Friday, February 13, 2009

The Only A-Rod Discussion I'll Ever Have

Sorry for a few blank days. I've been traveling and hanging out with John McCain and NBA All-Stars in Phoenix. My computer has the battery power of a 46-year old unplugged Atari system. And I haven't been able to steal any free internet yet to log-on anywhere. 

Those issues aside, I've done a LOT of thinking about Alex Rodriguez. I threw a javelin through my TV screen at home on Tuesday because I couldn't take it anymore. Every time I turned on the TV, I saw A-Rod. Or Peter Gammons melting face. Or Stephen A. Smith's. Or Skip Bayless' worthless mug. It all culminated with me picking up the javelin I had since 7th grade track season and chucking it through the TV screen when Roy Oswalt suggested that all of A-Rod's numbers should be voided because it gives farm-jockey's like him a bad reputation.

I'm not going to say much on the issue. I have a few opinions and then I'm going to move on. There's a lot more worthy stuff to give a crap about in this world than A-Rod and his steroids. 

It's a shame this whole thing came out because it's a total pain in the ass for Major League Baseball. Just when MLB thought it was moving on, this had to happen. Barry Bonds was going to be guilty of being a human trash pile, Roger Clemens was going to be forgotten, and Spring Training was going to start, fresh off of a great MLB Postseason. Then some righteous prick got a hold of some startling information. 

Look, no one that isn't a professional athlete can understand the pressures these guys go through. Not Stuart Scott, not Katie Couric, not Buster Olney, not anyone. When your thrust onto a stage of millions, asked to perform at extremely high levels, and asked to give up your privacy, you can get stressed. I know, these guys choose this path, but it's not like there's a better option. 

Play sports and have your face recognized by millions the world over, just so your family and your kids' kids can be financially set for the next 200 years? That's not a bad proposition is it? Would you do it? You say you would, sure. Everyone that hasn't had to do it would gladly give up their silly desk job to make $8 million a year to play baseball. But it's not that easy.

Just for a second, look at it from A-Rod's perspective. At the age of 25 (what were you doing at 25?), you sign the largest contract in SPORTS HISTORY, for $252 million. And don't fault him for taking that money. Tell me one thing in the world you wouldn't do for $252 million? There's nothing out there. That money GUARANTEES your family security for centuries. 

Add to that A-Rod's propensity for self-image issues and you find yourself in a bad spot. Look around the league, where drug use is rampant, including in your own clubhouse (see Rafael Palmeiro), and tell me that taking steroids doesn't seem like a bad option? Steroids has never killed anyone. It makes you bigger, leaner, and stronger. It's not quite as illegal as it is today, so why not? You have the pressure of the entire sports world sitting on your 25-year old shoulders and a few non-lethal drugs are sitting there to help make the world less stressful. I bet more than one of us would have taken them. 

It's a bad choice. I'm not defending him. He made this choice and now it's cost him everything he's worked so hard to build. A-Rod was a phenomenal player before this ever happened. He was offered a baseball and (starting QB) football scholarship to the University of Miami. He turned that down and was a 1st-Round Pick of the Seattle Mariners at the age of 17.  In his first full season in the bigs he had the highest AL batting average for a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio in 1939. At 23 he was the third MLB player to join the 40-40 club and at 24 he hit another 42 home runs despite missing 30 games. At 25, he joined the Rangers.

Alex has always been image-conscience. Much has been written about A-Rod's "obsession" with Derek Jeter. Looking at Jeter, A-Rod always saw a guy who is so cool, so collected, and so outgoing with the media. A-Rod saw how Jeter still never let it effect his job on the field. A-Rod has never been able to feel that comfortable within himself. That's where the steroids must have helped. 

It's unfortunate Alex never got the kind of prodding I got from my mom on a daily basis. She would always say, "Who cares what other people think about you." No one ever prodded that into A-Rod's head. You would have hoped that the fact that he averaged 40 home runs, a .300+ batting average, and over 100 rbi's a season before the age of 25 might have done it. Instead, Alex felt compelled to go from those averages to 50 home runs and 130 rbi's a season. And look where is today.

Marvin Miller, the respected famous founder of MLB's Player Union, offered this on the A-Rod shenanigans. "Not one but two surgeons general have said that tobacco use is the worst cause of death in the U.S. that can be prevented -- we lose 400,000 people a year to tobacco-related incidents and over time it runs into the millions. Yet not only do we not outlaw tobacco, but the U.S. Congress keeps giving subsidies to the tobacco industry and everybody sits back and smiles. On the other hand, there's not one single documented death from the use of steroids. So that's a hypocritical lie."

As for the media, Miller said, "A kid who wants to be professional athlete reads the sports pages or watches ESPN and is told over and over again, "These are performance-enhancing drugs. Take these and you can be Barry Bonds or A-Rod or Roger Clemens. The media, without evidence, keeps telling young people, 'All you have to do to be a famous athlete with lots of money is take steroids."

Therein lies our problems. A-Rod was an incredible baseball player before he took steroids. He's been an incredible baseball player since he stopped taking steroids. If I started taking steroids, I couldn't begin to do the things that A-Rod did. Barry Bonds was a great baseball player before he started taking steroids. He was a 30HR-50SB guy that turned into a 60HR-7SB guy. Steroids do not make the player. Steroids enhance the player. 

It shocked people to see A-Rod admit the usage because everyone always labeled him the hardest working, most talented baseball player they ever saw. It hurt people's feelings. Baseball doesn't need to go through this black eye again. Take A-Rod's 2001-03 statistics away if you want. Don't label the man as invisible for everything else he's done. He admitted to something that he didn't have to admit to. It was supposed to be a confidential survey that helped baseball face its problems. A-Rod came out, admitted his wrongs and will now try and move on. America has been somewhat kind to those who admit their mistakes. We all make them...just not on this kind of stage.

I don't justify what Alex Rodriguez did. It's disappointing and sad. The pressures these athletes face are something we won't fully comprehend. C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira just had a load of pressure taken off their new Yankee shoulders. As for Alex, he has always despised and hated pressure. He now faces more pressure than he ever has before.

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