Rogers' crime won't be forgotten anytime soon

Kenny Rogers was diplomatic in speaking to the media Monday, but still faces a long road back to normalcy.

Originally Published: July 11, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Bud Selig wanted to see Kenny Rogers at this All-Star Game about as much as he wanted to see this game end in a tie.

Bud Selig wanted to see Kenny Rogers at this All-Star Game about as much as he wanted to see that Congressional steroid committee heading for his box seat.

You can take our word on that.

The commish himself, of course, hasn't said that, wouldn't say that, couldn't say that.

Kenny Rogers
Rogers

But the truth is, he didn't have to say that.

"Anyone who knows me has a pretty good idea how I feel about this matter," Selig said Monday, when another barrage of Kenny Rogers landed in his commissionerial lap.

OK, let's see now. Who was it that personally decided to hand Rogers that 20-day suspension? Was it Sandra Day O'Connor? How 'bout Kennesaw Mountain Landis?

No sir. It was Allan H. "Bud" Selig. And that will about do it for the gigantic-clue portion of this discussion.

Nevertheless, Selig said Monday, he never attempted to talk to Rogers or his agent last week to provide any helpful advice on what an honorable man should have done about an All-Star Game invitation when he was looking at a 20-day suspension.

But why not? What stopped the commish? That's the big question. And it's not that simple an answer.

One reason, Selig suggested, was that he had no real power to keep Rogers from doing whatever the heck he wanted to do about this game.

"He was voted in by the players," the commish said. "We have an agreement with the players. And that agreement has to be honored."

But that wasn't all there was to it. How could it be?

Friends of the commissioner said he was dying to tell Rogers exactly where to spend his All-Star break. But everyone who knows Rogers was advising Selig that the harder he tried to push, the more determined Rogers would be to do exactly the opposite of what the world wanted him to do. And even Rogers himself didn't deny that Monday.

Rogers confirmed that no one from Major League Baseball had contacted him to attempt to discourage him from coming. And the smile on his face suggested that if anyone had, that would have been a realllll bad idea.

"If someone would have, I would have been open to listening," Rogers said, as diplomatically as possible.

Then, however, he paused to grope for the right words to express how that conversation might have been received.

"But," Rogers said, finally, "I'm a little on the stubborn side."

Bingo. And from all indications, in the end, it was that fabled stubborn side that propelled him onto that airplane Sunday and right into Major League Baseball's All-Star lap.

Rogers was even more blunt later, saying he "wasn't interested in listening to people who don't know me." And by that, he apparently meant just about the entire world -- except for those players who voted for him and those compassionate Texans who rewarded his camera-shoving rampage with a standing ovation Saturday.

Asked if he was conscious of the national drumbeat of folks who wanted him nowhere near this game, Rogers said: "I wasn't that conscious of it. Everyone has their own opinion of what I should and shouldn't do. For me, it was about trying to do what was right for me. And I thought I should be here."

So there he was, all right. In his blue-and-orange All-Star uniform with his name on the back. Shagging his share of fly balls. Yukking it up with his All-Star teammates. Basking in that All-Star glow as best he could.

But that was the part of Rogers' All-Star experience anyone could have seen coming. What happened earlier in the day, though, was a part just about nobody saw coming.

Early Monday afternoon, the 64 All-Star players were herded into a ballroom at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn for a one-hour media "availability." Players are expected to be there, but they are not required to be there.

And once again, not surprisingly, several All-Stars managed to find something else to do: Roger Clemens. Manny Ramirez. Shea Hillenbrand. Luis Castillo.

But the surprise wasn't in who wasn't there. It was in who was.

" I know [speaking to the media] is something I don't have to do, and I know some people don't. But I didn't think it would benefit anyone, or benefit me, not to be here and answer whatever questions anyone has. Other people can do whatever they think is appropriate. But I'm just trying to find the right thing to do for me. "
-- Kenny Rogers

When the doors opened shortly after 12:30 p.m., there was Rogers, sitting at his personal little interview booth, ready for all that came his way.

It might have been a bigger All-Star shocker than Clemens giving up six runs in the first inning last year.

We don't think Rogers has done much of anything right over the last couple weeks. But on this front, he deserves a lot of credit.

He answered every question asked. He was civil. He was accountable. He was apologetic. He let every minicam roll in peace without once attempting to fire it across Lake Erie.

"I know this is something I don't have to do, and I know some people don't," he said. "But I didn't think it would benefit anyone, or benefit me, not to be here and answer whatever questions anyone has. Other people can do whatever they think is appropriate. But I'm just trying to find the right thing to do for me."

Rogers didn't offer a lot of specifics about what set him off last month. But when a questioner alluded to leaks that had somehow seeped out of the Texas front office over the winter -- leaks that revealed he'd threatened not to come to spring training if the Rangers didn't extend his contract -- Rogers didn't deny that was one of the factors that caused him to get a whole lot less media-friendly.

"There were a lot of things going on that I couldn't control," he said. "And that was one of them. Unfortunately, there were some opinions out there, and I paid too much attention to them."

Rogers admitted he was "frustrated" by some of the stuff being said about him in the media -- "but whatever happens, I have to rise above the situation, and I understand that," he said. "I got drug down into it, and that's my own fault. Whatever happens, I should rise above it."

By showing up to answer those questions, he clearly hoped to demonstrate to the world that he was not some Dennis Rodman-type madman. And the fact is, he hasn't been.

He said a thousand times he wasn't the kind of guy who believes in using the media for any form of self-promotion. But as long as he was talking, he couldn't help using the occasion to plead his case just a little bit.

"One incident can't overshadow a 24-year career," he said. "Anybody who has been around me knows the type of guy I am and what makes me tick."

There's only one problem with that defense, though:

It's wrong.

One incident can overshadow a 24-year career. And the fact is, in Rogers' case it has. And it will take some major damage control to undo what's been done.

Had he donated his $50,000 bonus to charity, that might have helped. But there's no indication he's done that.

Had he followed the advice of one GM -- that he deliver a message to the people of Detroit that he would bow out of the game only if he was replaced by hometown ace Jeremy Bonderman -- that at least would have won him a ton of points in the old 313 area code. But unfortunately, he didn't do that, either.

MLB even looked into ways to keep him from coming, sources said. It looked for precedents that might have kept previous suspended players out of previous All-Star Games -- but never did find any.

So Selig said all those people who were grumbling over MLB's failure to hear Rogers' appeal before the All-Star Game simply "misunderstood" the facts.

"Yes, the suspension is under appeal," Selig said. "But when I say that, I remind you it's a suspension for a regular-season offense. So it's applied only to regular-season games. It doesn't apply to the All-Star Game, and it wouldn't have in any case."

So there was only one course of action that could have kept the commissioner from having to spend his All-Star Monday answering questions about his least-favorite 40-year-old left-hander. And that would have been a decision by that 40-year-old left-hander himself to stay out of the way of baseball's best midsummer show.

That isn't how it turned out, though, obviously. So the game will go on. The bad boy from Texas will be introduced. The boos will fill the night. And then we'll all move on to the next big blockbuster to come our way.

But there will be no moving on for Rogers. He's stuck in a really bad moment, and he can't get out of it.

Sure, his I'll-show-you journey to Selig's All-Star Game might make him feel better. But the bet here is that it will do more to remind America of his crime than it will to make America forget.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE