CHICAGO – In the hours before he’d play as one of the greatest ever to be accused of cheating, in the weeks before he’d probably become one of the greatest ever to serve a suspension for it, Alex Rodriguez sat down, said the past seven months – the approximate duration of the sport’s investigation into him – have been “a nightmare,” and did not take the occasion to deny any of it.
Not the testosterone. Not the HGH. Not the cover-up. Not the attempts to, as Major League Baseball’s press release noted Monday, “obstruct and frustrate” the league’s investigators.
Asked two or three times – So, Alex, did you do this? So, Alex, what’s the appeal about? So, Alex, why won’t you deny it? – Alex talked only of how difficult it’s been to be him, about the process, and about the fight ahead. You know, conceptually speaking.
The take-away, right or wrong, is that, yeah, something might have happened, some bad decisions might have been made, some rules might have been broken. But, sheesh, 211 games? And, like, thirty-million bucks? His expression said, does that sound excessive to anyone else?
“I’m not saying anyone is making anything up,” Rodriguez said. “I am saying we have a process.”
[Related: Alex Rodriguez suspended for 211 games for Biogenesis ties]
So, on a warm and damp night on the South Side of Chicago, Rodriguez showed up, said hi to teammates he hadn’t seen since the last ALCS, put on his road grays and again became the third baseman and cleanup hitter for the New York Yankees. He was roundly jeered by the crowd at U.S. Cellular Field every time he came up for an at-bat or touched the ball in the field – not an uncommon reaction before the Biogenesis scandal broke. His lone hit was a meek blooper to shallow left; his teammates, for their part, didn't do much better in an 8-1 loss to the White Sox.
Of the 14 players MLB rounded up straight out of the Biogenesis books, only Rodriguez will appeal. The rest put their heads down and shuffled off to get ready for next season. Twelve got 50 games. Ryan Braun, taxed for being a jerk through what appears to be a long-term relationship with the darker side of the drug rules, got 65. Rodriguez got Braun times three.
Rodriguez nodded at what lay ahead.
“I’ll have my day,” he said and, who knows, maybe Monday will have to do.
He returned on the passenger side of a golf cart, whirring amid the walls of cinder block in the massive hallway beneath the stadium. He bore the skin-tone glow of a man who’d played a lot of minor-league ball lately. He wore a blue blazer over a pale dress shirt, its collar white and stiff as a wedding invitation. And he smiled at the reception of cameras and newsmen, one of whom shouted, “Alex, any comment?”
The thought of it was enough to draw dozens: One of the most decorated players of his generation, and certainly the richest, playing for the most iconic American sports franchise, would bat cleanup a few hours after having been suspended for at least fraternizing with the sport’s drug element, at worst bathing nightly in synthetic testosterone, and temporarily free on appeal. He’d have everyone believe that baseball got it right on everyone but him.
The Yankees had no choice but to go along, to give him his old No. 13 back, his old job. Only a few days before Rodriguez had appeared to accuse the league and his employer of conspiring to keep him out of the game, so the Yankees, who would benefit greatly from never having to pay another dime on his contract, could hardly bench him. Their manager, earnest Joe Girardi, had only a couple weeks before seethed over the type of decisions Braun had made, and how they’d fouled the game. By Monday he felt stronger about having a guy who might actually be able to drive in a few runs.
“I’m not on this world to judge people,” Girardi said.
Besides, it’s the process. Braun admitted to undefined “mistakes,” passed on a real explanation or a real apology, and saved all but 65 games’ worth of his contract. Nelson Cruz summoned a stomach ailment and saved his free agency. Rodriguez gets the process.
“I’m fighting for my life,” he said Monday. “I have to defend myself, because nobody else will.”
That’s the game now, at least the one, at 38 and coming off his second hip surgery, he has left. It’s about what’s remains of his contract, which is plenty. It’s about standing up to MLB and the Yankees because, he seems to believe, they are out to get him and he’s not going to slink away. Not yet, anyway. Maybe he’s got some baseball in him and maybe he doesn’t, but that’s not the point. At least not today. Today, he’ll keep swinging.
Just Sunday night, Rodriguez’s PR man offered this Tweet: “Hello Chicago!!! Lets do this!!! #fighting
By Monday morning, it had been deleted. But it spoke perhaps to what the game is here. To fight because there’s a fight to be had, no matter how bad it looks, no matter how it reflects on baseball, no matter the evidence Bud Selig says he holds.
If it’s going to get messy, hell, let’s really get messy.
So he’d play third base and bat cleanup right through the middle of it, and keep his eyes forward, and let the people take their shots. It’s always worked before.
“The last seven months have been a nightmare,” he said. “Probably the worst time of my life, for sure.”
Plenty of it was self-inflicted. Not the surgery, perhaps. But certainly the company he kept and the choices he made and the lies he told. He’ll find sympathy hard to come by.
“Before all this he was one of the greatest players of all time,” Chicago White Sox veteran Adam Dunn said. “It’s sad. It’s sad that someone like him, or Ryan Braun, who probably were going to be really, really great players without it, that’s the sad part for me. They didn’t need all this.”
Lyle Overbay, one of those Yankees who tried to keep the Yankees going without Rodriguez, said, “That’s what’s so frustrating; he’s so good he doesn’t have to use that stuff.”
Given a chance, Rodriguez didn’t deny it. He couldn’t say, “It wasn’t me.” All he could do was put on the uniform, tell everyone how grateful he was to wear it, and then live with the reasons he’ll have to give it back.
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