Commentary

A-Rod delivers another black eye

Updated: February 10, 2009, 5:54 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Dec. 16, 2007
Katie Couric: "For the record, have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing substance?"

Alex Rodriguez: "No."

Couric: "Have you ever been tempted to use any of those things?"

Rodriguez: "No."


Feb. 9, 2009
Peter Gammons: "What's the truth?"

Rodriguez: "I did take a banned substance. And for that I'm very sorry and deeply regretful."

Gammons: "So you're saying the time period was 2001, '2 and '3?"

Rodriguez: "That's pretty accurate, yes."


You'll excuse me if I don't give Rodriguez a standing O for telling us what we already knew two days ago. He cheated. He lied about it for years. And Monday morning at a house in Miami Beach, he admitted it was a lie.

Sure, give him huge brownie points for the admission and the apology, for telling the world he took performance enhancers from 2001 to 2003, for saying, "I was stupid for three years. I was very, very stupid."

But never forget why Rodriguez agreed to an interview with Gammons: A-Rod was cornered. Cornered by Saturday's Sports Illustrated report. Cornered by that "60 Minutes" interview of 15 months ago. And never forget that between the Couric and Gammons interviews, A-Rod has engaged in denial and deceit.

I guess I'll take what Rodriguez told Gammons as the truth -- or at least, the latest A-Rod version of it. After all, if he could calmly lie to Couric in 2007, what's to keep him from lying to Gammons in 2009? Answer: nothing.

"At the time, I wasn't even being truthful with myself," Rodriguez said Monday. "How could I be truthful with Katie or CBS?"

So the only absolutes in all of this are that Rodriguez is a cheater, his home run totals are instantly questionable and there never would have been an interview with Gammons if SI hadn't reported that A-Fraud tested positive in 2003 for anabolic steroids.

Rodriguez said Monday he didn't definitively know whether he was one of the 104 players who had failed the 2003 drug test. But a source told ESPN on Saturday that A-Rod has been aware of the test results for nearly five years. The Mitchell report also said all 104 players were notified. Whom do you believe? Sorry, but Rodriguez no longer gets the benefit of the doubt.

Without the events of this past weekend, Rodriguez would have happily let the world think he was as clean as a freshly brushed home plate. After all, remember what he said when Couric asked for his reaction to the Mitchell report and its PED allegations involving then-New York Yankees teammates Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

"If anything comes of this, I will be extremely disappointed," Rodriguez said in 2007. "And it will be a huge black eye on the game of baseball."

Turns out A-Rod helped deliver the sucker punch.

On my office wall I have a framed black-and-white photograph of the late, great Chicago sportswriter Jerome Holtzman interviewing Milwaukee Braves outfielder Henry Aaron, circa 1960. Aaron, all 180 or so pounds of him, is as thin as a foul pole.

Aaron, whose playing weight never topped 190, finished his 23-year career with 755 home runs. Unlike the numbers of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and now Rodriguez, I believe in the honesty of each of those 755 dingers. I believe the only things responsible for those homers were Aaron's wrists, his Hillerich & Bradsby bats and 755 pitches that wandered too foolishly near the plate. Physics, not chemistry, did the rest.

At this point, who cares what the record book says? Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Rodriguez, Clemens … they compromised those records the nanosecond a hypodermic needle pierced their skin or a steroid cocktail oozed down their throats. Trying to quantify their numbers is like trying to catch fog with a pool skimmer.

Bonds has 762 home runs, but how many of them come with asterisks attached? In 2001, Bonds hit 73 homers, which isn't suspicious at all except that he averaged 32 fewer dingers during his previous 10 seasons and averaged 40 fewer during the previous 15 seasons.

A-Rod has 553 homers, but 47 of those were hit in 2003, the same MVP season he allegedly tested positive for testosterone and Primobolan. He hit 52 homers in 2001 and 57 more in 2002 -- the other two seasons that he admits he took PEDs. How many of those combined 156 home runs should we deduct? Half? All?

And just because Rodriguez says those are the only three years he juiced doesn't automatically make it true. You want to believe him, but A-Rod, Bonds, Clemens have made cynics of us all.

Rodriguez drove his credibility off the cliff when he lied to Couric. His 2003 steroid use escapes official punishment from Major League Baseball, but he can probably smooch the Hall of Fame goodbye. His legacy becomes no different than Bonds': cheater … liar … a naturally gifted star who couldn't resist test-tube baseball.

"Has all the tools to be future major league superstar," reads a scouting report filed on A-Rod in February 1993, four months before the Seattle Mariners made him the No. 1 pick of the amateur draft. "One of the best I have seen."

Eight years later he was taking PEDs.

As far as I'm concerned, Aaron is still the all-time home-run leader, followed by Babe Ruth and Bonds' godfather, Willie Mays. Ken Griffey Jr. is fourth -- that is, if you're willing to take the leap of faith that Junior's 20-year career is clean. I am, but with fingers crossed.

Rodriguez won't be the last ballplayer to fall on his bat. A-Rod's admission makes it easier for other players to step forward. For this, and only this, Rodriguez deserves applause.

One down, but 103 more names to go.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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