Staining Names

The A-Rod rumor mill: When steroids come innuendo, logic flies out the door

The connection between Alex Rodriguez and steroids popped up all over the place late last week, best illustrated by a Daily News back-page headline Friday, "Under Suspicion." Jose Canseco says it, Chipper Jones says it, and now the New York tabloids say it: Alex Rodriguez has a connection to steroids.

The talk shows are a-talkin'! The blogs are a-buzzin'! It's all over the country: The youngest man ever to hit 500 home runs—the man who's supposed to be the hero who will relieve us in a few years of the burden of steroid-cheat Barry Bonds—now has his own drug baggage to lug around.

But what if no one actually said any of these things? Let's see if we can trace the A-Rod rumors back to their source.

Jose Canseco touched things off a couple of weeks ago, during a July 28 radio interview on a Boston radio station, when he called Rodriguez "a hypocrite . . . He's not all that he appears to be." Almost immediately after Canseco's words were transmitted via the Internet, people dove into Canseco's 2005 book Juiced to find these passages about Rodriguez: "He's . . . better at politics than any politician I've ever seen" and "the perception of Alex is that he's the clean boy—that he doesn't do anything wrong. I know some reporters don't like him because he's such a boring interview, the one guy who always gives a politically correct answer.

"So why do they keep coming back? Because they're waiting for him to make a mistake and slip up. And some day he could: he's not the saint he's perceived to be. Eventually the media will find something nasty to write about Alex Rodriguez because trust me, they're looking for it."

This is tired stuff. Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen beat Canseco to the punch more than a year ago when he called Rodriguez "a hypocrite" (for not being able to decide whether he should play for the U.S. or the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic). As for A-Rod's not being "the saint he's perceived to be," who exactly has been saying that Alex Rodriguez is a saint? Certainly not the New York media, which has found something nasty to write about him—he was at a disco with a blonde, he yelled "Ha!" and made some boob on the Toronto Blue Jays drop a ball, etc.—every month or so. Who cares?

There's a lot of petty jealousy in Canseco's comments, but no accusation of drug use. Scott Boras, Rodriguez's agent, fielded Canseco's comments cleanly: "Jose made plenty of reference to Alex in his book. He made clear what he didn't like about him. But he never mentioned anything about a connection between Alex and performance-enhancing drugs. This despite the fact that he practically gave a laundry list of other players who he said had been using them." It might be instructive to point out that Canseco is pitching a second book, titled Vindicated, for which his radio interview was a warm-up, and that dangling Alex Rodriguez's name around is a good way to get attention.

At least one player fingered by Canseco, Rafael Palmiero, tested positive for steroids, and another, Mark McGwire, refuses to deny it, thus giving Canseco some credence for linking A-Rod to PEDs— if Canseco had made the accusation. So when Chipper Jones (who doesn't seem to have read Juiced) heard about Canseco's remarks on the Boston radio show, he said that Rodriguez would likely face suspicion if he continued to make a run at Bonds's career home-run record. "I think it will follow him," Jones said on August 8. "If I had to pose a guess on A-Rod, I would say no. But I don't know. He's going to have to answer the questions. And that goes for anybody that approaches the number." Why did Jones single out A-Rod? For the simple reason that he's got the best shot at overtaking Bonds. Jones not only made no accusations, he didn't say he thought Canseco had made any.

Which brings us to Mike Lupica's column in last Friday's Daily News. Contrary to the misleading headline, "Under Suspicion," Lupica pointed out that there was no evidence at all against Rodriguez, and that Jones had merely said what everyone had been thinking since the first time Barry Bonds's name was linked to the BALCO investigation. And what we have all been thinking is that from now on, anyone who sets a new home-run record is going to be under a cloud of suspicion until proven innocent. (Lupica's whipping boy was the players' union for having so long resisted drug testing.)

So, tracing back the rumor step by step, it turns out that there's not only no evidence, but no one is saying there is. This ugly trail of innuendo, suspicion, and outright paranoia may finally be Barry Bonds's real legacy to baseball: In polluting the historical record, he's muddied the waters for everyone who follows him.

 
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