Alex Rodriguez looked me in the eyes. It was last May. His New York Yankees teammates were stretching on the field at Kauffman Stadium. I asked him if he had used performance-enhancing drugs since 2003. His face turned serious. He leaned forward. This was a new Alex, he swore. One who respected people and the game and told the truth.
"I have not," he said. "I would not."
He never broke his stare, the product of all the time spent with the thousand-dollar-an-hour handlers who preached genuineness, as if that was something he could learn, as if a career-long fraud ever could be mistaken as real.
In Alex Rodriguez's world, one still infused with human growth hormone and synthetic testosterone as a bombshell Miami New Times report detailed Tuesday, there was no more potent cocktail than desperation and hubris. The continuum of A-Rod spans gifted to inept with all of the requisite bus stops in between. The marriage of his two prevailing character traits – how somebody so desperate for success was felled by his stop-at-no-costs chase of it – gives the greatest insight into the wild, confusing case of one of the biggest cheats in a sport full of them.
A-Rod denied the report's accusations in a statement Tuesday and immediately inherited Lance Armstrong's mantle as most desperately obvious doper who tromps along denying the existence of evidence that is either the biggest coincidence in the history of coincidences or, you know, true.
Let's see: The ledgers of an anti-aging quack in Miami, A-Rod's hometown, include more than half a dozen major league players – including one referred to as, at different times, "Alex Rodriguez," "Alex Rod," "Alex R." and "Cacique," which is loosely translated to mean "boss." If that weren't enough, Rodriguez's cousin and ever-present steroid bagman, Yuri Sucart, shows up in the diaries as well.
Anthony Bosch, the 49-year-old linked with the distribution of the drugs to Rodriguez as well as Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal, kept damning records on all of them at his Biogenesis lab. And when a former employee leaked the records to the New Times, it shattered any picture of innocence Rodriguez wanted to portray before or going forward.
Unless Bosch is executing an elaborate long con that would involve the sacrifice of Cabrera, Colon and Grandal to MLB suspensions and potential jail time for himself, it is safe to think his records are accurate, particularly after the New Times cross-checked them with numerous sources who confirmed their veracity. And the records say A-Rod received HGH, testosterone cream, insulin-like growth factor, a testosterone lozenge called "troches" as well as other pharmacological goodies.
By going deny, deny, deny, A-Rod is following the trail blazed by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom to this day claim their innocence. While it's unlikely Rodriguez ever will find himself a target of a criminal proceeding, any law enforcement agencies that pursue Bosch will want to talk with him. Of course, the threat of perjury never deterred Bonds and Clemens. The bubble of innocence doesn't pop easy.
And so A-Rod is reduced once again to this: a punch line, a waste, a face on the Mount Rushmore of PEDs alongside Bonds, Clemens and Manny Ramirez. Once upon a time, when Rodriguez was still trying to claim he used PEDs only from 2001-03, he blamed it on being "young and dumb." Which would make him what now? Old and dumber?
Actually, that describes the Yankees well, too. When they signed A-Rod to a 10-year, $275 million contract after his 32nd birthday, they damned themselves to an ugly ending. Not even they could have imagined it this bad. Rodriguez is now 37 and still has $114 million left on his deal. As much as the Yankees would love to void it, the best they can hope for is a buyout that saves them a couple million or at least defers some of the money.
Because at this point, how can they allow him back? It's one thing to lie to the media. All in the game. To do so to people in his organization, though? To stare at them – senior members of the Yankees – and recite the same spiel about being a new man, a better man, a different man, one who wanted to conquer the sins of his past? If A-Rod weren't a broken-down horse, his degenerative hip needing another surgery that will keep him out untold months, maybe they welcome him back.
As is, they would be better off recognizing him for what he has become: a sunk cost. Viewing Rodriguez strictly through a prism of performance is impossible when the Yankees want, as much as anything, to strip from their organization not just payroll but the drama of last October. A-Rod is trouble magnetized. Not even the best can escape the pull.
Once baseball is gone, Rodriguez will realize what a sad existence he created for himself. He was given everything. Red Sox executive Allard Baird was frightened to file his scouting report on a high school-aged A-Rod because it was too glowing. A-Rod could've been an icon whose 647 home runs aren't subject to question and doubt. He has become a sullied, pathetic liar, an abuser of the game he loved, the only one who doesn't seem to understand the jig is up.
For Alex Rodriguez, that is and will forever be the truth.
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