New baseball season clouded by the return of brazen cheat Alex Rodriguez
For good reason the New York Yankees ‘star’ has been dubbed baseball’s Lance Armstrong
Alex Rodriguez: hardly the first steroid user to come back to the diamond, he is the most brazen and obstinate of them all. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
As he prepared to return from a one-year suspension for steroid use, the erstwhile New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez did what any narcissist who covets headlines would do. He flew to California to work out at the batting facility where the most renowned tutor is former San Francisco Giants’ slugger Barry Bonds. Then he posted a photograph of his visit on Instagram.
That would be the same Bonds, of course, who preceded Rodriguez as holder of the unofficial title of biggest cheat in baseball.
Tomorrow, pitchers and catchers report for spring training, a date every February that traditionally marks the beginning of the end of the American winter and the countdown to balmy summer evenings. An annual cause for optimism, this year’s edition has been clouded by the imminent return of the sport’s most dastardly villain, and the soap opera that attends his every move.
Hardly the first steroid user to come back to the diamond, Rodriguez is the most brazen and obstinate of them all. Nobody did denial quite as spectacularly, as loudly, and as expensively as this guy.
Long after his relationship with Anthony Bosch, founder of Biogenesis, a clinic in Florida that supplied HGH and other substances to athletes, had been exposed, Rodriguez spent millions protesting his innocence. At one point, he had private detectives trailing Major League Baseball and Yankees’ executives, some of whom became so concerned about their personal safety that they hired bodyguards.
Famously, he gave a deranged interview on New York talk radio outlandishly claiming there was a grand conspiracy against him.
The Yankees must take back the 39-year-old because he has three seasons remaining on a deal worth $61 million. In a depressingly ironic twist, baseball contracts are near impossible to void because of the historically all-powerful players’ union, a charming organisation that railed against the introduction of drug testing in the early 2000s, long after every pro sport on the planet knew the jig was up.
Currently sitting on 654 home runs, ranked fifth on the all-time list, Rodriguez’ deal stipulates he will receive a $6 million bonus every time he passes one of the four icons ahead of him. Nobody believes he has enough long balls left in his bat to threaten Bond’s drug-assisted record of 762 but he’s just six away from Willie Mays on 660. Little wonder the Yankees are seeking to cut their losses, arguing those lucrative incentive clauses were invalidated by his steroid use. If they have a legal case in that regard, they certainly don’t have a moral one. Nobody in baseball does.
This entire farrago is a scandal of the sport’s own making. For nearly two decades, baseball’s incredulous attitude to steroids has been a nauseating amalgam of intentional myopia and wilful mismanagement, punctuated by periodic bouts of very selective hand-wringing. Fans, media, players, agents and owners collaborated in a permissive culture where few, if any, cared exactly how the wondrous feats were being performed on the field, just as long as everybody was being entertained. And getting paid. Well.
This past week, New York was all a flutter about where and when Rodriguez might hold the requisite mea culpa press conference. As it turned out, he opted for a handwritten statement, a jumble of contrite clichés that nobody took too seriously. After all, just six years ago he publicly apologised for past steroid use and asked to be judged on what he did from then on.
When he subsequently led the Yankees to a World Series victory that October, delirious fans lining Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes could have cared less how often he’d used performance enhancing drugs.
Why? Apparently because, for Rodriguez, it wasn’t enough to be one of the best players of his generation, he wanted to put up the type of gaudy numbers that would have him considered the greatest ever.
A man with an ego so oversized he has repeatedly denied having a giant mural of himself as a minotaur hanging over his bed, Rodriguez has, for good reason, been dubbed baseball’s Lance Armstrong.
Aside from both believing syringes are pieces of sports equipment, they share a fondness for celebrity girlfriends, a sociopathic sense of entitlement, and a stubborn refusal to really, sincerely, let the truth set them free.
Last Monday, the Yankees announced they will retire the number 46 jersey worn by a former team-mate of Rodriguez named Andy Pettitte.
When Pettitte was exposed for using HGH in 2006 he claimed he’d only did so once in order to come back quicker from injury.
Somehow, bizarrely, everybody bought the pitcher’s tall tale and now he gets the ultimate accolade. This then is the sordid sport to which Rodriguez returns. The club. The game. The player. The fans. They deserve each other.