Surely this latest Alex Rodriguez mea culpa is a variant of the old Pete and Repeat joke. Rodriguez apologized and what was left?
His hand-written letter “To the Fans” is a virtual echo of his Feb. 9, 2009 press conference, when Rodriguez belatedly denied his own denials of steroid use six years earlier. Properly contrite, he assured then of a road-to-Damascus conversion, welcoming the world’s judgment of his righteous actions going forward.
In his missive this week, Rodriguez segued quickly from taking “full responsibility for my mistakes” to declaring himself “ready to put this chapter behind me.”
If that doesn’t remind everyone of Yogi Berra’s redundant old line about revisiting déjà vu, it certainly conjures Oscar Wilde’s “Importance of Being Earnest.” You know, the play about protagonists maintaining fictitious personae to escape burdensome social obligations. About pretending to be a person other than oneself.
In 2009, Rodriguez buttressed his apology by insisting he had sworn off doping before joining the Yankees in 2004. And here (in my Newsday report below) was steroid expert Terry Todd’s immediate and, it turns out, thoroughly reasonable reaction:
“Anytime anyone says something like that to me, I’m always very skeptical.”
A former Olympic weightlifter who founded the center for physical culture and sports at the University of Texas and whose research includes hundreds of interviews of steroid users over several decades, Todd said then that Rodriguez “damn sure could have been taking testosterone” right up to his pubic 2009 confession.
In fact, we learned soon enough, Rodriguez damn sure was still doping at least up to 2013, when the Biogenesis scandal further slimed him. Too, there was the question, Todd said, of whether a former user of performance-enhancing drugs continues to be “advantaged over someone of equal ability and talents who never has taken any drugs at all. Most of the people I’ve discussed this with, who have wide experiences with steroids, seem to believe that you do have an advantage that never goes away.”
The theory is that, since ability in any sport is to some degree psychological, when a new level of performance is reached while doping, that new standard is “no longer a bridge too far in your mind,” Todd said. “And the fact these drugs took you to that place you couldn’t have gotten to on your own, just the fact that your muscles handled this new speed or weight means, in a physiological way, you have created perhaps subtle changes in your muscle structure, in the tendons and ligaments, that did not completely dissipate.”
To Todd, not only is that argument logical but, more to the point, “there definitely are personality types who, once they’ve experienced improvements in strength or muscle size that is greater than they felt they could have gotten [without steroids], they feel this [stronger, larger person] is them. And they are loathe to give that up.”
Sounds like our boy.
Adding to that toxic mix is whether fans can abandon their own addiction—to embracing a winner, no matter his methods. For all the talk-radio bluster now skewing toward making Yankee Stadium a No-A-Rod Zone—a reminder that Rodriguez is a truly exasperating presence for reasons beyond doping—it is worth remembering the 2013 season, when Rodriguez, playing through his pending suspension, was lustily cheered whenever he produced with his bat.
I was there, too, in early 1999, when the Knicks made a controversial trade for the disgraced Latrell Sprewell, who had been forced to sit out the previous season for attempting to choke P.J. Carlesimo, his coach with the Golden State Warriors. The very week of that Knicks’ transaction, then-Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts called Sprewell “the poster boy for bad behavior in the NBA,” and there was plenty of sentiment among Knicks’ followers that they wanted nothing to do with a bad actor such as Sprewell.
Then, in his first game as a Knick—an exhibition against the Nets—Sprewell scored 27 points. Garden fans showered him with two raucous standing ovations and, during a practice session open to the public the next day, Sprewell was the most sought-after player for autographs and adoring chit-chat.
No wonder the border between admirable athletic feats and personal goodness appears so fuzzy to a fellow like Rodriguez, the object of praise all his life for his on-the-field skills. While he certainly takes his baseball performances seriously, his continuing doping regimen—even as he was serving as a spokesman for the Taylor Hooton Foundation’s campaign against steroid use, cautioning young players against demon drugs—established his conviction that his only obligation to the public is to hit the ball over the wall. Using whatever means available.
So he has again declared himself clean and enlightened. An ongoing joke, right? A gotcha riddle. Pete and Repeat…..