Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A-Rod's answers leave more questions

A-Rod was vacationing in the Bahamas when the story -- that story -- broke, the one that changed his life forever. You had to wonder if it ever crossed his mind to just stay at that five-star resort for good. I can't say I would blame him if he did.

Can you imagine the gears grinding in that tortured mind of his this past weekend? A-Rod's utter obsession with how he's perceived had become comic fodder in and around baseball for years now. Like the outcast in junior high attempting to sit with the A-listers at lunch, everything he says and does ultimately undermines him. He tries so hard to be everything to everyone that he ends up pleasing no one at all.

But all the stuff before the SI story was so petty in retrospect. The Jeter soap opera, Madonna, the WBC mess, that buff stripper in Toronto, all just funny anecdotes that pointed out how socially awkward this incredibly talented player could be. The steroids bombshell was a different beast altogether though; a story with endless legs that would give the legions of A-Rod haters all the ammunition they'd ever need. And he knew it.

We know now that Rodriguez did come home, and suddenly there he was, sitting across from a beaming Peter Gammons, looking like he'd just nabbed the biggest elk in all of Bristol. SI may have scooped ESPN on the initial story, but now the Worldwide Leader was getting its revenge by way of an eight-minute sitdown with the fallen Goliath.

We quickly learned that A-Rod -- dressed as the living embodiment of a J. Crew catalog and sporting a tan reminiscent of the Kool-Aid mascot -- had chosen the Pettitte-Giambi route over the Bonds-Clemens highway to hell. He wisely came clean, saying he'd been a user of performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-2003, each of his three seasons with the Rangers. He cited a neck injury during spring training in '03 as the impetus to get off the juice. He insists he's been clean ever since, hitting each of his 208 homers in New York without the help of a banned substance.

Do you believe him? I really want to. I really do. But he hasn't exactly earned that right. I don't necessarily blame him for being dishonest on 60 Minutes in December '07 -- of course he wasn't going to out himself to Katie freaking Couric a week after the Mitchell Report was released. In retrospect, was it tremendously poor judgment to know the truth and still seek out the spotlight at that sensitive time? Absolutely. But again, it's just another example of that need for attention.

That said, it'd be silly to take A-Rod at his word now, especially if you agree that he takes this positive test to the grave if it was never dug up by the media. Here's the part of the Gammons interview that really left me scratching my head:

"When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure. I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me and I needed to perform, and perform at a high level every day. ... I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time."
Fair enough. But you're telling me that he didn't feel that same pressure after being traded to the Yankees? You know, one of the most famous teams in the world playing in the country's largest market? The same team that was led by that Jeter guy? Wouldn't those circumstances qualify as far greater pressure? Again, it's just speculation on my part, but unfortunately speculation will hang over No. 13 for the rest of his life.

Desperation hangs over every aspect of this steroid era. The stars were desperate to take their game to the next level and get those massive contracts. The scrubs were desperate to stay above water and keep their jobs. The government was desperate to make a case, ethics and confidentiality be damned. Alex Rodriguez has become the latest desperate figure, grouped in with other desperate refugees like Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Clemens. The outcast finally has his own clique.

Ultimately, I've come to feel sorry for A-Rod. Working around baseball the last couple of years, I heard some unpleasant stories about him, but he never struck me as a particularly nasty person. And yet here we are, watching vulturous talking heads on abominable ESPN programming saying A-Rod is to blame for the loss of innocence, tainted records, the war in Iraq, the recession, the cancellation of Arrested Development, etc., etc. etc. It all becomes a bit ridiculous after awhile.

The one part of the interview that I unequivocally believed was when he said that the PED culture was all around him when he first began using. He fell into the mess, sure, but he was far from alone. It was an MLB epidemic. This is an issue ultimately less about A-Rod and more about baseball and the powers that be who failed to react. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, that doesn't make nearly as good of a story.

Does he deserve your anger? Sure. But after watching him squirm on Monday, he may deserve your pity, too.

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