Those are some of the more polite terms reserved for today’s poster boy for performance-enhancing drugs, Alex Rodriguez. He is the arch-villain in Major League Baseball, mocked and ridiculed by fans and media while his own team apparently hopes his suspension through 2014 is upheld so it can avoid paying Rodriguez’s massive salary.
But it wasn’t always that way. At one time, not all that long ago, there was another characterization of Rodriguez: savior.
As the Barry Bonds steroids controversy heated up, fans looked to Rodriguez as the man who could surpass Bonds’ home run total and cleanse the record books. When Bonds blasted his 756th home run on Aug. 7, 2007, passing Hank Aaron as MLB’s all-time leader in career homers, the following was the final paragraph of the USA Today story.
There are plenty of fans already hoping for the day that Bonds’ total – whatever it ends up – is topped. Alex Rodriguez may have the best chance, with his 500 home runs at age 32 far ahead of Bonds’ pace.
Just eight days past his 32nd birthday, Rodriguez became the youngest player in major league history to hit his 500th career home run, a milestone he reached three days before Bonds passed Aaron.
Rodriguez joined Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle as the only players to hit their 500th home run in a Yankees uniform. He was embraced by his teammates. The roaring sellout crowd brought him back out of the dugout for a curtain call.
A-Rod received congratulations from owner George Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine. Then he received a congratulatory phone call from Commissioner Bud Selig.
Any calls from Selig to A-Rod today are unlikely to be congratulatory. MLB suspended Rodriguez for the rest of this season and all of next season as a result of its investigation concerning Biogenesis, a now-closed anti-aging clinic outside Miami that supplied performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes.
A-Rod has appealed his suspension. Twelve other players, including Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo, accepted 50-game suspensions that basically sideline them for the remainder of the regular season. Ryan Braun, who escaped punishment with a successful appeal of an earlier suspension, accepted a 65-game ban.
Braun was ripped up and down after his suspension, which preceded the other suspensions. Judging solely by the comments by media, fans and players, an observer suffering from amnesia might have surmised that Braun was the only player using performance-enhancing drugs.
As I wrote in the July 27 edition of my Fish ‘n Chips column, “Considering his claims of innocence, the vitriol directed at Ryan Braun is understandable. But let’s please not act as if the suspended Brewers slugger besmirched a pristine Major League Baseball.”
Braun, of course, was not the only player using performance-enhancing drugs. They dished out suspensions to the other 13 players using PED’s on Monday. (Technically, A-Rod’s suspension is under appeal, but there is no presumption of innocence from the public for a player who, after initially denying the accusation, admitted using steroids when he was with the Rangers a decade ago.)
Once A-Rod’s suspension is upheld, the game will be clean, right? That’s what I might conclude if I put credence in the holier-than-thou comments from other players.
Keep in mind that the 14 players suspended were all linked to one clinic. Do you really believe that Biogenesis was players’ only source for performance-enhancing drugs?
Despite the talk about honor and doing things the right way from so many clubhouses, I think many players would gain every advantage they could if they could avoid being caught.
One thing we’ve learned is that the cheating is not limited to power hitters. Many of the suspensions over the years have been handed out to pitchers.
And performance-enhancing drug use is not limited to stars. Many suspended players are borderline major-leaguers looking for any advantage to get to The Show – and then to stick around once they arrive.
It’s sobering to realize that of the 13 players suspended on Monday, none of them – that we’re aware of – had failed a drug test. If not for a report in the Miami New Times, which received incriminating documents from a disgruntled former Biogenesis employee, all of the suspended players may have escaped punishment or, in Bastardo’s case, even suspicion.
So please don’t pretend that the cheaters are a fringe element. Please spare us the disbelief and righteous indignation.
I don’t believe baseball is clean. Not by a long shot.
For all we know, some of the players speaking out about the shame of using performance-enhancing drugs are using them right now. That would take a lot of chutzpah, but no more than it took for Rafael Palmeiro to wag his finger at a Congressional committee in 2005 while emphatically denying using steroids. (He tested positive for steroids later the same year and was suspended.)
Today’s outspoken critic may be tomorrow’s disgraced outcast. Just ask Alex Rodriguez.
A-Rod didn’t save baseball from Barry Bonds.
He became baseball’s next Barry Bonds.