A-Rod spins steroid tale too tall to believe

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TAMPA,Fla. – After listening to Alex Rodriguez a second time Tuesday, I'm convinced. And you should be, too.

He wants us to believe he was stupid. I'm ready to make him first-ballot, Hall of Fame stupid.

Based on his latest version of how he came to test positive for steroids in 2003, the vote should be unanimous.

Truthful? Well, his story has changed already in a week's time, and undoubtedly there will be further tweaking in the weeks, months, years to come. But let's just take him at his word – admittedly a leap of faith – and accept the mind-numbing tale that he spun before a tent full of his New York Yankees teammates, general partner Hank Steinbrenner and a horde of media types Tuesday afternoon at Steinbrenner Field.

According to A-Rod, in his first year as the highest-paid baseball player on the planet, just as he was entering the prime of a career already as dazzling as any his age had ever produced, he was persuaded by an unnamed cousin to drop his drawers an average of twice a month over the next three years and receive injections of a substance that was supposed to boost his energy. The cousin, he said, did the injecting.

Dumb and dumber? According to A-Rod, neither he nor the cousin knew what was contained in the substance, other than it had a street name of "boli" or "bolan" and was sold over the counter in the Dominican Republic. According to Sports Illustrated, Rodriguez tested positive for the anabolic steroid Primobolan.

A-Rod said that neither knew what he was doing and he wasn't even sure what effect it was having on his performance. Yeah, he said, he felt more energy, but that might have been in his head.

Photo
Photo

Alex Rodriguez admitted to taking performance-enhancement drugs during his three-season stint with the Rangers.

(Brian Bahr/Getty Images)


Alex Rodriguez's tainted years in Texas

G

HR

RBI

SLG

AVG

2001

162

52

135

.622

.318

2002

162

57

142

.623

.300

2003

161

47

118

.600

.298

Avg.

161.7

52

131.7

.615

.305

He didn't even know they were steroids, he claimed, even though it's common knowledge that steroids are sold over the counter in the Dominican. Stories abound of young Dominican kids so desperate to make it as ballplayers that they've died from injections of Diamino, a product used by veterinarians to speed the recovery of sick horses and cows.

"All these years I never thought I did anything wrong,'' he said.

But if A-Rod thought he was aboveboard, then why were he and the Cuz doing everything on the sly, instead of asking for help from a trainer or a doctor or even a fellow energy-boosting teammate, which could be found in abundance in the Texas Rangers' clubhouse? Only last week, Rodriguez had described the "loosey-goosey" culture of the Rangers as reason to experiment.

"I knew we weren't taking Tic Tacs,'' Rodriguez said, leaving skid marks where he'd backtracked.

More than once during Tuesday's press conference, Rodriguez lamented that he hadn't gone to college. Might have made him a little smarter about steroids. Never mind that fellow accused miscreants Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire all attended higher institutions of learning – University of Texas, Arizona State and USC, respectively – and get no extra credit for being any smarter than A-Rod was.

Rodriguez leaned heavily on young and naïve, too, overlooking the fact that by 2001, when he first offered up his buttocks to his cousin's needle, he already was a seven-year veteran of playing in the big leagues.

"That's the facts he's giving you,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said afterward. "That doesn't mean it's acceptable. I like the fact more when he carries it that he was stupid, rather than young and naïve.

"It was stupid. It was a bad decision that may cost him on so many levels. He understands that. He's dealing with it now, for better or worse, but he's dealing with it. He's forced to deal with it.

"He's suffering. The game is suffering. The Yankees are suffering.''

Rodriguez said he stopped the injections because of a spring-training neck injury in 2003, the same story he told a week ago. He insists he hasn't taken anything illegal since (he owned up to using Ripped Fuel earlier in his career, a product since banned because it contains ephedra), but when asked if he'd be willing to subject himself to weekly testing to prove his word, he said he thought MLB's current testing program was sufficient. He mentioned, in fact, that he'd submitted to a test that day as part of his physical.

Smarter after all these years? Well, he probably did himself a favor by furnishing more details in Tuesday's open forum than he did in last week's staged interview on ESPN.

But does he get it? Asked if he considered what he did cheating, he replied: "That's not for me to determine,'' he said. "I'm here to say I'm sorry. … I guess when you're young and stupid, you're young and stupid. I'm very guilty of both of those.''

If A-Rod, the game's best player, says he's not qualified to determine the difference between right and wrong, what about the truly young and naïve among us, the high school players who might have looked to him to set an example?

Don Hooton, whose son Taylor was a high school athlete using steroids when he took his own life, called Rodriguez the day after the ESPN interview to see if the player might be interested in advancing the cause of steroids education. A-Rod agreed, which is why Hooton was sitting on the podium.

"It's a fact,'' Hooton said to a small group of reporters after A-Rod's session, "that 85 percent of our children never had a parent or coach or a teacher talk with them about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.

"So some of the statements he made about being a dumb kid, your kid [pointing at a reporter], your kid, and your kid are all in the same box. They don't know any better. That doesn't excuse it, but my son didn't know any better, either, because nobody's talking to these kids. We can use Alex to get this message out to kids.''

Rodriguez, Cashman believes, already is an object lesson for his fellow big leaguers, just like previous Yankee visitors to the public confessional – Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte.

"I know the one thing that is more preventative than the tests,'' Cashman said, "is when they see a fallen star who has to deal with this fallout. That's the biggest preventative side of this thing I can think of. Getting dragged through legal issues, the publicity is just terrible, they get crushed, their reputation is shattered. Because of that, I think it's a huge deterrent.''

Taylor Hooton, who took the shortcut of using steroids after being told by his high school coach he needed to get bigger and stronger, killed himself in 2003, the same year Rodriguez failed his drug test.

Let's hope someone is smartening up. It might not even be too late for A-Rod.