A. Rod connects, on steroids? by Mambo'Dan
I woke up the other morning with a tantalizing thought: Why do people who don't have to cheat, cheat? I later posed the question to some friends and much of this column is the result of one such conversation.
It seems I had been dreaming about Alex Rodriguez and all the other steroid/performance-enhancing drug users in major-league baseball, but apparently mostly about A-Rod, given the question that greeted my morning. Among other things, this tells me I have had it with the juicers. Especially A-Rod.
I'm a lifetime baseball fan, grew up playing it, loving it. Framed baseball cards of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle share a spot on my bedroom wall. Willie was the best, in my view, Mickey second best, probably because he wrecked his legs early in his career. Mickey was a well-known juicer, but it was booze, not steroids, he ingested. No way it improved his performance on the field.
They did not cheat. Alex Rodriguez came to the majors leagues at 19. Many touted him as a can't-miss superstar. He did not disappoint. His numbers -- baseball, if anything, is a game that reveres numbers -- started good and steadily improved. If he stayed healthy, baseball people started to say, he would surpass all the batting records of Ruth and Aaron. Just keep doing what he was doing, and stay healthy.
A-Rod hasn't been healthy the past couple of years with the Yankees. His body seems to be breaking down, a symptom of, among other things, steroid abuse. So I asked myself: Why? He was already the highest-paid player in the game, with a guaranteed contract worth close to $300 million. Surely, even in an era of more, more, more, money could not be the goal. He was regarded by many, if not most, as the best in the game. He would assuredly be the game's all-time home-run hitter if he stayed healthy. Why would he feel the need to cheat?
I can understand why other, lesser, players might have felt they needed to use steroids or other substances to improve their performances. Major-league ballplayers are paid extremely well. Overpaid, in truth. Bigger numbers bring bigger paychecks. So a Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire had plenty to gain by cheating. Players of lesser skills could guarantee a career in the majors, well-paid and pampered, so long as they could live with themselves and the knowledge that they were cheating and most of their teammates were not.
Now, understanding why players cheat is not the same as condoning it. Those who used steroids or growth hormones have created an indelible stain on the game. They have left a cloud of doubt over every player who has followed the rules (and who, incidentally, said nothing about the cheaters for many years, thereby enabling the abuse). The juicers have also made a shambles of the game's reverence for numbers. Whose numbers count? Whose are juiced? The questions are not so easily answered today.
Back to A-Rod. The questions continued. What was his motivation when, as he has admitted, he took steroids a few years ago when he played for Texas? Did he really not use them in ensuing years? Why should we believe him? Was he using performance-enhancing drugs in recent years with the Yankees -- as has been charged -- because his body was breaking down from previous steroid use? There's the catch-22. Abuse of steroids will break a body down and an athlete expected to perform at the highest level might feel the need to take more steroids to try to "repair" his body.
Did A-Rod do this? I don't know, but I suspect he did. If so, it's a self-destructive cycle he created himself. Like drug addicts, perhaps, he (and others) grew to like the way they felt on steroids and didn't have the confidence any longer to play without using some drug. Without cheating.
The ego is a fragile thing. It can ignore reality. (You're the best player; just do what you do naturally and you'll be OK.) It can create intense pressure. (The fans will only love you if you continue to be the best every day.) It can buckle under pressure, as A-Rod did in so many post-season series. (Don't fail; don't fail; they'll know you're a fraud.) A self-fulfilling prophecy.
I toy with these thoughts because, as I said, I have trouble understanding what Rodriguez had to gain by cheating. He had the talent, the money, the fame, and the superstar name. Yes, he obviously has always had an intense interest in maintaining a certain image of himself. In fact, it has seemed throughout his career that it has always been about him and his accomplishments. He's never been regarded as a great teammate.
So maybe it's that simple. Alex Rodriguez cheated because he has always been more interested in appearing to be the best, rather just doing his best. He either doubted he could live up to the designation, or just didn't care what he did to make sure people continued to think of him that way. He was totally wrapped up in himself, yet never totally believed in himself. It's not an uncommon phenomenon, even in superstars. None of it in any way justifies what he has done.
And what he has done is make a sham of a game I used to love. Yes, there are still superstars whose names remain untainted by the steroids users. A-Rod has two such teammates on the Yankees in Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki. But you know, because of the juicers, there will be some people who doubt that even those two, future hall-of-famers never used something a little extra to improve their play. It's that they never cheated.
I'm not losing any sleep over this and I still enjoy baseball. I just want A-Rod to go away and for major-league baseball to finally be serious about ending the juicing. And no, I will not put a framed Alex Rodriguez card on my wall. I don't even want one.