The news that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003 hit MLB like an Ivan Drago punch to the gut. Rodriguez was supposed to be the new poster boy for baseball, the cornerstone upon which the sport could rebuild its image after the devastation caused by Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and the rest of the Juicers. A-Rod was going to take down every record that Bonds set, removing the tarnished numbers and replacing them with those of an honest, hardworking player who did it the right way. Sure Rodriguez is no Hank Aaron, but fans would have much rather seen him atop the all-time homerun list than Bonds. A-Rod was supposed to go on and hit 800+ homeruns, a number that would have stood without an asterisk–until now.
Now, every player in the game is guilty until proven innocent. Unless the players union releases the other 103 names that were on the list, (the players who tested positive in ‘03 along with A-Rod) there will be a cloud of suspicion every time a ball leaves the park. Rodriguez was going to be the one to clean up the mess that the steroid era left behind, but now all he has done is fan the flames. With Bonds on trial, Roger Clemens facing the possibility of perjury charges and now the game’s best player admitting he used PEDs, baseball has some major work to do to restore its image. The sport has recovered from scandals in the past like the rigged 1919 World Series or the cancelled World Series in 1994, but what saved baseball both those times–the homerun. Babe Ruth slugging longballs into the upperdeck helped fans forget about the Black Sox and McGwire and Sosa did the same in 1998. But how can the homerun save baseball again if fans doubt the legitimacy of every player who steps up to the plate?
A-Rod did the right thing by admitting his use of PEDs in an interview with Peter Gammons, but he dodged so many questions that people will have a difficult time believing anything he says from now on. Players like Jason Giambi and Andy Pettite have recovered from admitting to the use of steroids, but they were no where near as high profile as Rodriguez, and neither one was poised to break the most hallowed records in baseball. McGwire clearly suffered from his refusal to talk about the past and Rafael Palmeiro did even more damage to his reputation after lying before congress, and then trying to sell out his teammate.
Will fans be able to forgive A-Rod and embrace him like they did with those other players, or will he be showered with Bronx Cheers every time he goes deep? Rodriguez has the potential to play for 8-10 more seasons and, by the time he retires, will fans have simply forgotten about this 15-year-old mistake? Not likely, if he is the new homerun king; numbers mean more to baseball fans than followers of any other sport. But does he deserve to suffer this much abuse when steroid abuse was likely more widespread during the 1990s and early 2000s than anyone wants to believe?
Alex Rodriguez was likely to leave the game as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players of all time. At only 33 he is already a 12-time All-Star, 3 time MVP (2003, 2005, 2007) and the youngest ever to reach 500 homeruns. He has won 2 Gold Gloves and also swiped 283 bases, making him one of the best 5-tool players ever. But none of that matters anymore. Even if A-Rod did only use steroids during his three year stint in Texas (during which he hit the most home runs in any 3-year-span of his career: 156) everything he has accomplished is viewed as tainted, and if voting trends continue involving suspected steroid users, Rodriguez probably won’t be joining Hank Aaron in Cooperstown. A-Rod could go on to hit 1000 HRs, but it will never change what he did, and how he cheated the game.
The mighty have fallen in baseball, the game’s golden boy knocked suddenly and unexpectedly from his pedestal. Is there anyone left to inherit his crown? Will any star ever again be free of scrutiny and suspicion? The damage A-Rod did to himself may one day be repaired, but what he has done to the entire sport of baseball will linger forever…
Career Stats: http://www.baseball-reference.com/r/rodrial01.shtml