Rodriguez was going to fix everything for those clinging to a purity of sport that probably is as long gone and hard to find as one of his deep blasts.
BALCO Barry, they said, might've passed Hank, but Alex Rodriguez, the whistle-clean New York Yankee, would come along soon enough, scrub the record book and make everyone feel good again.
Instead, everyone feels the stomach punch of allegations of performance-enhancing drugs, this time courtesy of a Sports Illustrated report that says Rodriguez tested positive for two anabolic steroids in 2003, when he won the American League MVP award with the Texas Rangers.
"You'll have to talk to the union," Rodriguez told SI. "I'm not saying anything."
Union chief Donald Fehr did not return the magazine's phone calls. Major League Baseball expressed concern that the information was leaked but concluded in a statement Saturday, "We can not make any comment on the accuracy of this report as it pertains to the player named."
We've yet to hear Rodriguez's defense, but pulling the "talk to the union" card isn't the kind of denial that makes you think the report is inaccurate. If there's one thing a skeptical public has come to learn, it's that these stories rarely turn out false. Usually, where there is smoke, more smoke develops, and the end result is either a tearful apology or a trip to a courthouse.
Once again, Jose Canseco, baseball's most reliable whistle blower, looks on the money after making repeated accusations over the past couple of years that Rodriguez wasn't, in fact, clean.
So now the sport reels again. That is, if it's even still capable of reeling anymore. Maybe it's so far gone that even baseball's biggest fish and best regular-season player won't register on the outrage scale anymore.
There were no penalties for testing positive in 2003 as baseball tried to finally enter the modern reality of sports. Nearly 1,200 players were tested, though, and 104 came back positive, according to SI. The list was supposed to remain anonymous, but a 2004 federal raid of a California testing lab that handled the tests uncovered the names. Now they're leaking out.
It's a violation of the deal the union and Major League Baseball made, which is unfair to the players. But that's a legal contention that barely will matter.
Bonds himself just may beat the federal rap about lying under oath, leaving open the slim argument that he didn't "knowingly" take performance-enhancing drugs. It doesn't change the fact they clearly were in his body as he slugged some of his 762 home runs.
While the list of players nailed in baseball's steroid era continues to grow – including, in fairness to the hitters, plenty of pitchers – Rodriguez is particularly damaging, and for myriad reasons. He certainly doesn't look the part of a steroid user, proof that the old suspicions of expanding heads and Popeye arms mean nothing. If you can't trust a guy who is long and mostly lean, with a stroke that sweet, who can you trust anymore?
Then there is his age, just 33, a long way from retirement, unlike Bonds. Rodriguez represented the future. Now, it will be a future full of renewed finger pointing and hand wringing.
If baseball wanted its steroid era closed, if it wanted to pretend that through investigations and testing it could move on and above the mess, here comes the ultimate reminder that nothing's changed, nothing's new.
A-Rod won't just be hanging around for another 10 seasons or so; he'll be a perennial MVP candidate, meaning he'll continue to make headlines. The attention paid to Bonds was oversized because of the historic spotlight he was in, chasing the game's most vaunted record. That, too, will be Rodriguez, who has a shot at a whopping 800 home runs.
The Yankees ponied up a $300 million contract last year in part for the revenue boom that would occur when A-Rod – who has 553 homers – surpasses Bonds. It was a guarantee that, even at an astronomical price and in a sagging economy, the new Yankee Stadium would be packed for a season.
Now, who knows? Yankees fans likely will forgive, but this won't be a magical summer of pursuit.
For Rodriguez, the challenge of getting to 763 is even greater. Rodriguez is no Bonds. He cares passionately about his image, one he tried to cultivate through the years, trying to play himself as the clean-cut family man (to Derek Jeter's Manhattan Playboy ways).
That, too, went up in smoke when Rodriguez was splashed across the New York tabs in the repeated company of a muscular stripper not named Mrs. Rodriguez. That led to a messy divorce. Then there was his creeping around Madonna's apartment building.
That nearly broke him. The pressure of the playoffs annually has silenced him. This, however, could be much worse.
Say what you want about Bonds, but his mental strength in shutting out all the distractions, all the allegations, all the angry fans and bitter press that surrounded him was incredible. Bonds could stand in the swirl of anger, cast a glare back and just swat a baseball. It's difficult to imagine anyone else could have survived, let alone thrived, in his world these past few years, especially someone as emotionally needy as A-Rod.
Even positive pressure – such as hitting career home run No. 500 – caused Rodriguez to press and miss. That feat took him 10 days, including an 0-for-22 skid at the plate.
What's this going to do to him? The "A-Fraud" chants? The media circus? The trips to Fenway?
And what's left for baseball, which now looks to a future when a suspected steroid cheat will pass a confirmed one?
At best, fans have to forget the entire thing or be left debating not whether either was clean, but who did and didn't know what he was ingesting. At worst, Bonds is watching from a prison cell. Roger Clemens, too.
The stink of the steroid era continues, and now there may be no Alex Rodriguez coming on a white horse to scrub baseball clean.
Hank Aaron turned 75 this week. Anyone for just giving him his record back?
- Alex Rodriguez
- Major League Baseball