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.
Rodriguez also said he was getting ready to join an anti-steroids crusade started by the father of a boy who died from using them. Among those favorably mentioned was "God" who, A-Rod thinks, put him in position to turn his disgrace into a good deed.
A-Rod did not say, "Can I go to Cooperstown now or do I have to wait?" But he will someday.
The key to the day, however, was A-Rod's ability to put over the story of the Cousin With No Name. Mortify yourself enough and maybe they'll buy it. After the yarn he spun about the two of them, you figure it's lucky they didn't inject each other in the forehead.
"Dumb-stupid-immature-Ididn't-go-to-college-naive," Rodriguez said of himself. And this cousin, he was like a human guinea pig, your official street-drug tester. Is that it?
"One more ignorant than the other. We didn't know what we were doing. We probably didn't even do it right," Rodriguez said of himself and his cousin.
"I certainly made a mistake. I feel poorly for what I did," he said. A "mistake," but not quite cheating since he didn't -- you know -- realize it was, egad, a steroid. And he feels "poorly," but not downright ashamed. An ashamed superstar might not deserve to be in Cooperstown someday.
Parts of what A-Rod told yesterday may be true, even the cousin. But all of it? What did we learn from Bernie Madoff: When something is too good to be true, it isn't.
Besides, A-Rod's entire presentation of who he was from '01 to '03 is bizarrely distorted to support his portrait of himself as a naive dunce who would, out of the whole world, choose an utterly inept cousin to decide what drugs to put into his precious body.
Rodriguez wasn't "young" when he got caught taking steroids. On July 27, 2003, he turned 28, not "24 or 25" as he likes to say. By then, he was in his 10th year as a pro ballplayer and his eighth full season in the majors. Long before, in '96, he was second in AL most valuable player voting. By '01, he was incredibly famous, seasoned, polished in public, one of the faces of baseball and rich, too. In Seattle, he earned millions before he ever signed that contract for a quarter of a billion dollars in '01.
Does that sound like a man who would tell a dopey cousin to go buy a street drug called "boli or bole" in the Dominican? Or does he sound like somebody who, perhaps several years before, might have consulted a real expert?
In his book "Vindicated," Jose Canseco wrote that, in the late '90s, Rodriguez asked where "one" would go to purchase steroids. "I know a guy with plenty of access, and he also happens to be a very good trainer," Canseco claims he told Rodriguez. "I made the introductions: 'A-Rod, this is your trainer (and supplier). Max, this is your client, A-Rod.' I may not have seen him do the deed but I set the whole thing up for him. If you ask me, I did everything but inject the guy myself."
Out of all of this, fans will have to decide what they believe and what wrenches common sense beyond recognition. For now, I've decided to believe much of what A-Rod said last week, but little of what he said yesterday.
How can I be so sure?
My cousin told me. Sorry, I forgot his name.