As a Red Sox fan, I’d revile Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez whether or not he used performance-enhancing drugs. I don’t like much of anything about the Yankees, but Rodriguez stands out as one of most odious characters ever to don the New York pinstripes. The notoriously insecure but talented slugger may be beautiful on the field, but he is also shallow, stupid and self-absorbed.
Still, I felt some sympathy for Rodriguez when Major League Baseball hit him with a 211-game suspension for his alleged use of PEDs. Rodriguez was one of 13 players suspended last week in connection with the league’s investigation of Biogenesis, a Miami-area anti-aging clinic that allegedly supplied players with banned substances from 2009 until last year.
Rodriguez, the only athlete in the bunch who hasn’t admitted wrongdoing (the player’s union, in fact, has filed an appeal on his behalf), received by far the most severe penalty: the other 12 players will sit out 50 games.
While the fact that the other players are not appealing their suspension may mean that MLB has evidence to justify the penalties, the fact remains that the league basically bought the evidence, agreeing to drop litigation against beleaguered Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch in exchange for his testimony. That testimony may be backed up by documentary evidence supplied by Bosch, but so far, MLB has worked hard to keep its case out of public view.
The decision to make an exception of Rodriguez is contemptible, but not because the slugger is a model of propriety. Rodriguez was one of more than 100 players who tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003; at the time, there was no penalty for a positive test. But even if Rodriguez has remained in violation of the league’s ban on PEDs, he is alone only in the level of his unpopularity. As one of the game’s most detested players, he has become an easy target for a baseball commissioner whose own reputation can never be restored. Bud Selig has fumbled every opportunity to deal with the drug issue in a fair and forthright way, helping a vastly profitable industry keep its rampant problem in the shadows. While a few players get hung out to dry, team owners and top management—people who knew perfectly well what was going on—have been allowed to skate free.
The problem of drugs in sports is too widespread to be addressed by Selig’s cat-and-mouse methods. It’s time for the commissioner, and his counterparts in other sports, to begin looking at the root causes of the doping issue. If they do that, it won’t be only athletes who find themselves on the hot seat.
Alex Rodriguez may be a cheater and a jerk, but making an exception of him does little to clean up the sport.•