Tuesday, February 10, 2009


A-Fraud, A-R*d, A-Steroid, Nim-Rod . . .

Barry Bonds once thought he stood alone as the most talented and reviled player in major league baseball over the past 25 years. Not since Ty Cobb had any professional baseball player heeded the late 15th and early 16th century Italian philosopher Nicolo Machiavelli's advice that it is better to be feared than loved. Then along came Alex Rodriguez, who, after beginning his career as baseball's perfect P.R. dream in 1996 as a teenage wunderkind with the Seattle Mariners, began working his way towards the Surly Slugger after he left Seattle for the Texas Rangers and a ten-year contract worth $250 million. In 2004, Rodriguez packed his Louis Vutton bags for the Big Apple, taking up residence in Yankee Stadium, or the House that Ruth Built with little more than hot dogs and a whole lotta beer. By October, A-Rod finally caught Bonds, distinguishing himself for the ages in Game 1 of that year's ALCS after he attempted to slap the ball out of Boston Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo's glove while running out a ground ball. Not content with such a superlative display of sportsmanship, Nim-Rod continued his campaign to surpass Bonds by telling anyone with a microphone or a reporter's notebook that he had too much respect for his body, a body that he had come to admire more than anyone else other than perhaps Madonna, to use "banned substances" to gain a competitive edge.

"Don't need it," sneered A-Steroid. "My body is my Temple, and my Temple is closed to all worshippers but me . . . and maybe the occasional Toronto stripper and Madonna. And Derek Jeter. But Derek doesn't want to worship me, although I wish he would. So I'm going to tell everyone that he's not my BFF anymore, unless he wants to meet me under the tree on the playground to tell me that he really does want to wear my warm-up jacket out on the town."

* * * * * * * * * *

So now comes Alex Rodriguez to join . . . are you ready for this? . . . Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as the current and former place-holders of baseball's most coveted records who will not, barring some sort of strange miracle, receive an invitation to Cooperstown for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Put another way, imagine the Hockey Hall of Fame without Wayne Gretsky, Mario Lemeiux, Mark Messier, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Patrick Roy. Imagine 20 years from now that Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane are ignored from consideration because of illegal drug use or betting on their own sport while they were playing it. Imagine the Basketball Hall of Fame without Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant or Shaq. Imagine the Golf Hall of Fame without Tiger Woods, the most dominant athlete in any sport ever. Or Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Tom Watson or Arnold Palmer. Or Seve Ballesteros or Nick Faldo.

Or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without The Beatles.

Pete Rose, the all-time major league leader in hits, will not enter the Hall because of his gambling escapades. Roger Clemens, who won 354 games, more than any other active pitcher born after 1940, and seven Cy Young awards in his career, two more than any other pitcher in the game's history, will not enter the Hall because of what appears to be his use of steroids while an active player and his decision to lie about it. Ditto Mark McGwire, eighth on baseball's all-time home run list, who broke the single-season record for homers in 1998 and held that record until Bonds, another probable steroid user, broke it in 2001. Ditto Sammy Sosa, who holds the record for most seasons with 60 or more home runs. Then, of course, there is Bonds, the winner of six MVP awards, including four in a row from 2001-2004, the years in which Bonds is suspected of using steroids. No other player in MLB history has won six MVP awards, and no one has ever won four in a row. And that's not even getting to the career home run record, a chase that was too painful for me, as someone who grew up idolizing Hank Aaron, to watch. Bud Selig, the commissioner of MLB who presided -- and continues to preside -- over this mess, thought it was too painful to watch, too. Remember the clips of him pacing around the luxury suites of the various stadiums where Bonds was eligible to hit 755 and 756, hands in his pockets, unsure of what to say? Remember his non-responsiveness to the questions he was getting about how MLB planned to "honor" Bonds after the broke Aaron's record? Don't feel sorry for Selig, whose family's relationship to Aaron dates back to their mutual days in Milwaukee over 40 years ago. Selig knew full well what was going on in the locker rooms of the sport over which he presided. That alone should have been grounds for his firing years ago. And if Selig didn't know what was going on, that's more than enough reason to fire him for incompetence. No wonder the recently exiled former president George W. Bush was frequently mentioned as a possible commissioner of MLB -- only CVS and the Maryland DMV require a greater degree of incompetence from its job applicants and current employees.

A-R*d screwed up. That's not really open to debate. Conceding that point, there is something almost comical about the overblown reaction of the sports media who are pointing their fingers at a man that the very same people held out as the "real" Incredible Hulk, a superhuman athlete who, despite his cloying personality and propensity to choke in the clutch, would break every hitting record that baseball cherishes deeply and break them cleanly. Now, we have to read about the "stunning" revelation that A-Fraud lied to the public to cover-up his use of what are now called PEDs, or performance enhancing drugs. He lied, lied and lied some more. Hell, thought, Nim-Rod, everyone else is doing it . . . why not me? 

And why not? MLB didn't care. The players' union didn't care and still really doesn't. The cozy relationship between the big sports media and the jocks they follow around like smitten high school nerds thrilled to get an invitation to the cool-kid parties ensured that nothing would be investigated too seriously.  If steroids were being served by the swimming pool out back no reporter wanted to be "that person," the one who called the cops because things were out of control. Wouldn't be cool.  Better yet, there's probably a better than even chance than one well-known reporter or two has used a PED to help them get through a rough work week or calm down after the lights go out. Anyone surprised by Syringe-Rod's fall from grace needs to remember that no one should have ever put him there in the first place. Alex Rodriguez is a professional baseball player, not a Nobel prize-winning scientist, not Rosa Parks, not John Lewis, not Rachel Carson, not Thomas Edison, not Abraham Lincoln, not F.D.R. and not Dwight Eisenhower. Alex Rodriguez is not someone who risked his life or career to call attention to bad government behavior. Suppose the Material Boy had worked in the Bush administration and used PEDs to help falsify information to "justify" the Iraq invasion? Or compromised the identity of a CIA agent? Or buried an FDA report on whether approved drugs really did what they claimed? Or lied about the death of an American soldier from "friendly fire," say, former NFL star Pat Tillman? Do you think the Sports Shouters of the world would be abusing their vocal chords over whether A-Steroid was a worse liar than, oh, Dick Cheney?

Over at ESPN, the always interesting baseball writer Jayson Stark penned an article yesterday that carried the headline, "A-Rod Has Destroyed Game's History." How did Dim-Rod do that? By taking anabolic steroids for three years beginning eight years ago? Are you kidding me? Amnesia-Rod doesn't even make my Top Ten list of baseball's all-time worst citizens.

Jayson Stark and every other outraged citizen/commentator holding forth on the GNC*Rod story needs to dust off their old copy of Ball Four, Jim Bouton's great book published in 1971 documenting his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots, a team that lasted one season, and his time with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. And horror of horrors, innocent readers learned that professional ballplayers drank heavily, cheated on their wives, who, in turn, were often cheating on them, played drunk, took amphetamines to cope with the rigors of a 162-game season, were racists, misogynists and often less than fully informed citizens in our nation's great democracy. Bouton didn't do anything other than reveal a world as it really existed. America does public relations and image-making better than any country in the world. The trouble begins when we start to believe a world built upon fantasy, not reality.

Perhaps I'm putting my geekiness on full display by noting that the timing of the A-Rod story coincides with Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. A-Rod didn't ruin baseball or baseball history, and he didn't take the game's last strand of innocence with him. His rise to baseball fame and fortune coincided with MLB's embrace of anabolic steroids as a "performance enhancer," just as athletes had used all sorts of drugs to "enhance" their performance in previous years. As baseball evolved, Rodriguez evolved along with it. So much, then, for "intelligent design."


Stephen.Meli said...

I agree with many of your statements Dr. Ivers. As a fan of baseball and not just a team, it is sad that the game's best player has admitted to taking PEDs. I will still root for him as I want my team to win, but the knowledge of his actions will always be in the back of my mind.

What AROD did was wrong, but I agree that the media's reaction is equally as wrong. Both the AROD and Michael Phelps stories show that we are a nation of moralists and hypocrites. AROD did something that it looks like everyone in baseball was doing (no excuse) and Phelps did something nearly half of the population has done at one point or another.

The truth is that AROD took PEDs and it was wrong. But you are correct when you say that it did not "ruin baseball." In fact, it can be argued quite convincingly that steroids saved baseball. We all may hate to admit it but McGwire and Sosa's run in '98 and the Steroid/Long Ball era probably saved baseball as a popular sport following the '94 strike and preceding years of 'meh'ness. The people love to see homeruns and faster, stronger players. Perhaps all us fans are a little guilty of shielding our eyes to something that was in plain sight. We didn't want to admit it but we knew what was going on.

If famous players like Bonds, Mcgwire, and Clemens are denied into the HOF because of their alleged usage of PEDs, it really casts a shadow on every player who has played during the late 90's-present. I think that baseball and the fans have to accept what has gone on and move on. Dwelling on these issues will only continue to damage the game.


Rob Kimball said...

How do you reconcile this post with Thursday's? Both Phelps and A-Rod got caught using a drug on Wise Uncle Sam's "NAUGHTY" list, a list conjured arbitrarily over the course of the last hundred years or so. How is condemning a pot smoker "idiotic, counter-productive and hypocritical", but it's acceptable to blast A-Rod?

Frankly I do not believe that steroids hit homeruns. The first Barry Bonds to hit was THIS guy: http://mybaseballcardcollection.com/d/4424-2/1989+Upper+Deck+Barry+Bonds+%23440.JPG

Steroids improve recovery time, which no doubt helps players down the stretch and absolutely helps wear-and-tear players (namely relief pitchers) play better, longer. But so do modern training equipment and techniques, modern diets and supplements, etc. Neither of these "enhancements" hit home runs.

So why is it okay to arbitrarily ban athletes from using certain substances in one case, but condemnable behavior in another case?