By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
TAMPA, Feb. 17 -- A contrite and emotional Alex Rodriguez, perhaps the preeminent hitter of his generation, sat nervously behind a table here Tuesday afternoon and said he injected a performance-enhancing drug for three seasons earlier this decade, an admission that became part of a public self-flagellation in which he repeatedly referred to himself as "naive" and "stupid" and said he bore the entire burden for his past mistakes.
"I blame myself," Rodriguez said. "For a week here, I've been looking for people to blame, and I keep looking at myself, at the end of the day."
But even as the New York Yankees third baseman offered more specifics about his drug use -- saying he injected one banned substance that he received from a cousin in the Dominican Republic -- questions about his story, and how it will affect his legacy, remain. Rodriguez has now publicly offered more details about his own use than any other player identified during baseball's "steroids era," yet he declined to characterize his actions as cheating.
"That's not for me to determine," he said. He said his use was confined to 2001-03 -- his years with the Texas Rangers -- and repeatedly referred to himself as 24 during that time, an attempt to emphasize how "young and stupid" he was. In fact, he was 25 at the start of the 2001 season and 28 by the end of 2003. At turns, Rodriguez said he didn't believe, at the time, what he was doing was wrong, but still described himself as too scared to share the information with close friends or teammates.
"I didn't think they were steroids," Rodriguez said. "That's, again, part of being young and stupid. It was over-the-counter. It was pretty basic. And it was really amateur hour."
Rodriguez's 33-minute news conference in front of perhaps 150 media members at Steinbrenner Field came eight days after he first admitted using a performance-enhancing substance, and 10 days after Sports Illustrated first reported he tested positive for two anabolic steroids in 2003. It began with Rodriguez reading from a statement, at the end of which he tried to address his teammates, who had assembled in an apparent show of support, with Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera positioned prominently in the front row. But when Rodriguez tried to thank them, he couldn't get the words out, biting his lip and taking a drink of water before a Yankees spokesman ended more than 30 seconds of silence by asking for questions.
"I saw tears," said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, seated behind the table with Rodriguez and General Manager Brian Cashman. "I saw remorse."
Still, plenty of questions followed. In a Feb. 9 interview with ESPN, Rodriguez said he did not know what he had taken. Tuesday, he said he remembered it as a substance known on the street as "boli" or "bole," though he did not get more specific. The Sports Illustrated report said Rodriguez tested positive for testosterone and another steroid, methenolone, that goes by the brand name Primobolan.
Rodriguez also said he had never taken human growth hormone, and that his only other dalliance was during his days in Seattle with an over-the-counter product called "Ripped Fuel," which at the time contained a controversial herb, ephedra. Ephedra was cited as a contributing factor in the deaths of Minnesota Viking Korey Stringer (2001) and Baltimore Oriole Steve Bechler (2003).
Still, Rodriguez declined to name his cousin, whom he said was the only other person to know of his use. He said that during the six months of the 2001-03 seasons, he would be injected perhaps twice a month. He said he was almost completely ignorant about the drug, how to use it and what its actual effects were, though he did say, "I certainly felt more energy."
"We didn't want to ask anyone," Rodriguez said. "We went outside team doctors, team trainers. It was two guys doing a very amateur and immature thing. We probably didn't even take it right."
Asked how he could reconcile not thinking he was doing anything wrong with the secretive nature of his actions, Rodriguez paused before saying: "That's a good question. Um, I knew we weren't taking Tic Tacs."
Such exchanges, some Yankees officials believe, leave the probability that Rodriguez will be hounded by further questions during spring training and into the season. Cashman, who has now dealt with the steroids-related fallout of stars such as Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and Pettitte, admitted, "I don't think Alex is very good at communicating, to be honest." The general manager who traded for Rodriguez in 2004 and then re-signed him to a 10-year, $275 million contract in December 2007 -- one that could be worth $30 million more if he passes Barry Bonds's all-time home run record -- tried to refine the line of thinking.
"Rather than young and naive, it was stupid," Cashman said. "It was a bad decision that may cost him on so many levels."
Cashman likened Rodriguez to Humpty Dumpty, and said, "We've got to put him back together again." That process could start Wednesday, when Rodriguez and the rest of the Yankees position players will work out together for the first time.
"We're a family," Girardi said. "And you know what? We're going to go through other tough times during the season."
Rodriguez certainly hopes nothing is tougher than the past week-and-a-half. In answering the session's final question, Rodriguez reinforced, "I screwed up big-time." Then, the man who had hit 553 home runs before these allegations became public all but pleaded, "The only thing I ask of this group today and the American people is to judge me from this day forward."
That, too, is the approach of the Yankees. Cashman was asked whether he regretted signing Rodriguez to the most lucrative deal in baseball history last winter. The general manager sighed deeply before saying, "We're not in position to go backward on this." But he, too, was realistic.
"This thing is not dying," Cashman said. "The shelf life of this is a lot longer."