time for the playoffs.
The other names on the list are mostly Minor Leaguers - Francisco Cervelli, who's a catcher, who's injured, and then there's a pitcher, Antonio Bastardo and Everth Cabrera. But those guys aren't in playoff contenders. So Peralta and Cruz are the only ones who will have an impact on the postseason.
BLOCK: Well, the league did want to make a statement with these penalties, and the commissioner, Bud Selig, is using what's called the best interest of the game clause. What's the significance of that?
PESCA: Well, actually, he could have used that, and he opted not to, and that's significant. He was threatening to use that clause to really bring the hammer down and maybe ban A-Rod for life. Although was that just bluster? It seems to have been because he opted not to use that clause, and what he wanted to do was go through the whole procedure and kind of follow the rule.
So the next time the negotiations open up, he could say, I stuck to what we had agreed to before, but now we've really got to make these penalties stiffer. And there seems to be a bit of momentum to maybe instead of having two - three strikes and you're out, like in baseball, to even on the second penalty get kicked out of baseball.
BLOCK: And briefly, Mike, though, it's interesting because these players weren't found out through drug testing, right? They were found out because there was a disgruntled employee at this clinic who spilled the beans, and they had all these documents. So it raises a lot of questions about whether baseball can really police itself.
PESCA: That's right, and it is making a dent, and there does seem to be a change of attitude. But if you look at the official statement where baseball talks about their investigative capabilities, I would just say that but for a couple of upset people - one guy who didn't get a $400 paycheck - we might not be knowing about that. So I don't see how baseball can rely on this sort of evidence to come to light in the future. Drug testing is still a really hard thing to do effectively.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Mike Pesca. Mike, thanks so much.
PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.