Facing the threat of a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, Alex Rodriguez has decided to take his private battle with the New York Yankees public.
In a media blitz, Rodriguez's representatives, including a doctor who disputed the Yankees' interpretation of an MRI showing that Rodriguez had a quad strain, began supplying details to support Rodriguez's belief that the Yankees and MLB were conspiring to keep the $275 million third baseman off the field.
Dr. Michael Gross, an orthopedic surgeon with Hackensack University Medical Center, spoke with ESPN New York and other media outlets to assert that his reading of the MRI showed no damage to Rodriguez's quad that should keep him off the field.
Gross did say that he did not examine Rodriguez in person.
"In media reports, we have since learned that the doctor in question has acknowledged that he did not examine Mr. Rodriguez and that he was not retained to do a comprehensive medical examination of Mr. Rodriguez," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in a statement released Wednesday.
In an interview with ESPN New York, Gross explained his involvement with Rodriguez, saying he's never actually met the Yankee in person.
"I spoke with Alex on the phone, and I asked him if he has any pain and he said, 'I don't,' " Gross said Wednesday. "I said, 'Do you have an injury?' And he said, 'I don't.' He said, 'Would you be willing to say I'm ready to play?' I said, 'No, I'm not willing to say that. I've never examined you. I've looked at your MRI.' But I asked him if you think you are ready to play and he said, 'Yes.' "
A source with ties to Rodriguez called several media outlets to reveal that Rodriguez had informed the Yankees he is ready to play and wants to be in the lineup Friday night when the team opens a three-game series at home against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"He feels he has no choice," the source told ESPNNewYork.com. "He wants to play, and they won't let him play. Nobody knows Alex's body better than he does."
The Yankees were exploring the possibility that Rodriguez was in violation of baseball's collective bargaining agreement by seeking a second medical opinion without notifying the club first, a source said.
"Contrary to the Basic Agreement, Mr. Rodriguez did not notify us at any time that he was seeking a second opinion from any doctor with regard to his quad strain," Cashman said in the statement.
According to Article XIII, Paragraph D of the CBA, "a Player shall inform the Club in writing" before seeking a second medical opinion. A Yankees source said Rodriguez did not inform the team before consulting with Gross, although it was unclear what recourse, if any, the team would have other than to force the third baseman to bear any costs incurred in obtaining the second opinion.
Despite the possible violation, a source said Yankees team physician Chris Ahmad, who diagnosed Rodriguez with a Grade 1 quad strain after he underwent an MRI at New York Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday, would seek to confer with Gross over the discrepancy in diagnoses.
"To me, an MRI is an MRI," the source said. "Either it is or it isn't."
In his statement, Cashman says it was Rodriguez who said he was injured.
"As early as Friday, July 12, when I suggested to Alex that we move his rehab from Tampa to Triple-A Scranton [at Buffalo], Alex complained for the first time of 'tightness' in his quad and therefore refused to consent to the transfer of his assignment," Cashman said. "Again, last Sunday, Alex advised that he had stiffness in his quad and should not play on Sunday or Monday. We sent Alex to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital for an MRI which evidenced a Grade 1 strain."
The crux of the issue remains Rodriguez's physical condition. The Yankees maintain Rodriguez, who will turn 38 on Saturday, is not fit to play. According to a source, Rodriguez insists he is and believes the Yankees, with the help of MLB, are conspiring to keep him off the field.
"So he's saying the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball and New York Presbyterian are all in cahoots to phony up an injury?" a highly placed baseball source said to ESPNNewYork.com on Tuesday night. "It makes no sense."
Rodriguez reported to the team's minor league training facility in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday and said, "I feel great," as he left in an SUV.
A Yankees team source told ESPNNewYork.com on Tuesday that the diagnosed quad strain would require 10 days to two weeks of healing time. After the injury is healed, yet another rehab assignment would be necessary, which could last as long as 20 days, although the source did not believe Rodriguez would need that much time.
"He has to prove to us that he can play and he's not nursing an injury," a team source said.
Rodriguez, who has not played all season because of a second hip surgery, is in the crosshairs of MLB's investigation into the Biogenesis scandal to which former NL MVP Ryan Braun is linked. Braun was suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season on Monday for unspecified violations of baseball's drug rules and labor contract.
It is widely believed Rodriguez will be suspended as well, perhaps for as many as 100 games. He could choose to appeal, which might allow him to get on the field in 2013 if he is physically able.
Rodriguez is signed through the 2017 season, and the Yankees owe him around $100 million.
"This [situation on Wednesday] has nothing to do with anything except he wants to be back on the field," a friend of Rodriguez said.
Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Chris Girandola contributed to this report.