Alex Rodriguez did not need steroids. Scouts who saw A-Rod in high school rave that his bat was more powerful than Moses' staff. He was born with natural brilliance, a diamond with a perfect cut, just like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. And he allegedly injected himself with performance-enhancing drugs for the same reason they did.
He's a raging narcissist, consumed so much by the idea of himself that his actions made it crumble into an ironic pile of rubble.
It's sociopathic, in a way, the single-mindedness of it. Baseball always has romanticized the one-on-one nature of its game, pitcher against hitter. The steroid era has brought out the worst in that ethos: players concerned for themselves, their money and their legacies, sport – or anyone else, for that matter – be damned.
What can baseball say now after Sports Illustrated revealed that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003? That it occurred six years ago? Yeah. That'll fly.
This is an indictment of powerlessness, another black eye on baseball, which has been in need of new orbital bones for years. No matter what baseball tries to do, its past will dog it forever because Rodriguez is going to break Bonds' all-time home run record, and the sport's two greatest power hitters will be known steroid users.
Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees and the dozen or so leftover fans without skepticism laced into their DNA presumed Rodriguez the bastion of cleanliness, a rightful heir to Hank Aaron who could vanquish Darth Bonds. He had natural talent, and natural work ethic, and natural drive. He was as natural as Spam.
It matters not if Rodriguez is clean today. He knew in 2003 that there would be testing without penalty, and like the 103 others who came up dirty, figured the anonymity of the program would protect him and everything he had become. When the government stormed in, it matched positive results from that '03 survey testing with players' names and had the big kahuna of all steroid busts. The results leaked out, and A-Rod, – who has been manipulated by others since his teenage years – did what any trained monkey would: He told SI's Selena Roberts to talk to the union.
Yes, the players' association is to blame for this getting out. It could have destroyed the tests. It didn't. And when steroids were running through baseball like kudzu in the '90s and earlier this decade, the union did nothing to stop them.
Still, this comes back to Rodriguez, which is fitting for his world, where everything revolves around him. In the last year, he got caught in a dalliance with a stripper, dumped his wife, dated Madonna, flirted with the Kabbalah religion and declared his allegiance to the Dominican Republic for the World Baseball Classic, and he still has no saintly clue who he is: family man or cheat, religious man or agnostic, Dominican or American.
Now another question lingers: amazing talent or steroid abuser?
Both, perhaps, as the ideas seem to coexist, whether it's with Bonds or Clemens or Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro. Accomplishment is a narcotic that the steroids fed. Joe Torre, who managed Rodriguez in New York and was lambasted for the unflattering portrayal of A-Rod in his new book "The Yankee Years," was prescient in his assessment – and might have unwittingly explained the motivation behind Rodriguez's steroid use.
"Alex is all about the game," Torre said. "He needs the game. He needs all of those statistics. He needs every record imaginable. And he needs people to make a fuss over him."
It's why Rodriguez went on "60 Minutes" with Katie Couric, why he agreed to let Richard Ben Cramer pen his biography midcareer, why he said things about himself like: "My benchmark is so high that no matter what I do, it's never going to be enough, and I understand that."
Rodriguez adored the attention and adulation, even if some of it wasn't cast in a flattering light. He could stomach that. He was A-Rod, beacon of hope, the real unicorn amid all the frauds with oversized horns.
Bonds was one thing. The growth was unnatural. Clemens was another. His longevity screamed juice. A-Rod, even though we're trained to know better, still registered a surprise. There aren't many of those left. Derek Jeter. Greg Maddux. Ken Griffey Jr. Tom Glavine. And all of them have played at such a high level for so many years, it wouldn't be such a shock, then, would it?
Spring training starts next week, and it's going to be a mess. There will be renewed calls to beef up baseball's drug program. Weekly testing, stored samples, a one-positive lifetime ban. If two decades later the cancer is around, it's about time to give it chemo.
And scrutiny will funnel toward the union, especially chief operating officer Gene Orza, who SI said tipped off Rodriguez to a September 2004 drug test. The union denied the charge. It doesn't matter. Between the Mitchell Report allegation of Orza tipping and this, the guilty stench around the union would defeat nose plugs.
Saddest of all, somewhere Jose Canseco will be saying, "Told ya so."
Down in Tampa, Fla., Alex Rodriguez will report to Yankees camp as a known steroid user. By then, the battle plan will have been put into action. Deny or admit or apologize or stay silent. It doesn't matter. None of those options helps him. Nothing can.
The rubble is too heavy to escape.