Saturday, February 7, 2009

'Pay-Rod' Paying the Price

Here in Texas, when Alex Rodriguez signed his mega-million-dollar contract to play for the Texas Rangers, his nickname of "A-Rod" was immediately transformed to "Pay-Rod."

These days, he plays third base for the New York Yankees, but, earlier in his career, he was a shortstop. Shortstops are notorious for being weak hitters — typically — but Rodriguez is 12th on the all-time home run list with 553.

If he hits 47 more, he will join a very exclusive club — only half a dozen major league baseball players have hit as many as 600 home runs in their careers and, unless Rodriguez spends a lot of time on the disabled list (or is otherwise unable to play), he will easily be the youngest to achieve it. Babe Ruth was 36 when he hit his 600th home run; Rodriguez is only 33.

There may be some doubt, however, about his future in major league baseball.

Selena Roberts and David Epstein write in Sports Illustrated that Rodriguez tested positive for two steroids (testosterone and Primobolan) in 2003, when, as a shortstop for the Rangers, he won the American League home run crown and the AL Most Valuable Player award.

Kevin Kaduk writes, in "Big League Stew" for Yahoo!, that, if the report is true, it will be devastating.

I don't know if I would go that far. Some of the recent revelations about steroid use in baseball truly were devastating. I have the feeling that baseball fans are becoming accustomed to it, and some may have suspected that Rodriguez had been guilty of using steroids in the past.

Rodriguez faces no penalty or legal action because "the survey testing that took place in 2003 was intended to be non-disciplinary." It was also intended to be anonymous, so major league baseball is making no comment on the report. In 2003, there was no penalty or punishment for a positive test.

However, at the very least, the allegations will be a distracting cloud that follows Rodriguez through the 2009 season and, in all likelihood, beyond.

There may be some logical explanations about testosterone — it is available by prescription for some uses. Primobolan, however, has no approved prescription use — but it is regarded as a "weak steroid" and is typically used with other steroids.

If such an explanation exists, Rodriguez is not required to disclose it unless he decides to do so on his own. But such an explanation may be regarded with suspicion today. As Pete Gaines points out in Deadspin, Rodriguez flatly denied ever taking steroids in a 2007 interview with Katie Couric.

New York is clearly not the place where a professional athlete wants to play with this kind of controversy swirling around him. Joel Sherman writes, in the New York Post, that the Yankees must regret signing him to a new 10-year, $275 million contract in 2007, with a clause that would pay him an additional $30 million if he breaks Barry Bonds' all-time career home run mark — less than two months after he opted out of the last three years of his old contract.

There is bound to be more reaction from New York. It is a city that takes baseball very seriously. Rodriguez was expected to add to the Yankees' extensive list of World Series championships — but New York hasn't even won an American League pennant since Rodriguez has been on the roster.

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