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Seven years ago, Major League Baseball granted Alex Rodriguez permission to use synthetic testosterone. Because of course it did. As if the story that included robberies, hidden cameras, hush-hush payments, inappropriate sex, copious drug use, high-powered lawyers, leaks and pretty much every other imaginable slice of drama better fit for a fictitious TV show than real life weren't enough, now comes the revelation that baseball laid down its longest suspension in history for the very same thing it approved less than a decade earlier.
An excerpt on Sports Illustrated's website from "Blood Sport," the soon-to-be-released book about the Biogenesis case, provided this juicy nugget from transcripts of Rodriguez's case against MLB on Wednesday morning and added a twist to an already-warped relationship between the parties. The league's pursuit of Rodriguez that led to his eventual 162-game suspension perpetually toed the line between warranted and overly personal – and, on occasion, crossed it. Perhaps now we better understand why.
While baseball wasn't exactly Dr. Frankenstein – the book proposal for "Blood Sport," leaked last year, alleged Rodriguez may have used performance-enhancing drugs in high school – it did play enabler to a habitual user along with the MLB Players Association, which helps draw up and enforce its drug-testing program. Between the therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) granted Rodriguez in 2007 for testosterone and one in 2008 for Clomid, a drug used to help women get pregnant and men create more testosterone, baseball for two years sanctioned PED use by someone who turned out to be one of its most notorious PED users.
The sport's own rules almost certainly prompted it to authorize Rodriguez's PED use. When a person takes steroids, as Rodriguez did, it upsets the body's ability to produce testosterone naturally. Thus, Rodriguez actually having low testosterone, and presenting with a case of hypogonadism, was a plausible scenario. So, in a backward way, A-Rod's unauthorized use of PEDs may well have allowed him to get permission to use them.
Whether MLB knew of his positive test in 2003 –which Rodriguez admitted to in 2009 – when it granted Rodriguez's exemption is unclear. The idea that nobody at MLB realized one of its biggest stars tested positive when a list of players who did so was circulating around the game is difficult to fathom.
At the same time, the decision on TUEs – more than 100 of which are issued annually, almost all for ADHD medication – falls to the league's independent program administrator, a doctor who is supposed to operate with no oversight. In such a situation, MLB could conceivably not know what's happening within its own program. Indeed, in a statement released Wednesday morning, the league claimed as much:
"All decisions regarding whether a player shall receive a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) under the Joint Drug Program are made by the Independent Program Administrator (IPA) in consultation with outside medical experts, with no input by either the Office of the Commissioner or the Players Association. The process is confidentially administered by the IPA, and MLB and the MLBPA are not even made aware of which players applied for TUEs."
Since 2008, when MLB started releasing figures annually on TUEs issued, the league has granted 11 for hypogonadism; the most in a single year has been three, in both '08 and '13. With more stringent drug testing today, and a longitudinal program in which a player's testosterone levels are compared to a baseline number, the league is far less likely today to allow PED use from a longtime PED user.
At the same time, baseball is evermore aware the lengths to which players will go to gain advantages, and the specter of Rodriguez is herpetic, vanishing occasionally only to flash at the most inopportune time. He is the perpetual reminder that the drug war the league chose to fight did not end with his yearlong banishment. He has every intention of coming back next season, to the team he sued, with the players he sued, in the league he sued.
And while Rodriguez is playing good soldier now, no longer blasting away about the unfair treatment and the conspiracy against him, whatever moral authority remains finds a little more resonance with the news of the TUE. Ill-gotten though it may have been, a doctor sanctioned by MLB and the union gave out the TUE because A-Rod qualified under rules written by MLB and the union. For someone who tried squeezing an edge or advantage through a needle or his mouth, muddying the distinction between right and wrong was an invitation for him to keep using PEDs.
So he did. And now he's here: more of his secrets to be exposed upon the release of "Blood Sport" on Tuesday, getting sued by his lawyers for not paying them, 39 years old later this month, out the rest of the season, owed $61 million from 2015-17 (and another $6 million if he hits six more home runs) and forever part of this weird, weird story that somehow manages to get weirder by the day.