Tuesday, February 11, 2014
The Writing on the Wall Barks at A-Rod
Accepting the inevitable comes hard enough for most mortals, never mind professional athletes. When the inevitable is retirement, it isn't everyone who faces it with quiet grace and gratitude for having been there at all, and it often forces a player to buck up to it. When the inevitable is banishment for cause, it isn't everyone who can resist facing it kicking and screaming, but few kicked and screamed as loudly or as wildly as Alex Rodriguez did until Friday.
Rodriguez has always been an introspective man, often in public and often to the point where it becomes a vice. But whether it was introspection that brought him to drop his lawsuits against both baseball government and his own union, or whether it was feeling the heat after he filed the suits following an arbitrator's holding him to a suspension for 2014 alone, somehow Rodriguez saw the proverbial writing on the wall. And it barked at him.
It couldn't possibly have escaped the notice of one and all, perhaps including A-Rod himself, that from the moment Frederic Horowitz determined he'd been just what baseball government charged his look made the deer in the headlights look locked and loaded for a counterattack by comparison. He filed his (some said insane) lawsuits against MLB and the Players Association from just that vantage point, and all it brought him was an apparent shrug of regret from the union that only its in-place rules prevented it from kicking him out as a swelling number of players seemed to hope.
It also brought him a federal judge ruling that Horowitz's decision could and would be made public. The ruling included a sketch-by-sketch description of the regimen of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances Rodriguez used under Anthony Bosch's aegis, from human growth hormone (hGH) to testosterone creams and around again to growth hormone-releasing peptides (GHRP); presumably, these are the "three [banned] discrete PES" to which Horowitz refers in his closing opinion.
Only one of the substances listed in the report (1-testosterone) is actually a steroid, and it was in fact legal in the United States until 2005 when it was re-listed as a Schedule III drug, to be dispensed by no one other than a physician or licensed pharmacist acting on a physician's prescription. A-Rod apparently began the hGH and testosterone six days a week in November 2010 and continued through specific periods in 2011 and 2012.
Whatever he was or wasn't using through those periods it became only too clear that Rodriguez did just about everything in his power short of a hiring a fleet of attack helicopters to stonewall baseball's attempt to investigate to just what extent he was or wasn't involved with actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances above and beyond the period to which he'd formerly confessed, his years playing for the Texas Rangers. It becomes more clear that baseball government, for all the apparent flaws and fooleries indulged during its probe, had him all but dead to right on the matter.
And it becomes finally far more clear than those that Rodriguez — not baseball government, not Anthony Bosch, not Frederic Horowitz, not the Players' Association, not 60 Minutes, and not the New York Yankees (whom Rodriguez has accused of monkey business of its own here and there) — wrote the script that finally makes him persona non grata even in spring training for this season.
He made baseball itself look like fools after the game struggled for a decade to cauterize and clean up the infection of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. But most of all he exposed himself as a fool who'd come to the game with transdimensional talent yet doubtful enough in it to seek its insurance by any means necessary, for reasons upon which both those who have supported him and those who have been appalled by him can only speculate beyond a particular point.
Rodriguez has never been the most completely secure of young men. For all his ability, for all his game knowledge, for all his achievements prior to the contract that may yet prove to have been the cobra's own mongoose, for all his early likability and easy manner among his peers and his admirers, there has bristled inside him a small boy unwilling to believe in the blessing of his own talent, his own ability to exercise it, the fact that (once upon a time) people genuinely liked him for himself. A small boy unwilling at core to believe he'd earned the game's most swollen vault of riches and could live up to every dollar, ingot, and shekl therein simply going forth and playing the game the way he'd proven repeatedly he could and did play it.
A boy like that raging quietly inside a man suddenly discomfited by his own being and doing is a prescription for disaster, which is just what Rodriguez's career and image have become. He will go away somewhat quietly this season, perhaps clinging still to a hope for a 2015 return that his age and his unchemicalized body might yet thwart, but his auxiliary damage will yet remain.
In practical terms, the Yankees (who may yet seek to eat the remaining dollars just to be rid of him once and for all) have a third base problem to solve. In metaphysical terms, the Yankees have to live with having made one too many deals with one particular devil. Nothing in their history — not Lou Gehrig's tragedy, not the 1958 Copacabana brawl, not the dubiously planned and executed sale to CBS in 1964, not the lost decade of 1965-75, not the George Steinbrenner follies, not even Ball Four's revelations or Mickey Mantle's late-life confessionals — prepared them institutionally to face this.
The truest cliche about the Yankees is that they don't like to lose. Now they, the entire leagues, the players association, and the game itself begin coming to terms with a spiritual amputation worse than any loss any of them ever suffered on or off the field otherwise. They're about to discover how the San Francisco Giants must have felt when at last Barry Bonds removed his elephant from their clubhouse, even if Bonds never thought of going even half as scorched earth as Rodriguez tried.
They might take some comfort in a pronouncement from a quarter century ago. When A. Bartlett Giamatti first handed Pete Rose his banishment for gambling in 1989, he concluded with the following: "Let no one think that it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game."
Baseball government may have reminded us in the Rodriguez case that no commissioner or player is superior to the game. But there lingers the ugly feeling that, for all his flaws, and they have been legion, Bud Selig — who couldn't possibly equal Giamatti's poetic elegance or eloquence — just might have learned the hard way, over his entire term in office, how right Giamatti was. Even if Alex Rodriguez just might not have done quite yet.