Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Lightning 'Rod

For those of you not even remotely aware of baseball or sports in general, the New York Yankees’ third baseman and the game’s highest-paid player, Alex Rodriguez, has confessed to using performance-enhanced drugs (PED) while a member of the Texas Rangers team, from 2001-2003. Rodriguez, whose name came up as one of 104 players to have tested positive for PEDs in 2003, was outed by Sports Illustrated's Selena Roberts and David Epstein, this past weekend.

First off, I’m quite disappointed in A-Rod. I feel sadness but not outrage—same as I felt for Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, respectively—because for one thing, I’ve seen much too human fallibility to ascribe god-like status to mere mortals, but more importantly because it may be a damn shame that someone with such natural talent and abilities has to resort to artificial enhancement, but it's not all that far-fetched as we have all seen. Whether Rodriguez felt the pressure of the enormous expectations placed on him was a valid reason for him to indulge, or the culture of steroid use—and its subsequent, but inherently dubious sense of validity—was indeed so rampant around him, may explain why he chose to go down this road, but it certainly does not justify it. This is a stain that will haunt him and his legacy in the game for years to come and dealing with its aftermath will require a level of mental stamina he has yet to summon as a professional athlete.

Before this PED matter ever came to public light the level of hate directed at A-Rod was staggering. This incident is just going to fuel an inferno that has been raging in and out of Yankee Stadium for years now. If the blogosphere is any indication, the Yankee faithful are pretty upset at A-Rod right now, regardless of apology. Many advocate for the team ridding themselves of him over this. I’m not part of that latter group. I may be disappointed and disheartened by his actions, but I’m not an extremist. Or stupid. I try my best to live in the real world. And that means I’m not surprised that Rodriguez or anyone else in baseball has done steroids. I sincerely wish no one would, but as I said before, I don’t hold mortals to standards of deity. And certainly not professional athletes of any era. (It’s interesting how in recent years I’ve heard a few legends of the past like Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson admit to have been willing to try PEDs if they’d been around in their time. So there ya go.)

A-Rod’s acknowledgement of wrongdoing is a step in the right direction, but I would’ve been more partial to his case had it come voluntarily and not as the by-product of widespread allegations against him. Then again, those with that kind of courage are very few and come so far between from each other. Especially these days. Bottom line: A-Rod screwed up and will face the unpleasant consequences of his actions. That’s his burden to bear.

That said, what I want to know is: who are the other 103 players; why are the sources that provided this info to Roberts and Epstein protected by anonymity, when this involves the tarnishing of a player’s reputation and stats, presumably forever; did these sources act legally in offering up this info; did they have an axe to grind with Rodriguez and/or the Yankees; and why did the SI writers—who claim not to know the identity of the remaining 103—think it was fair to leak a six year-old report and single out A-Rod, for an infraction that wasn’t even deemed punishable by MLB at the time, but not look into the rest of the players listed? (Don’t worry: the cynic in me knows the answer to that last question lies in the ever-lasting quest to sell magazines.) I think reasonable people, no matter how much they may hate A-Rod and/or the Yankees, would agree that whenever accusations of this caliber are made, everything has to be brought to light and made public.

Now it’s time for me to make this personal.

As a Yankee fan, I want to know every last name of the remaining 103 on the damn list, even if it includes some more Yankees. I don’t care. Make their names public immediately. Both A-Rod and the team will be getting even more of their share of the usual grief this season, and I can’t bear the thought of rival fans and ownership pointing fingers while the very possibility of one of their own hometown heroes being as tainted as A-Rod is hidden under cover of darkness. I’m not going to speculate irresponsibly by guessing as to what other prominent players may or may not be on this list as well, but it’s not a stretch to suppose many fans who are enjoying this latest dose of Yankees schadenfreude are dreading the outing of one of their own. Let’s be fair: get those names out there and then let’s see how it feels. More importantly, let’s do right by the clean players and end speculation in this particular instance.

As for the man who was so vilified for his books proclaiming the rampant use of steroids in baseball, José Canseco has shown more class than most lately, by not gloating or wanting the spotlight in the midst of all of this. When approached by the press for the A-Rod story he is said to have replied something along the lines of "Old news. Later."

Who would’ve thought Canseco would turn out to be more upstanding than the baseball press? (Or the former players now at the MLB Network who had ample opportunity but failed to ask Roberts the hard questions. I’m looking at you Harold Reynolds, Al Leiter, and Sean Casey. I guess their loyalties are to the media now. Ah, how soon they forget...)

Pitchers and catchers on Saturday. See ya in the Bronx. It’s gonna be a loooong season.

[Alex Rodriguez photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.]

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