Even at his most vulnerable, even when he's pleading for acceptance publicly and uncomfortably, Alex Rodriguez can't make us care. He came clean, sure, but he came clean on his terms, with just enough clumsy parsing and hazy recollections to make us imagine he unclipped his microphone and walked away from the cameras saying, "OK, everybody -- I think that went very well."
Rodriguez came clean. He admitted doing something he once vehemently denied doing, but only after being caught dead to rights. And even then, he was just vague enough and just slippery enough to make you wonder how much of an admission you were getting.
Still, for his parsed and incomplete bout of public honesty, Rodriguez immediately becomes one of the more dignified members of the all-star class of baseball's steroids users.
Yes, that's how little we expect and how easily we move someone up the charts. Our expectations for honesty and decency from these guys are so exceedingly low that Rodriguez gained respect from admitting he cheated the game by using unnamed performance-enhancing drugs that he received from God knows where. He said he used for three years, but who knows? And who cares, really? Once someone lies so easily and definitively, as Rodriguez did to Katie Couric in 2007, everything is called into question.
It's a good thing, too, because Rodriguez's forced meeting with the truth kept him from the worst and most embarrassing performance by an athlete under pressure. The first comment he gave when confronted by Sports Illustrated -- "You'll have to talk to the union" -- would have gone down as one of the wimpiest and most pathetic comments of this wimpy and pathetic chapter of baseball's history.
You'll have to talk to the union. What a shameful little sidestep.
Shameful, but perfectly in keeping with every star not named Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi or Jose Canseco. Baseball players pride themselves on being standup guys, on being macho and tough. So why is it that so many turn into sniveling, lying weasels when faced with uncomfortable truths about their own behavior?
And if they really believe taking this stuff isn't that big a deal -- and that's the impression Rodriguez gave when he talked about the "loosey-goosey" era and the "different culture" and "a lot of guys were doing a lot of stuff" -- why can't they own up to it? Why aren't they proud of it? After all, they were trying to earn their money and win the most games and give the dues-paying fans the best entertainment possible.
Really, where's the personal accountability with these guys? Where's the toughness? We can commend Rodriguez because he was more open and forthcoming than we ever could have expected, but the truth is, we expect so little. We've come to expect lying, so we accept lying.
Rodriguez might yet turn out to be the guy who clears the way for everybody to come clean. He might come to represent the much-needed tipping point that brings out the other 103 names and gets baseball past the cannabilistic steroids era.
It's easy to be skeptical of Rodriguez -- it's tough to get through the packaging -- but if we grade on the curve, he's the first real sign of hope.
In light of Rodriguez's admission, it's worth reviewing the list of greatest hits from users and alleged users of the recent past:
• Mark McGwire told a congressional hearing he wasn't there to talk about the past. Repeatedly. And then he said he would devote himself to educating children and making the world better. To no one's surprise, it's a promise he hasn't come close to fulfilling, or even starting. Unless, of course, silence will save the world.
• Rafael Palmeiro wagged his finger and lied to the same committee, and then tried to blame a positive test on his teammate Miguel Tejada. That was classy. Then Palmeiro disappeared.
• Sammy Sosa forgot how to speak English.
• Barry Bonds, a noted control freak, said he didn't know what he was putting in his body. He said he thought it was flaxseed oil. He repeatedly denied it until he became a defendant. He also showed wonderful loyalty by sitting back and letting his friend Greg Anderson do repeated jail stints to keep from testifying against him.
• Roger Clemens said he couldn't have used performance-enhancing drugs because he didn't grow a third ear. He also subscribed to the idea that volume -- especially when it is emitted from a great pitcher -- will overwhelm the truth.
Isn't this a great collection of upstanding American heroes? You know how they say sports don't build character, they reveal it? It might not be polite to say this, but what kind of people are these guys? How did Rodriguez live with himself when he was lying repeatedly for years, even if he didn't know about the positive test? And many people who know a lot about the process cast considerable doubt on whether he really was ignorant of the test results.
(By the way -- and there are many parentheticals when it comes to this -- Rodriguez is clearly confused about the legality of steroid use. Illegal in a baseball sense and illegal in a criminal, real-world sense are very different. Obtaining these steroids in the manner in which he did is as illegal as buying crack on a street corner.)
(Oh, and another thing: Was he auditioning for a GNC endorsement? After the third or fourth reference, I started to wonder.)
(And even one more other thing: Maybe we can just close the doors on the Hall of Fame. Really, if it's going to continue to be this weird obsession, looming over every the scene every time a name is released, maybe it's not worth the effort. Close it up, leave it to the old guys and call it good.)
But hey, Rodriguez came clean -- he took the blame and vowed to steer the youth of America down the right path. And wasn't there a part of you that expected Rodriguez to finish the interview by walking over to that grand piano behind Peter Gammons to play us a slow and melancholy ballad we all could hum through the tears? Maybe "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word"?
After all, if Rodriguez could have summoned his inner Elton John, he could have asked a pertinent question: What does he have to do to make us care?