NEW YORK -- As Alex Rodríguez digs in to battle a looming 211-game suspension handed down by MLB and commissioner Bud Selig, baseball fans in Washington Heights, a heavily Dominican section of upper Manhattan, are questioning the punishment for A-Rod and the other 12 Latino players who were disciplined Monday for their involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
Three of the suspended players are from Venezuela, one is from Nicaragua, and the rest have roots in the Dominican Republic. While A-Rod was born in Washington Heights, his parents were born in the Dominican Republic. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, who agreed to a 65-game ban July 22, is the only non-Hispanic player to be penalized in the Biogenesis probe.
ESPNDeportes.com interviewed eight fans in Washington Heights on Tuesday, all of whom backed A-Rod and questioned the severity of MLB’s discipline. (The interviews were conducted in Spanish and translated for this story.)
Fernando Mateo, a neighborhood activist and business owner, wants A-Rod to know that he still has plenty of support.
"I think the suspension was a bit excessive, and I think it's because of Alex's status and the money that he's making; a lot of people hate that," Mateo said. "We want him to know that he wasn't the first or the last, but the punishment that's being handed to him is unjust and excessive. It's fine to punish him but [not] the way they're doing it."
Rodriguez got 211 games, while the other 12 received 50 games apiece for their involvement with Biogenesis.
"The punishment should be a uniform one for all,” Mateo said. “Not excessive because he makes a lot more money than the rest. Not excessive because he's Hispanic, but because it has to be fair because that's how the law should be."
Some fans see A-Rod, who in 2009 confessed to previously using performance-enhancing drugs, as a scapegoat.
"From my point of view, I consider that it's a very severe sanction against Alex,” said Raul Gutierrez, another business owner. “So because Alex is the highest-paid in the sport, they wanted to make an example. It's pure theater, and what a coincidence that they're Latinos."
At Jordan MVP Barbershop on Broadway and 189th Street, a spot where major leaguers often stop to get their haircuts, one barber backed A-Rod's point of view.
"MLB and the Yankees are against him. He knows the Yankees are against him. He knows the Yankees want to save the money they owe him," said Johan, who declined to give his last name.
Daniel Reyes, who runs a local youth baseball league that Rodriguez has supported, bashed Selig and MLB and implied that the Yankees are simply looking for a way to shed the remaining four-plus years of A-Rod’s contract, which would save them more than $100 million.
"I'm disappointed with how MLB handled these cases, especially Alex Rodriguez's,” Reyes said. “The commissioner made a mockery of the Latinos. … It's really good to take a human being and step all over him [and] on top of that defend a team like the Yankees."
Johan is concerned that fans will think that all players from the Dominican Republic are likely to use illegal PEDs.
"It's not allowable. It's not legal,” he said. “If you're going to play, you have to play clean. But I want you to know that because of eight Dominican players [who were suspended], you can't judge the rest.
"Dominicans are good, and you guys don't need any type of steroids or anything else to be the best. You know we have our name on this game. Don't tarnish it."