Only Alex Rodriguez could create a media firestorm over a minor quadriceps strain and publicly associate himself with another doctor linked to steroids in the process. Rodriguez is apparently convinced that the Yankees are exaggerating the quad strain he suffered over the weekend in order to delay his return to the majors. In an effort to expedite his return, Rodriguez sought a second opinion from Dr. Michael Gross, chief and orthopedic director of the Sports Medicine Institute at the Hackensack Medical Center in New Jersey, who subsequently appeared on New York's WFAN on Wednesday afternoon to report that Rodriguez is pain free and believes he is fit to play.
Because of doctor-patient confidentiality, Gross couldn't have discussed Rodriguez's injury on the air without his approval, but what Rodriguez either didn't know or didn't anticipate coming to light is the fact that Gross was fined $40,000 by the New Jersey attorney general in February for "failing to adequately ensure proper patient treatment involving the prescribing of hormones including steroids."
An MLB source has since told the Daily News that this revelation "has caused MLB to now expand its investigation [of Rodriguez] in regard to his relationship with this doctor and this wellness clinic."
Gross has already come to both his own and Rodriguez's defense, explaining in an interview on SNY's Daily News Live that the reprimand of his private Active Center for Health and Wellness had to do with an unlicensed doctor and not illegal drugs:
One of the people who worked there was a physician who completed medical school, who finished a residency, but he wasn’t a licensed physician in New Jersey. We never maintained that he was a physician, but in an unrelated investigation of a lot of wellness centers, the board came across that. I met with the board. I received [the reprimand]. It’s a closed matter.
But it has nothing to do with Alex. I really don’t think it’s germane to this. [Rodriguez] has never been a patient here. He’s never been treated here. We don’t prescribe anabolic steroids. We never have. We prescribe what’s called bio-identical hormones, for men with low testosterone, like what you see on television all the time. We prescribe testosterone.
As always, it's impossible to know who to believe with regard to Rodriguez's latest public relations disaster. According to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who released a statement in response to Dr. Gross's appearance Wednesday evening, Rodriguez did not inform the team of his decision to seek a second opinion on his quad, thus violating the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Yet, even that is somewhat in dispute, as the New York Post's Joel Sherman reported on Thursday that Rodriguez called Yankees team president Randy Levine to inform him of the second opinion late Tuesday night, but didn't follow the CBA's protocol for giving the team proper written notice.
Here are the facts of the last week that are, at least thus far, undisputed:
Thursday: After 10 games in the lower minors, Rodriguez's rehabilitation of his surgically repaired left hip labrum continued in Triple-A. Rodriguez homered in four at-bats for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Friday: Rodriguez went 2-for-4 with two singles and a strikeout for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Cashman said after the game that he expected Rodriguez to be activated and in the Yankees' lineup on Monday.
Saturday: Rodriguez was moved from third base to designated hitter in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lineup due to left quad tightness. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
Sunday: Rodriguez was not in the SWB lineup due to his sore left quad. A subsequent MRI reportedly revealed a Grade 1 strain, a new injury that would allow the Yankees to restart the 20-day clock on his rehab assignment.
Monday: Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game suspension from Major League Baseball for his involvement with Biogenesis, the Florida wellness clinic alleged to have provided both Braun and Rodriguez with performance-enhancing drugs.
Wednesday: Rodriguez consulted Dr. Gross, then reported to the Yankees' complex in Tampa per team instructions. His only comment to the press was, "I feel great." That afternoon, Dr. Gross appeared on Mike Francesa's show on WFAN.
Well, I looked at [Rodriguez's] MRI this morning. He asked me to look at it. And I spent about 20 minutes going over it. I looked particularly at his quadricep muscle. To be perfectly honest, I don't see any kind of injury there. . . .
A Grade 1 strain is a clinical diagnosis, which means you base it on the person's symptoms and on examining them. It's not impossible not to see much on an MRI. It's such a small thing that you might not see it on an MRI. That said, I didn't see anything. . . .
I had the chance to talk to him today, also, and I asked him specifically, I said, 'A-Rod, does anything hurt?' And he said, 'No.' So that, if there's no pain, to me as an orthopedist, that means there's no injury. And then, I also, he asked me, 'Do you think I'm fit to play?' And I said, 'Alex, very specifically, without examining you, I couldn't possibly make that call.' But I asked him, 'Do you think you're fit to play?' And he said, 'A hundred percent.' So I'm guessing a guy who has been playing ball his entire life knows his body. If he thinks he's fit to play . . . that's what he said.
Asked if Rodriguez's quad could have recovered already, Gross added, "A strain means a partial tear of the muscle. Grade 1 means microscopic stretching of the fibers. So, you know, you've played sports, we've all played sports. You tweak a muscle and in a couple of days it feels better." With that, the interview concluded.
Gross did not state outright that the Grade 1 strain diagnosis was incorrect. Indeed, the key quote is not "I don't see any kind of injury there," but "Alex, very specifically, without examining you, I couldn't possibly make that call." However, the fact that he would go on the air with the strong suggestion that Rodriguez is fit to play is just as significant, particularly given that he couldn't have done so without Rodriguez's consent.
That Rodriguez was very likely the driving force behind Gross's radio appearance compounds the tension between the player and his team which is becoming more and more transparent. Rodriguez and Cashman, specifically, have been going at it in the press ever since late June, when Rodriguez joined Twitter and announced the impending start of his rehab assignment, and Cashman flatly told the press that "Alex should just shut the f--- up."
Two weeks later, on July 12, Rodriguez failed to show up for a rehab game in Tampa after meeting with MLB officials about Biogenesis and allegedly refused to travel to Buffalo that weekend to play for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in an attempt to avoid the rain in Tampa. Rodriguez denied even being asked to travel to Buffalo that weekend, but in his statement Wednesday night, Cashman brought that incident back up, adding the detail that "Alex complained for the first time of 'tightness' in his quad [on June 12] and therefore refused to consent to the transfer."
Cashman continues to say that he wants Rodriguez back in the Yankee lineup, and Rodriguez clearly wants to return, but as with everything involving Rodriguez, things seem likely to continue to get worse before they get better. [si_cvp_video id="video_2F82F7E5-2C13-E8C6-F9E9-16290FA61AD1" height = "620"]