Thomas Boswell on Alex Rodriguez's Steroid Stories

By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The FBI watches ESPN, too.

So, by amazing coincidence, the story Alex Rodriguez told us yesterday was exactly the kind of tale he would have to tell if he did not want a visit from anybody wearing a badge or carrying a subpoena. Who needs friends like the new ones that Barry and Roger have? His account of his steroids days in Texas was perfect -- too perfect.

Rodriguez tried to close every legal loophole, end the story (he hopes) and paint a picture of himself and an unnamed cousin who were so dumb that, according to Rodriguez, neither of them knew they were taking steroids. Why, he didn't even believe at the time he was cheating. Just an "energy booster." Oh, and of course, the drugs were bought legally in the Dominican Republic. No laws broken. No baseball rules intentionally trampled. And, of course, no other humans had any connection with their plot.

Hey, just a couple of crazy, stupid, experimental kids.

"I didn't think they were steroids. That's again part of being young and stupid. It was over-the-counter. It was pretty basic," Rodriguez said. "All these years I never thought I did anything wrong."

Riiiggght. So, if it was all so innocent, why did you keep it such a big secret for three years? "That's a good question," said A-Rod, stumped. Maybe he wasn't prepped for that one. "I knew we weren't taking Tic Tacs," he said, in what may have been his only candid ad lib.

Last week, Rodriguez may have told the truth, or a loose approximation of it, when he said he took steroids for three years in Texas, but no other time. I chose to believe him then. Until new evidence appears, I still do. His homer stats leapt. And the behavior suited his M.O.: avoid the heat. Pressure from a $252 million contract? Cheat. Get even more heat from a positive drug test? Quit cheating.

Seven days ago, A-Rod didn't hide behind a ridiculous tale. And he had several well-traveled paths he could've chosen. "I only took it once to get over an injury." Or "I thought I was just taking a teammate's vitamin shot." Or "I made mistakes. I'm sorry for everything. No details." Or "I don't want to talk about the past."

This time, however, A-Rod was trapped -- by the law. Vague confession is good for the soul. But specific confessions can get somebody a jolt of hard time. Or, at least, years of endless additional questions and probes.

How do you add details to a confession, flesh it out, try to "turn the page" and get the media hounds off your trail, yet do it in such a way that, as you walk off stage, you don't receive an invitation to continue the discussion with a grand jury? How do you keep from dragging others into your mess? What would Madonna do?

Seriously, it's a huge problem. How do you put a monster to sleep? Tell it a bedtime story.

Alex did a good job, as utterly preposterous show-trial spectacles go. A-Rod bit his lower lip, got moist eyes but didn't cry and paused for 37 seconds before saying, "Thank you," to a phalanx of Yankees teammates who showed up to a) support him or b) avoid solitary confinement.

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