Thomas Boswell on the Alex Rodriguez Steroids Confession

As bleak as the steroids story continues to be with new headlines every day, Mike Wilbon is certain that baseball fans will not stay away. Speaking of bleak, there's the basketball scene in Washington...Video by Atkinson & Co.
By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Alex Rodriguez may actually be telling something close to the truth. Not the public relations version of the truth, which heretofore has been A-Rod's first, as well as final, standard. But maybe the actual true facts.

Rodriguez may have taken performance-enhancing drugs for only three years -- never before, never after.

For one thing, his statistics, as we'll show, indicate that he may be coming clean. He averaged 33 percent more homers in his dirty Texas years -- from 2001 to 2003 -- than in the other 10 full seasons of his career. That's a huge leap, similar to the numbers that first incriminated Barry Bonds in many baseball minds.

Also, Rodriguez's character -- or his lack of it -- lends credence to his confession Monday. A-Rod's defining quality, beyond his physical ability, is that he can't take the heat in any situation. He doesn't just crumble in October (when he has one RBI in his last 58 at-bats in the postseason in that infernally scalding Yankee uniform).

Just as he squirmed and overacted like a kid in his half-hour ESPN interview, he always wriggles when hot. Anything to escape pressure. Isn't Rodriguez just the kind of person who might start cheating to protect himself from the scrutiny of a new $252 million contract in '01?

"I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me, and I needed to perform, and perform at a high level every day," Rodriguez said in his confession on ESPN.

Because he's so ill at ease, except on a ballfield, and so desperately image conscious, Rodriguez also seems like the kind of guy who, when hit with a positive drug test in 2003, might be so scared of public exposure that he might really shy away from the juice.

By that time, Barry Bonds and others were already enmeshed in Balco. Public rage at baseball steroid users was so high that baseball's union finally caved -- 10 years late -- to a lame, easy-to-beat test that was mocked as not a test for performance-enhancing drugs, but an IQ test. If you couldn't beat it, you were a dope. Or had a lousy drug dealer.

What do you think Rodriguez would do, given his obsessive need for a perfect player image, when he found out he'd failed a test nobody was supposed to flunk?

My sense is that he would react exactly the opposite of Bonds and Roger Clemens when fingers were pointed in their faces. They'd "hold 'em," smart or not. A-Rod folds 'em.

Bonds and Clemens are as tough inside as they come. That's part of their problem. You can stonewall and, maybe, get away with it, up to a point. But toughness turns into self-destruction when you stonewall the FBI or Congress. By the standards of elite athletes, Rodriguez may be as soft at his core as you can find.

If we need more evidence that A-Rod is a personality type who avoids conflict and might back off the 'roids if caught once, look at what he just did this week. His confession, as painful as it was, was his least hellish option. It gets him out of the constant daily fire of accusation and denial in the tabloid echo chamber.

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