Steroids? You're Outta Here!|
Georgia Online News Service
So now we know. Alex Rodriguez, the best player in baseball, is a steroid cheat. (He's also a liar, but let's not quibble).
Anyway, this one really hurts. We knew that athletes had taken steroids to get ahead, but when the best baseball player was clean, we had a model to point to. "See, son, you don't have to cheat to be successful."
Um, never mind. Now we can add A-Rod (or A-Roid, as one wag put it) to the wall of shame, alongside the other admitted or suspected cheats, including Barry Bonds, who broke Hank Aaron's home run record; Mark McGuire, the single-season home run king.
Roger Clemens, the 7-time Cy Young winner and the best pitcher of his generation; Andy Pettitte, who helped pitch the Yankees to four World Series titles; plus five of the top 12 homerun leaders of all time and 14 of the 26 MVPs in both leagues since 1996, according to a list compiled by Sports Illustrated.
A-Rod may be the last straw.
"Now there is nobody who we can look to," a disconsolate fan e-mailed SI after the story broke.
In fact, it's worse than that. Baseball was right to ban Pete Rose from the game and from the Hall of Fame for betting on games as a manager. But now that decision doesn't hold water. How can you ban the game's most prolific hitter from the Hall of Fame for betting on his team, which has no bearing on a game, when steroid cheats, who dramatically alter the game, are allowed to continue to play and break records?
A-Rod, meanwhile, has nine years left on a $275 million contract with the Yankees, so George Steinbrenner, the team's owner, is in a terrible fix – and nobody is more deserving.
It was Steinbrenner who ruined baseball for fans of many small-market teams by grossly overpaying the best free agents to get them to play in New York. This offseason alone, Steinbrenner and his two sons committed nearly half a billion dollars to sign all three of the biggest names on the free-agent market.
Oh, the gall. And now look what the Steinbrenners end up with: Instead of an enraptured fan base over these great new players and the team's fabulous new $1.6 billion stadium, there'll be a scandal hanging over the Yankees like a storm cloud on steroids. Every time A-Rod trudges to the plate to a chorus of boos, it will feel like a rainy Monday up in the owner's box.
A-Rod was smart to admit has mistake and apologize, because people tend to be forgiving, but the betting here is that it won't be quite so simple this time. Folks are losing their jobs and their homes, while A-Rod gets $30 million a year to play in the dirt, and what does he do? He cheats, and then lies about it.
We'll see just how forgiving people are over this one, especially in New York, where taxpayers are funding the luxurious new Yankee Stadium. Say what you will about the Yankees, but their fans are as passionate and knowledgeable as any in baseball. They know the deal on this sad story.
If Steinbrenner had any guts, he'd fire A-Rod. In a $275 million contract, there has to be a clause that forbids the player from discrediting the organization through illegal or immoral acts.
The players union in baseball, which has no empathy whatsoever for fans, has fought every step of the way to protect the rights and the livelihoods of the steroid cheats, who after all are their clients. The union will fight to the very end for the player with the biggest name, and the biggest contract, in the game.
That would be perfect. Let both the players union and the owners turn the A-Rod situation into a hill to die on in the fight over steroids. Our money is on the owners in that battle.
Even if A-Rod prevailed in court and was ordered reinstated, the message on steroids will have been sent with complete clarity.
Steinbrenner, of all people, would become a hero for doing what baseball should have done a decade or more ago. Plus, he could open his glorious new stadium without the dark cloud that will hang over A-Rod on opening day and beyond.
If all this seems harsh toward a terrific ballplayer who admitted his mistake, you're right, it is. A-Rod is a beautiful athlete, but the game of baseball is more important than he is. And he's the perfect foil. He's rich, famous and even has leading-man good looks.
How ironic it would be if the best player's legacy is that he almost ruined baseball when he played, but helped save the game when he was forced out.
Paul Kaplan has been an award-winning writer and editor at newspapers in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. [full bio]