What confounds me is why a golden child must cheat and lie, why a Natural is compelled to sleaze down and risk everything when his life is so blessed. If it’s easier to grasp why an athlete struggling to survive would use performance-enhancing drugs — a wannabe, a broken-down journeyman, a lightweight — it’s blow-me-away-baffling why someone with extraordinary, out-of-womb abilities would be so arrogant and foolish to compromise those gifts with chemicals. The simple explanation, I suppose, is ego and hubris, the glow of entitlement that follows prodigies from the first day they’re discovered and fawned over.
The complex answer, in the saddest and most reprehensible case yet, is insecurity.
It wasn’t enough for Alex Rodriguez, favored with a greater skill set than almost every baseball player who has walked this planet, to have a special career. No, he needed to augment his built-in advantages with phony little helpers so he could aim for the mightiest of legacies and feed his empty inner soul. Some have suggested his crater was excavated by a father who left home when Alex was young, but please; not every kid from a broken home becomes a world-infamous Pinocchio. When he was forced four years ago to acknowledge steroids use during his Texas seasons in the early 2000s, Rodriguez apologized in a major media production and promised to disassociate himself from all things juice. “I was young and stupid,” he explained. I remember writing that if he stayed clean and healthy, he might pass Barry Bonds’ total of 762 home runs and that maybe, just maybe, Cooperstown voters might have mercy on him someday and elect him to the Hall of Fame.
“I’m in a position where I have to earn my trust back,” he told reporters that day in Tampa, per the Associated Press. “The only thing I ask from this group today and the American people is to judge me from this day forward.”
We have done so. And if we believe the evidence amassed — there is no reason not to, despite my decades-long distrust of Major League Baseball on this issue — then the man-boy mocked as “A-Fraud” by his teammates has stumbled into ignominy as an all-time sports sham. That is becoming a lengthy list — Bonds, Roger Clemens, Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones among recent headliners — but Rodriguez will be at the top because he kept playing his dirty little game after vowing to stop. He is accused in the sweeping Biogenesis scandal, the biggest to rock baseball since the Black Sox fixing scam, of the following sins according to MLB: “… use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years” and “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.” Assuming arbitrator Fredric Horowitz upholds baseball’s decision once he rules on this case in November or later, which is a farce in itself, Rodriguez becomes a double-jeopardy loser who blew his second chance and lied to those same “American people.”
Before, he said he was young and stupid. Now, he’s old and stupid. Worse, we have to watch him continue to play for the Yankees because the arbitration process is slow. For those of us who used to love the game but have grown nauseated by the interminable PED transgressions, watching a cheater play and potentially alter pennant races is akin to being waterboarded.
Continuing his pattern of deceit, Rodriguez was given a chance upon rejoining the Yankees in Chicago to deny PED use. He didn’t deny anything. “We’ll have a forum to discuss all of that, and we’ll talk about it then,” he told reporters.
If he hasn’t used PEDs, why not just say so? “There’s a lot of things that have been thrown to the wall, and I think when the time is right, there will be an opportunity to do all of that,” he said. “I don’t think that time is right now. And I don’t want to interfere or get in the way of anything — with the process.”
What about the evidence compiled by MLB? “We’ve seen everything,” Rodriguez said. “There will be a time and a place for (addressing) all of that. When the time is right, we’ll speak more freely.”
Not that his situation stands to improve, as he knows. “It’s been the toughest fight of my life,” he said. “By any means, am I out of the woods? This is probably just phase two just starting. It’s not going to get easier. It’s probably going to get harder.
“There’s nothing about it that’s been easy. All of it has been challenging. I’m sure there’s been mistakes made along the way. We’re here now. I’m a human being. I’ve had two hip surgeries. I’ve had two knee surgeries. I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one else will. There’s a process. I’m happy with the process. In due time, hopefully whatever happens, happens. I’m not saying that anyone’s making anything up. This is America, you have an opportunity to defend yourself.”
Wait. He said, “I’m sure there’s been mistakes made along the way.” Isn’t that an admission? My God, he even sounds guilty when trying to make a case for his innocence and discussing his appeal, which an accused party normally uses because he thinks he’s not guilty. Rodriguez has become such an epic cheat, he’s now seems to be lying that he knows he’s lying. His likely goal is to shorten the 211-game suspension, which could be ruled by Horowitz as overreach by commissioner Bud Selig. “We’ve never had a 200-plus penalty for a player who may have used drugs,” said union chief Michael Weiner, who probably wouldn’t fight for Rodriguez otherwise. “And among other things, I just think that’s way out of line.”
I don’t know. Most people think A-Fraud should have been banned for life. In Chicago, he was surrounded by dozens of fans who wanted his autograph. Said Rodriguez, viewing the scene as one of adulation: “I don’t think anyone wants to see anyone suffer.” Uh, they just want to say they have a bum’s signature, figuring it can be a conversation piece if not worth much.
When Alex Rodriguez was a teenaged phenom in Seattle, we saw a lithe, precocious athlete seemingly destined for anything he wanted in baseball. He produced numbers, too: 14 All-Star Game berths, three Most Valuable Player awards and a memorable postseason and World Series championship four autumns ago while currently closing in on 650 homers, 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBIs. He signed the biggest contract in baseball history in 2001 with the Rangers ($252 million for 10 years), then opted out in 2007 to sign an even larger deal with the Yankees ($275 million for 10 years). Talent, money, fame — no one had more than Rodriguez.
But now, he’s just another tragic con man who squandered it all. What a sad, lonely triangle we have here. Bonds, supposedly the greatest slugger ever, is a fraud. Clemens, supposedly the greatest power pitcher ever, is a fraud. And Rodriguez, perhaps the most gifted player ever, is a fraud. Did you laugh the other day when Pete Rose — the greatest hitmaker ever, still banned for life after gambling on baseball — advised A-Rod, Ryan Braun and other steroids cheats to fess up as quickly as possible to minimize the damage? How many years did it take Rose to fess up? And when he did, didn’t he do it in a $24.95 book?
I’ve considered Rodriguez’s recent claim that the Yankees are conspiring with Selig to recoup a chunk of the hideous sums of money he’s still owed. Let’s not be naive here; these are businessmen, not angels, and the $94.5 million entitled to him through 2017 certainly was a factor as Selig weighed a lifetime ban that, in the end, wouldn’t have been endorsed by the arbitrator. Said Rodriguez:“There’s a lot of layers. I will say this: There’s more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping back on the field. That’s not my teammates and it’s not the Yankee fans.”
One party being the Yankees, the other MLB. Rodriguez went on to accuse the parties of “finding creative ways” to void his contract, then took an odd turn when he condemned PED use. “I think it is pretty self-explanatory. I think that is the pink elephant in the room,” he told reporters. “I think we all agree that we want to get rid of PEDs. That’s a must. I think all the players, we feel that way. But when all this stuff is going on in the background and people are finding creative ways to cancel your contract and stuff like that, I think that’s concerning for me, it’s concerning for the present — and I think it should be concerning for future players, as well. There is a process.”
What trumps his argument is that he has used PEDs before and lied before. A-Rod has no cred, so we can have no empathy. The conspiracy angle is a new lie to cover up more lies when, apparently, he has been lying for a long time.
The process, from Selig’s view, is underway. With his suspension extending through the 2014 season and perhaps longer, Rodriguez will lose at least $30 million in salary. He can drag the appeal for months if he wants, and the testimony and dirt will bring further damage to a sport that can’t escape the ravages of a Steroids Era bleeding deeper into another decade. It’s embarrassing to MLB, which wants fans to focus on pennant races, that Rodriguez is allowed to play for the Yankees during the appeals process and, thus, continues to dominate headlines.
He says he is “mentally prepared” to play five more years, adding, “I have been playing this game since I was three. It is the only thing I know how to do. It is my livelihood … It’s not time for me to hang it up. I have a lot more fight in me.” But in 2015, he will be going on 40. No MLB team will want him, especially at his price. The Yankees likely will eat the remaining $61 million owed him, and, unless he plays in Japan or some has-been league, Alex Rodriguez’s baseball career will be over.
He says he’ll tell his story, at some point, but it already has been written. He is the can’t-miss phenom who missed badly, and tragically so, because he admitted to using PEDs and continued to use them after promising not to. I don’t even care about his private life — the annoying narcissism, the actress girlfriends, the suspicious poker games, the double life of strip clubs and “being a role model for his daughters.” A-Rod ached not only to be loved, but revered, and in that vainglorious pursuit, he became a doper and a liar of historic proportions.
All we can ask is: Why?