Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Steroids? You're Outta Here!
by Paul Kaplan
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]


Editor's note: It's warmer today in Florida, where spring training commences, than it is here in the Peach State. If you're driving there, the Georgia roads you travel are also becoming the home of repairs that have come to a halt because the state can't afford to get the job done. Our Legislative reporter Maggie Lee writes today of the possible creation of a new state agency to keep traffic flowing, an agency that would take a lot of power from the current Department of Transportation, which some see as dysfunctional. Columnist Hollis Gillespie thinks honor is in short supply at the Capitol. Except when the firefighters are there. And if our baseball writer Paul Kaplan had his way, Alex Rodriguez, self-confessed steroid abuser, should be on his way out of spring training and into a new line of work. He's unfairly altered the game, Kaplan writes, and that's just not acceptable.

As always, we'd like to hear from you. GONSO is an enterprise founded and staffed by more than two dozen leading journalists and media executives in Georgia. We're providing content free -- for a limited period. Newspapers, broadcasters, bloggers and websites are welcome to use our articles -- please credit the writers and the Georgia Online News Service.

Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.


Today's GONSO

Governor Takes the Road to Streamlining Transportation Agencies

by Maggie Lee
The state is considering a different way to manage transportation. The governor wants to do it with a new division that would absorb two agencies and drain power from the Department of Transportation.
Full Story

The Capitol is not on Fire

by Hollis Gillespie
Gold Dome bon vivant Hollis Gillespie took a look around the Capitol this week and thinks our legislators could use a dose of honor, something firefighters show the public every day.
Full Story

Steroids? You're Outta Here!

by Paul Kaplan
Alex Rodriguez fessed up about his use of steroids. Public confession may be good for his soul but it's not enough to repair the damage he's done to baseball by artificially altering the game. Send him off the mound and into the locker room. For good.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
More nuclear power in Georgia? It's 'pro America,' sponsor says
by Maggie Lee
Gov. Perdue's Transportation Shuffle
by Lyle Harris
View to a Georgia Kill: A New Book Looks at Leo Frank on Film
by David Lee Simmons
Vouchers recognize the fact that one type of school doesn't fit all students' needs
by Lisa Baron

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