Thomas Boswell Discusses Alex Rodriguez and Baseball's Latest Black Eye
Wednesday, February 11, 2009; 11:00 AM
Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the Alex Rodriguez situation, the reactions by Major League Baseball and the player's union and more.
The transcript follows.
Read today's column: Measuring A-Rod.
Section 205, Nationals Park: Saw you on PBS last evening. Would you expect any or all of the 103 names on the steroids testing to be released? If so, what position should MLB take on sanctions? Why was not an active position taken at that time, as opposed to allowing this to feter?
Tom Boswell: MLB took as tough a stand in '03 as they could, considering the union's (usual) resistance. That "trial" program was the best they could get."
No names will be "released" by anybody. Unless they want to go to jail. The question is: What names will be leaked.
SI's sources are probably people who have the whole list. ut they don't have to be. It can be people that A-Rod or those close to him told at the time.
MLB can't and shouldn't do anything to the people who tested positive. At the time baseball said: Anonymous test, no punishments. We just want to find out how many people are dumb enough to get caught by a test that they know is coming. If it's a high enough number of True Dopes then we'll just have to start a real program with real punishments next season.
To EVERYBODY's amazement, the # who failed the test was high enough to allow MLB to take the next step! The good breakin all this is that A-Rod, and 103 others, couldn't pass what, at the time, was called "Not a steroid test. Just an IQ test." That opened the way for better, though far from best-practices (Olympic) testing.
Houston: I'm stunned -- stunned! -- by the number of people calling for the rest of the 103 names to be released. I know it's hard to believe, but in one very specific way, A-Rod is a victim here. Yes, he cheated. Does that mean 103 other people have to lose their privacy rights to satisfy our curiosity? Plus, what would that list REALLy tell us? It's not like everyone not on the list is automatically clean.
Tom Boswell: There are many sides to this issue. One, however, hits me strongly. Of the 103 players, dozens are certainly "nobodies." Guys with 100 or 1,000 MLB career at bats who will be completely forgotten despite, in most cases, at least a decade of playing in the minors and majors, trying to make it. The sport is chock full of scufflers who make little in the minors and, in many ways, cut themselves off from most of the good jobs that others in their generation may get. For them, baseball is often a deadend, a trick, a way to wake up at 27 or 30 and say, "Good Lord, what do I do now?"
If you "name" 20 or 40 guys like that, who were promised an anonymous test and no punishments, that revelation becomes the central event of their life. In the minds of family, friends, hometown, it may stand larger than anything and everything else the player did in his baseball days.
That is deeply wrong. The CORE problem with steroids is thatlax testing and indiffernce __by MLB and the union__ contributed enormously to a situation where just such marginally talented players were faced with an awful choice. They could cheat because they probably needed to cheat to have any realistic chance to be MLBers. Or they could stay clean and end up in the bushes or on the bench. NOW, having giving all those hundreds of marginally=talented players that AWFUL choice, you are going to EXPOSE THEN NOW!
So what if you get a couple more semi-big names, but drop a 1,000-pound rock on dozens of small fry. Besides, as you say, that '03 test hardly "closes the book" on anything. Many beat the test that year because they had better drugs, better timing, etc. Not to mention all the other years. nough is enough. I realize there are two schools of thought on this.
But I like my "school" much better.
Washington, D.C.: Why did Cal Ripken ALWAYS get a pass regarding steroids? When asked, he declined using. So did all these other guys. The change in physique, the large, bald head, the unbelievable consecutive game record. Isn't it conceivable that all these things smack of "better living through chemistry?" Why is everyone so certain Ripken was clean?
Tom Boswell: Oh, you mean beyond the general evidence of good character in many other parts of this life?
Ripken began his career ('82) pre-steroids. His HR and power totals never went up as he aged. His body never changed. He was 225 the first day I ever saw him in spring training and he looked the same 20 years later. He was never "ripped," never had zits or any other tell tale marks. Nobody inside the game ever, to my knowledge, suspected him of anything. He never had the kind of (frequent) minor injuries associated with steroid users whose bodies tend to get out of proportion.
In theory, anything is possible. But I would put Ripkn in my short list of players LEAST likely. The Streak is actually NOT the kind of record you would associate with a PED user. Just the opposite.
Kensington, Md.: Mr. Boswell: When will you or The Washington Post investigate steroid use among the Washington Redskins? In particular, how did several huge offensive linemen, drafted in lower rounds, suddenly acquire agility beyond the rest of the league during Gibbs's first tenure? Has no one examined drug use among the Redskins during that time? Why focus on baseball when circumstantial evidence points to drug enhancement among the local Redskins? Oh, wait, I just answered my own question. I propose The Post no longer publish stories and/or opinions on drug use until they investigate the Redskins.
Tom Boswell: I have no first-hand info, and therefore no opinion, on the Redskins of 25 years ago.
In general, the NFL has always had a very tame media. Teams in the '70's and '80 who were rumored to be more active with PEDs haven't taken much heat. MLB has just the opposite. Very aggressive baseball reporters with tons of access every day. The NFL is a league of secrets. MLB is the most open league __hard as that may seem to believe__ because baseball writers, as a group, have always tough.
Also, baseball doesn't retaliate against media that is critical of drug issues where people at the top of the game are themselves quit upset at what's happened. That doesn't let 'em off the hook! But they do have a conscience. The NFL's conscience is a fascinating question. If I'd spent 34 years covering football in the depth I have baseball, I bet I'd have a lot more views on that. Lets just say that it speaks well for baseball, in some odd way, that when the game screws up, t just gets the hell beaten out of it.
Albany, N.Y.: So are you in, or heading to, Florida for pitchers and catchers tomorrow? What are your spring training plans?
Tom Boswell: I'll be in Viera in a couple of weeks and can't wait. See the Nats, O's and few others.
It's be nice if the Nats hadanother player or two on their rosterby then. But after waiting 33 years for a team, it's Most Excellent to hear the words "pitchers and catchers report" and know that it also applies to Washington.
Kasten and I were having a grouch-fest last week and he said, "Man, you need to get to spring training!"
But I would put Ripkn in my short list of players LEAST likely.: Speaking of a short list, Jamie Moyer is doing a WP chat this afternoon. What's more likely, he's on the list or the Government will be running a surplus tomorrow?
Tom Boswell: Don't miss that chat if you are a baseball fan! Absolutely great guy.
I wish someone would ask him if, curious as it seems, if the Steroid Age actually suited his style of pitching. It seems conceivable that a guy who throws slow-slower-and-slowest with great control is just the hurler to take advanatge of a bunch of 250-pound quick-twitch musclemen who are trying to hit the ball 430 feet.
Hasn't Moyer made a career out of feeding on these beasts?
He might disagree. Love to know.
Fairfax, Va.: Boz, I respectfully disagree about the players on the MLB margins. I agree that everyone's privacy should be protected in this case, but I have little sympathy for them. They cheated just the same as everyone else. And, in fact, their cheating kept clean hard working career minor leaguers from getting a chance. This is the biggest issue for me.
But lets be honest, everyone was hoping we were finally moving past steroids. Now what?
Tom Boswell: There seems to be a new meaning to the title of that okld movie: "It Happens Every Spring."
Now, every spring, just when we think the Steroid Age is beginning to recede, we have a Clemens excplosion or an A-Rod erruption to recycle the whole debate.
Odd, it usually happens around Groundhog Day, doesn't it?
Genetics, not Steroids: Tom,
May I be allowed a response to the person from D.C. who raised the issue of Cal Ripken's baldness as an indicator he may have been "juicing"? I'd advise him to take a look at photos of Cal's father Cal Sr. and Cal's brother Billy. It's not that Cal Ripken used drugs, it's that Cal's got bad hair genes. (Or is Rogaine on the list of banned substances?)
Tom Boswell: Good point.
Knowing Cal, and I have since he was just out of high school, he probably would worry that Rogaine might test positive. Nobody has ever understood his responsibility to "give back" to the game more than Cal.
Very sad that Cal truly is an A-Rod hero. All this stuff is incredibly complex and, probably, worthy of a fine novelist as much as good journalists. Remember when A-Rod made Cal switch places with him before the first pitch of the All-Star game so Cal could start his last Mid-Summer Classic at shortstop __his original position__ rather than third base?
That was A-Rod at his best. I still remember his smile.
I'm not sure that smile still exists. Can life "break" people's smiles? Recent years in New York for A-Rod are Exhibit A for why plaers should think twice before assuming that all personality types are suited to all work environments. NYC does not havea 24/7 news cycle. It has a 60/24/7 cycle __broken down to the second. And the monster must be fed every day.
Washington, D.C.: Horrifyingly sad story about Roberto Alomar in the news today. Has he ever been accused of steroids? It's scary to think of the dangers of sharing needles.
washingtonpost.com: $15M Lawsuit claims ex-Met Roberto Alomar had sex knowing he had AIDS (NY Daily News, Feb. 11)
Tom Boswell: Yes, I just heard about this before the chat but am not up to speed about it.
South Riding, Va.: Less A-Rod, more Nats. With Abreau likely going to the Angles on a one year, $5 million deal, what is the right offer to get Dunn here? The clock is ticking, with guys that can help us signing each day.
Tom Boswell: Let me give some credit __I'm not sure that is really the correct word__ but certain a nod, to the Lerners for waiting out the free agent market. It now looks like Abreu, who wanted $16-miion-a-year for several years, and who has (without double checking) had six straight 100 RBI seasons, might accept an $8-million deal for jst one year!
Of course, that's denominated in Angel dollars, not the Nats confederate (102-loss) currency.
The Nats are going to look very smart __and I'mm be delighted to lash myself in the public square__ if they get Dunn at a great price. But I doubt it. I don't se them being a "first mover" but more like a "too late reactor" in this situation.
Still, the bases are loaded for the Nats right now. You can, if there is no collusion holding them back, go either of two ways. A one-year deal. Or the kind of semi-risky but probably very smart three or even four-year deal for $12-million-a-year that might make Dunn, only 29, a long term part of the team.
I know I'm the only person in earth saying "four years." And I suspect other owners would be annoyed. So what. ex got eight years. I'm perfectly comfortable out on this lonely "sign him long term, if you can" limb.
Dunn may not prefer to come to a losing team, but there is a price at which it's reasonably lkely that he would.
Reston, Va.: You gotta admit, Jeter looks really good now. There aren't many non-pitcher superstars that look as clean as him.
Tom Boswell: Cindy, is that really you? Ha! One of my editors, Cindy Boren, who does those Post video chats with Tony K (plug, plug), adores Jeter and has a typical Yankee fan's viseral aversion to A-Rod.
Is there a single picture anywhere of Jeter smiling directly at A-Rod? probably. But not many.
Crofton, Md.: Good Morning Tom, Thank you for your time!
The angst and hand wringing that is going on over the inability of signing Adam Dunn! How will our line-up be with Nick Johnson plugged into first base instead of AD? That is assuming he is healthy all year long, and how smart is that assumption? Our line-up would consist of Johnson, Hernandez, Guzman, Zimmerman, Dukes, Milledge, Willingham and Flores, in my opinion.
Tom Boswell: The Nats keep saying, "If we get healthy...if Olsen and Jordan Zimmermqan and Balester (Post chat at noon, don't miss it) combine with Lannan to improve the ptching...if we hit like we did after the All-Star break with Dukes and Milledge in the lineup...then we'll be a lot better."
That's a lot of "ifs." But it's also possible.
You might enjoy my Insider Blogs on the virtues (relatively speaking) of Odalis Perez (minor league contract) versus Randy Wolf and Josh Willingham's offensive numbers compared to other Nats. Willingham, at least amidst this bunch, looks quite good.
Boston: Hi Tom,
I agree with you that there is no sense in ruining reputation of guys who failed what was guaranteed to be an anonymous test, but if I had the list I would "leak" the name of any guy I heard pontificating about how bad steroid users are.
Tom Boswell: A-Rod is certainly paying a double price because of his public "piety" in his CBS interview.
Washington, D.C.: Boz,
Speaking of the vicious cycle of a losing team -- how do you ever move past that? Free agents don't want to come play for a loser, and young talent won't sign long term unless things improve.
There must be a chicken or egg somewhere. But where?
Tom Boswell: Just one year ago, coming off 73-89, the Nats were close to breaking the cycle. Manny Acta had tons of cred with players on other teams (and still does). Ganted, I never figured out who the "right" trades or free agents were last year. (Nobody said this was easy.) But the Nats paid a high priuce for believing their own "we'll be much better in '08" internal view.
The Nats can improve enough this year to get back to where they were after '07 in terms of perception within the game. The price: Two lost years.
A side note: Look at the power of the No. 1 overall draft pick since '65. At baseballreference.com it's very easy to see the picks for every round since '65. There is a rapid fall off. But No. 1 picks __especially hiters__ have a very good record. Some HOFers. But more often than not, players with very good 5,000+ at bat careers. However, No. 1 overall picks for pitchers __like Stephen Strasburg (very good feature on Sunday by Chico)__ have not been as excellent. That's worrisome. But, if Straburg stays healthy and has a good season at San Diego State, it's hard to go in any other direction.
And, if you look at the history of those picks, MANY of them, when drafted out of college, have been in the starting rotation the NEXT year. Strasburg would probably arrive very fast.
Boston: Where does Manny end up?
Tom Boswell: Dodgers.
He fits. Nobody else much wants him, even for one year. The teams that needed a power corner OF already got one. Or will get Abreu or Dunn for MUCH less.
It's a nightmare for Manny. Too bad.
It's a nightmare fr Scott Boras. Tood good.
For fun, you might "Google" the list of Boras clients, now including A-Rod, who are now on the 'Roid list.
Washington, DC: It is strange to say this, but can A-Rod point two his two MVPs in New York, after he stopped using PEDs and after PED use dropped in MLB, to say that he is more dominant in a clean game than he was in the PED era? Perhaps a clean era will enhance his position in the game.
Tom Boswell: Right now, it looks like none of the steroid players will make the HOF after McGwire's vote total dropped slightly this year.
But I'm going to be fascinated to see how the view of this changes__if at all__ over the next 10 years. I have no idea.
Our country is being forced to make an awful lots of judgments about how we feelm, how we calibrate our outrage, at a broad range of people __in and out of sports__ who have behaved very badly in the last 10-15 years. My column last month on performance enhancing drugs and performance enhancing derivatives touched on this. I suspect there's a lot more to say.
Sec 114, Row E: Ok, let me get this straight...
Tommy John surgery, LASIK, and getting my knee drained is okay.
Taking HGH is not.
Getting a cortisone shot in my back so that I can swing a bat today is okay.
But steroids are bad.
Why is there an artificial line constructed saying that one type of outside enhancement is okay, but another type is not?
Tom Boswell: There is not ARTIFICIAL line. This is the mstake that Sally keeps making. The medical community __and if we're not going to that their advice at any particualr moment, whose opinion are we supposed to value__ says that they are DANGEROUS. And they are especially dangerous when taken in the astronomcal doses that por athletes take them.
The issue is HEALTH. See: Lyle Alzado and Ken Camaniti, among others.
A responsible doctor will tell you, "Go ahead and have LASIK surgery (I did) or a cortisone shot. He will NOT say, "Go ahead and take mountains of PEDs."
That is the difference. It is simple. That's why PEDs are banned. That's why those who use them are cheaters. And that's why those, who refuse to follow this simple line of logic and try to justify their use are almost certainly dead wrong.
washingtonpost.com: Odalis Perez (4.34 ERA) vs. Randy Wolf (4.30)
Minneapolis: In the article by Wilber and Sheinin, it is noted that the charge against Tejada likely indicates a plea deal is forthcoming. In fact, the shortstop will be in a US District Court for his plea hearing while we're chatting.
It looks like Tejada is accepting a lesser charge (lying about his knowledge of steroid use in baseball) and avoiding a much bigger one (PED purchase and use). What do you think the government is expecting in return? Piatt already cooperated, so they're not going after Tejada to get to him.
Or is this just a show to try to ensure better cooperation from players in future (or ongoing) investigations?
washingtonpost.com: Tejada To Plead He Lied In Inquiry (Post, Feb. 10)
Tom Boswell: I think it shows that the heat in the kitchen is getting mighty hot and Miggy is doing the smart thing to cop to the smaller plea.
Is there now a 1% chance that Raffy actually did think he was taking a Tejada B12 shot and not the 'roids he got nailed for? I'd say it really is about a 1% chance. But, for Raffy, maybe that's better than 100%.
Germantown, Md.: Mr. Boswell,
Are we being unfair to today's steroid users by holding them to a higher standard than we have held up past generations of amphetamine users? It seems that cheating is cheating and using any illegal substances that can alter the mental or physical aspects of a players performance is cheating. Past generations cheaters are in the Hall of Fame and are considered "characters." Today's cheaters are vilified in the media and by fans.
I oppose cheating, but where does the double standard stop and fairness begin?
Tom Boswell: "Uppers" were never against the rules in baseball. You're not cheating if there's no rule against it. It may be bad for you, but...
Arlington, Va.: Okay Tom, here's an off-speed pitch right down the middle: What's your reaction to Mike Wise's column?
washingtonpost.com: Wise on steroid debate: One Name Is Not Enough In This Case (Post, Feb. 10)
Tom Boswell: We disagree. He has some good points. It makes for a good argument. I reinforced some of my views in an earlier answer.
washingtonpost.com: Collin Balester chat
Tom Boswell: Folks, I really think you want to e over at this chat,talking with areal ballplayer.
Besides, the only thing this nice SoCal fellow might test positive for is surfboard wax! Take it away Collin.
I'll look forward to seeing everybody next week. Thanks.
Annapolis, MD: Look, I hate steroids as much as anyone. But I think the A-Rod story is hugely overblown. The '03 testing was supposed to do one thing: prove to the union that baseball had a big problem, and enable the imposition of testing. It has done that, and A-Rod has been clean since then. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of players of whom the same thing can be said.
But did anyone really need the A-Rod revelation to prove that baseball has a problem? Pillorying A-Rod isn't going to do anything except make some little people feel better. Yankees fans already hate A-Rod, and Red Sox fans already hate anyone in pinstripes (most of all the good players). Until the other 103 names come out, he's just a whipping boy -- and one with quite a number of stripes on him already.
Yes, I believe with Lance Berkman that we should find out as much as we can; and that until we do, any accomplishment of the steroid era is going to be automatically discounted. (Suppose A-Rod hits 40 homers a year for the next seven years. We will have to acknowledge he's a great player, but we will always be skittish about calling him one of the greatest ever.) But the moralism and hand-wringing doesn't help solve the problem, and may even distract from genuine solutions.
Tom Boswell: Excellent post. Thanks. Just thought I'd share it.
Minot, North Dakota: Now that all baseball records for the last decade+ are in doubt, shouldn't people like Roger Maris and Hank Aaron have asterisks put by their names to denote that they are the true holders of certain famous records?
Tom Boswell: Maybe we should add exclamation points after their records (!!!) instead of asterisks.
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