In February 2009, Alex Rodriguez went on television and asked for forgiveness. Two days before, he’d been revealed as a user of performing-enhancing drugs. So he sat down for an interview with Peter Gammons to tell America that those tainted days were behind him.
“I was young. I was stupid. I was naive,” Rodriguez said. “I did take a banned substance. And for that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful.”
He’d succumbed to a moment of weakness and insecurity, he explained. He was now ready to move on. He told America that he quit taking steroids in 2003.
Then again, Quit isn’t the way we roll in New York City.
A-Rod must now pay a penalty for that. On Monday, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced that the Yankee third baseman will be suspended through the end of next season. That’s 211 games’ worth. And it means he won’t take another regular-season swing for 20 months.
After Ron Artest jumped into the stands and threw haymakers at an NBA fan, he was suspended for 73 games, less than a full season. Jonathan Vilma missed 11 contests for allegedly organizing a cash pool that paid teammates for knocking opponents out of games. When Antonio Margarito was caught wearing gloves loaded with hard plaster months after bashing Miguel Cotto’s face into a bloody mask– literally risking another man’s life for an illegal competitive advantage–he was not allowed to fight in America for one year.
Baseball has been known to protect its reputation with severe punishments. Joe Jackson and Pete Rose were banned from the game for gambling on it. Although Jackson’s sentence was intended to set a precedent that would eradicate a vice that had been driving fans away from the game for years, and Rose’s simply followed suit.
Rodriguez’s punishment, however, superseded the sentences already established for steroid-users: 50 games the first time you’re caught, 100 for the second, and a lifetime ban for the third.
This was his first official offense. Selig gave reasons for the extended suspension. In addition to the league anti-doping rules, Selig used a clause in the players’ collective bargaining agreement that allows him to punish “conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of baseball.” A-Rod, he said, interfered with the league’s investigation into the Biogenesis clinic. Selig also cited Rodriguez’s “use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone over the course of multiple years.”
“Over the course of multiple years,” we know, because the results of anonymous survey tests in 2003 (which MLB was using to measure whether mandatory testing should implemented) leaked in 2009.
Back then, Rodriguez called the best possible play from public relations playbook: own up and say sorry. Americans are a forgiving people.
But, as Anthony Weiner has learned, not so much the second time around. Not when you say things like, “You basically end up trusting the wrong people. You end up, you know, not being very careful about what you’re ingesting,” or “Back then, it was a different culture. … It was such a loosey-goosey era,” or “The picture was of me, and I sent it. I’m deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my wife.” Not when you say things like that, then get caught again.
A-Rod’s presence in baseball has been uncomfortable since that confession. He is the most accomplished player still in the game. All the other legends of the Steroid Era–from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens–have moved out of sight, only popping into public discourse for court appearances or to get rejected by Hall of Fame voters. But A-Rod remains, the final remnant of those days. And, for Bud Selig, a lingering reminder of the biggest dent on his legacy.
Selig will be remembered as the commissioner who looked the other way while juiced superstars in the late ’90s helped fans forget about the 1994 strike that canceled the World Series (the previous biggest dent on Selig’s record). Now he’s seeking to make amends for a sin that may never be forgiven and will certainly never be forgotten. Like the husband who comes home with a bouquet of flowers and two tickets to Paris after he got busted with another woman.
A-Rod is the perfect fall guy. He made Bud Selig look like a fool. Here was one of the greatest players of a generation making a mockery of the testing process. Here was a man who experienced the humiliation of getting caught yet somehow still had enough hubris to try to get away with it again.
And so there was Rodriguez on Monday, in an emotional press conference, denying wrongdoing and telling us about this “nightmare,” this “toughest fight of my life.”
He refused to back down. He refused to go away.
“If I don’t defend myself,” he said, “no one will.”