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Monday, February 09, 2009

All-Staroids: Who's Next?

Alex Rodriguez admitted today that he took steroids from 2001 through 2003. A-Rod gave a public confession and apology after a report leaked that he was one of over a hundred players who tested positive during MLB's random testing of players many years ago (and before there were penalties for steroid usage).

So, where does baseball go with this?

Many thought that MLB had put the steroid era to bed with the issuance of the Mitchell Report. They thought wrong.

Because now debates will rage again. Will A-Rod, more toward the pariah end of baseball players than, say, the Chase Utley end of the continuum, get further vilified in the press and by fans for his bad deeds? Or, will he get credit for coming clean and admitting his mistakes?

Given the treatment transgressors have received, it's tough to predict what treatment A-Rod will get. True, he's not a denier the way Rafael Palmeiro or Barry Bonds were, or an avoider the way Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were. And he's not temperamental the way Roger Clemens is. There's a big difference: A-Rod admitted it.

Mostly. One of the problems with the confession is that it came after years of denials that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod went so far as to say that he was such a good performer he didn't need any of that stuff. So, when he had a chance to come clean, he didn't. Why? Because no one had to come clean, baseball's players' union flakked for the players something fierce, and there was no benefit to confessing. Because that was the case, there was no compelling reason for A-Rod to confess -- in his mind and from a business standpoint. I mean, why put a scarlet letter on your jersey when no one else was doing so and after many had done the same thing you did but were denying? Why single yourself out?

It's understandable what A-Rod did, really, the same way it's understandable that Barry Bonds started taking steroids after Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who, to Bonds, were obviously juiced, started stealing his thunder when he (Bonds) had been accorded the status of the best player in the game. Ever competitive, and without any possible consequences, Bonds took the juice. A-Rod might not have felt that others were usurping his credit, but he did say that he needed to keep his competitive edge. Which he obviously did.

But that doesn't make what A-Rod did right. He, like the others, was wrong, and, yes, despite some nasty comments from some of you about "what's the big deal" or "get over it", it's pretty dangerous to take medicine without a doctor's prescription and without having clinical trials on the drugs targeted to the purpose you were using it for. Moreover, this type of usage is illegal. It doesn't matter that many others was doing it -- that just makes the problem worse and creates a target-rich environment for critics and prosecutors.

So what happens now? A-Rod should get some credit for admitting that he used steroids and that it was wrong to do so. He should fare better than the others for coming out and admitting it. But, then again, he's been called the best player in the game and, well, he's A-Rod (which is not quite as bad as "Manny being Manny"), so he'll have to endure a large compliment of body blows from the pundits. The larger question is how fans will view him as a gate attraction, especially when he approaches Barry Bonds' home run records (and, remember, Bonds' ascent to this records went over like a lead balloon). If he approaches the home run record and perhaps Pete Rose's record for hits in a career, will draw attention the way Hank Aaron did, the way Pete Rose did?

Moreover, the press and the fans now have a taste for more news on who took steroids. They'll want to turn over every rock, and they'll want access to the union's records, which were supposed to be confidential (it isn't clear whether they were turned over in the BALCO case and whether the results leaked because of the discovery in that case). They'll want to reopen the story as to who used what when, because that's the way the American public is.

Once again, the mess re-surfaces. Once again, MLB looks bad on this point. Once again, A-Rod is at the center of a controversy. Only a month ago people we wondering whether it was fair for Joe Torre to write that A-Rod's teammates called him A-Fraud. Today we're wondering not whether it's fair to call A-Rod A-Roid, but for how long.

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