Commentary

A-Rod answers questions, raises more

Originally Published: February 17, 2009
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- His friends told him the truth would set him free. But is that what Alex Rodriguez told Tuesday?

The truth? The whole truth? And nothing but the truth?

Ehhhhh … it didn't feel that way.

Let's start with this: He sure didn't tell the same story Tuesday that he told to Peter Gammons a week and a half ago. Did he? Nine days ago, A-Rod didn't know what kind of drug (or drugs) he was taking -- even though he says he took it for three years.

Now, nine days later, he knows it was something called "boli." Which, best we can tell, is another name for Primobolan, the exact drug he was asked point-blank by Gammons whether he had taken.

Alex Rodriguez
AP Photo/Mary AltafferAlex Rodriguez hoped to walk away from this steroids mess after Tuesday's sit-down with the media. That is probably wishful thinking.

Nine days ago, there wasn't one word uttered about any mysterious cousins who were procuring this stuff and helping him inject it. Now, it's time to start poring over his family tree to try to figure out which cousin it was.

Nine days ago, A-Rod was implying that whatever he was taking, he was buying it down at the mall, presumably while he was waiting for an Auntie Anne soft pretzel to come out of the oven.

Now, he's admitting his cousin was the one doing the purchasing. And although he continued to say this drug was bought "over the counter," we now know that counter was located in the Dominican Republic, not outside his friendly neighborhood food court.

Nine days ago, there was no mention of any other "substances." But on Tuesday, Rodriguez admitted to ESPN's Hannah Storm that he also used to take Ripped Fuel, which was later banned -- at least in its original ephedra-based form -- by both baseball and the FDA.

And nine days ago, Rodriguez was angrily accusing universally respected Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts of "stalking" him. Now, it turns out, he just had a "misunderstanding of the facts." So never mind.

Now let me ask you: Would a man whose mission was simply to tell the truth do that much zigzagging in a nine-day span? Sorry. That's tough to accept.

Let's say this about A-Rod's 33-minute performance under the Yankees' big tent: We all said we wanted more information from him this time than we got in his ESPN sit-down. And he definitely gave us more.

But how come every time he gives us an answer, he also seems to leave us with another question?

As he walked away from the podium Tuesday, all I could imagine was this scene: Investigative reporters all across America racing for the nearest airport to start tracking down Cousin Whatsisname.

Or jetting to the Dominican to trace how easy it is to buy "boli" and sneak it across the border, repeatedly, for three years.

Or heading for the local chemistry lab to find some scientist who could tell us whether it's possible for a guy to take "boli," then test positive for both Primobolan and testosterone (which, from initial appearances, it isn't).

I like more when he carries it that he was stupid. Rather than young and naive, it was stupid. It was a bad decision that may cost him on so many levels.

-- Yankees GM Brian Cashman

And those are probably just the topics that came up in the first four minutes of Tuesday's "Inside Edition" story meeting.

So what we've got here, friends, is trouble -- for a man who didn't need any more trouble.

What Rodriguez most needed to accomplish Tuesday was some semblance of closure. Instead, he merely unleashed a whole new set of story lines. So if he thinks this is over, oops. Just wait a day.

But there are other important areas where A-Rod failed the credibility test Tuesday.

For instance, try to glue all these quotations together into one coherent, consistent thought:

• He said at one point that whatever he took, whatever his cousin was injecting into his body, he "didn't think they were steroids."

• But he was still so terrified of anyone finding out, it was "one of those things you try not to share with anyone."

• For "all these years," he said at another point, "I really didn't think I did anything wrong."

• Yet just minutes later, he said: "I knew I wasn't taking Tic Tacs. I knew it was something that could perhaps be wrong."

OK, everybody following that?

One minute, he's continuing to insist he had no idea he had tested positive -- or, apparently, done anything wrong -- until this story broke. The next, he's grateful that this confession was allowing him to lift the boulder on his shoulder he's been carrying around for eight years. So which is it, exactly? I'm confused. And I'm not alone.

Of course, part of the problem is that this guy has never been mistaken for Winston Churchill, or even Bob Costas. Even his general manager, Brian Cashman, admitted, frankly, that "Alex is not very good at communicating, to be quite honest."

And not just when he's trying to explain away his steroid adventures to reporters from Toronto to Tallahassee, either.

"If anybody has ever been in that clubhouse and seen Alex trying to talk to successes or failures in the baseball arena, he's not very good at it," Cashman said. "So I do think there's a degree of difficulty for him going into this circumstance."

True. No doubt. Nevertheless, the GM didn't sound as if he was fully on board with his third baseman's entire spin cycle, either.

[+] EnlargeA-Rod News Conference
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPlenty of people were on hand to hear A-Rod speak. Did they leave with enough answers or just more questions?

For instance, I'm not sure when the statute of limitations runs out on being "young and naive." But age 25 is definitely pushing it. And when Cashman was asked whether he thought "young and naive" was an acceptable excuse in this case, he didn't whip out his tap shoes.

"I like more when he carries it that he was stupid," the GM said. "Rather than young and naive, it was stupid. It was a bad decision that may cost him on so many levels."

And on that, we're agreed. What this man did, considering all it could cost him, was the height of stupidity. But Cashman's most revealing answer came when he was asked whether he "regrets" handing Rodriguez a 10-year, $270 million contract just a year and change ago.

It's a good bet that 29 out of 30 general managers in baseball would have replied: "No. Of course not. He's still the most talented player in the game, and we're glad he's on our side." Or something like that.

Instead, here's how this GM, at his refreshing best, answered that question:

"Well, we're not in a position to go backwards on this. The position we're in is to try to move forward and make sure that we can help him get through this. We've got nine years of Alex remaining. … We've invested in him as an asset. And because of that, this is an asset that is going through a crisis. So we'll do everything we can to protect that asset and support that asset and try to salvage that asset."

Yikes. So that's what this has come to now?

The man who was once seen as the best player on earth, the man who was once viewed as the guy who could save his sport, is now, essentially, just another troubled asset in the Steinbrenners' portfolio? And these next nine years fall under the category of "salvaging that asset"?

Whew. Is that one powerful commentary on how the Yankees have been rocked by this tsunami or what?

Later, Cashman said, "If you want to use the analogy that this is Humpty Dumpty, we've got to put it back together again."

And they do. Do they ever. What they don't know is exactly how broken this Humpty is, or exactly how much Super Glue it's going to take to put him back together.

But hey, at least they have a whole spring training ahead of them to find out.

And then only nine more years of this fun after that.

We don't know yet how to measure whether they'll look back on those nine years as the greatest Yankees asset-reclamation project ever or as the tanker spill that keeps on spilling. But here's one way they can measure it:

The less they have to parade their third baseman into the tent they led him to Tuesday, we can safely say, the better off both team and player will be.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com