It has become a familiar ritual of spring training in Tampa: a New York Yankees star tries to set the record straight about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. It may be a confession or an apology, or both, or not really either.
Jason Giambi went first, back in 2005. He said "sorry" so many times he wore the word out, but remarkably never said what he was sorry about. (We, of course, already knew because leaked grand-jury transcripts in the BALCO case had revealed that he had used a panoply of illegal drugs.) (Article continued below...)
Last year was Andy Pettitte's spotlight moment and he detailed his drug use and his regrets for almost an hour and in such revealing and self-lacerating fashion that it was almost more than reporters could bear.
But now those seem like off-off-Broadway productions. This year, after revelations that he took steroids during three seasons with the Texas Rangers, it was Alex Rodriguez's turn for a center-stage solo. And like almost every public moment involving A-Rod, it was remarkable. Most remarkable was how he failed to admit any true wrongdoing, was decidedly short on the apologies and, ultimately, made his misadventures the centerpiece of a plea for every kid to go to college in order to get a chance to grow up.
You see, Alex, sadly, never went to college with "an opportunity to grow up at my own pace." As a teen he passed on a University of Miami scholarship to sign with the Seattle Mariners on his way to becoming the highest-paid player in baseball history. Never mind that he was already in his mid-20s when he jumped to the Rangers and says he began to use steroids. During those three seasons in Texas, when he was injected with a substance that, in 2003, resulted in a positive test for a banned substance, he was "young," "naive," "an idiot," "ignorant," "irresponsible," but apparently not—in his own mind then or now—a cheat.
Rodriguez offered some new details, however sketchy, of his … I guess he'd prefer we call it a "stupid mistake." He said a cousin, whom he chose not to identify, obtained an over-the-counter drug in the Dominican Republic—one reputed to provide an "energy boost." The same cousin, according to Rodriguez, would inject him with it a couple of times every six months. A-Rod insists he never knew exactly what he was taking, exactly how he should take it, what effect it had or whether it was illegal. His only acknowledgement that he had an inkling that he'd crossed some line was his wink-and-a-nod remark: "I knew we weren't taking Tic Tacs."
A-Rod's press-conference performance was heavy on evasion and contradiction and, ultimately, hard for anyone beyond those who have a vested interest to accept as credible. Rodriguez is one of those my-body-is-a-temple narcissists who, even at this moment couldn't resist boasting about how he bench-pressed more than 300 pounds as a high-school football player. Yet he wants you to believe he let himself be injected with a random substance in a random fashion with no clear result—and kept it up for several years. He wants you to believe that, while he didn't know it was illegal or cheating, he took pains to keep it secret. And he wants you to believe that not only was he unaware of any other ballplayer in Texas who used drugs, but that he never even heard them mentioned.
Even Rodriguez seemed aware that this story, presumably stitched together with the help of a bevy of lawyers and public-relations experts, didn't exactly hang together. Each time a questioner braced him with one of the more obvious holes in his tale, A-Rod would salute the reporter with a "good question," a slight stall to prepare his next evasion and contradiction.
He conveniently quit using steroids before ever donning a Yankee uniform (as well as at a date for which the statute of limitations shields him). He says he halted the injections for two reasons: because he was scared by a neck injury, though most everyone knows that steroids often abet recovery; and because Major League Baseball was beginning drug tests so even if he didn't know he was cheating, he at least knew it was serious business. OK, maybe he knew what he was doing "potentially could be something that was wrong."
Now he has finally fulfilled all that potential and "feels poorly for what I did." He also seems to believe that now that his secret is out—and he couldn't even admit that he would never have fessed up had Sports Illustrated not revealed his test failure—the problem is blessedly behind him. That was, after all, six years ago and we have his word for that. Of course, we've had his word before and it hasn't proved to be gospel. It wasn't really lying, though, but rather a failure to be honest with himself. Now, finally, he's straight with himself and, he assures us, with us too. "I'm glad it's past me," he said. "It's great to be moving forward."
Despite his cockeyed optimism—he also assured fans that "it will be the best season of my life"—it's unlikely that this performance succeeded in putting anything behind him (except, perhaps in some cartoons, a well-positioned needle.) Giambi managed to put the issue largely behind him because the grand-jury transcripts were so nakedly honest that the truth was out there. Pettitte put his problems behind him because most everyone believed, rightly or wrongly, that he had revealed all and that it hurt him worse than it hurt us.
While A-Rod's performance was riveting, nobody seems to have found him the least bit credible. He apparently doesn't care. He seems to believe that winning will take care of any distress about his involvement with drugs, his accountability and his honesty. But neither winning—after all, he's aimed for that before—nor healing is assured. Truth, in victory or defeat, is actually a superior balm. "When you're young and stupid, you're young and stupid," he said, hoping that would serve as the epitaph on this issue. But all he demonstrated was that you can be 33 years old and stupid, too. Perhaps somebody should tell A-Rod that it's never too late to go to college.