Unlike Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and many other disgraced Steroid Era stars, Alex Rodriguez has made the correct p.r move by admitting that he did in fact use performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-2003. However, this confession does not in any way alter the reality that the Steroid Era Has Trashed MLB's Record Book. In fact, Rodriguez' remarks raise more questions than they answer. First, though, here are some important facts to keep in mind:
1) Regardless of when MLB banned steroids or what punishments the union collectively bargained in negotiations with the owners, using steroids without a proper medical prescription has been illegal in the United States since 1990.
2) Anabolic steroids were added to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act in 1990. Therefore, using them without a proper medical prescription is a federal crime punishable by up to seven years in prison.
3) Although MLB did not institute a punishment mechanism for steroid users until 2004, the sport banned steroids in 1991.
Thus, all of MLB's steroid cheaters in the Steroid Era have violated both federal law and a ban implemented by the sport itself--do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Rodriguez says that he used steroids because of the pressure he felt to live up to the 10 year, $252 million contract he signed with the Texas Rangers in 2001: "When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure, felt all the weight of the world on top of me to perform and perform at a high level every day. Back then, it was a different culture. It was very loose. I was young, I was stupid, I was naive and I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth, you know, being one of the greatest players of all time. And I did take a banned substance. For that, I'm very sorry and deeply regretful. And although it was the culture back then in major league baseball overall...it was very...I just feel that...I'm just sorry. I'm sorry for that time, I'm sorry to my fans, I'm sorry to my fans in Texas. It wasn't until then that I thought about substance of any kind, and since then I've proved to myself and to everyone that I don't need any of that."
The idea that Rodriguez illegally enhanced his performance because he was "young" and "naive" does not wash. He was hardly some innocent babe in the woods by that time; he was a 25 year old, eight season MLB veteran who consciously made a bad decision to illegally enhance his performance--and the steroids clearly worked: in 2000 he hit 41 home runs but in the next three years he blasted a career-high 52, a new career-high 57 and then 47, which still ranked as the third best total of his career at that time. He won his first AL MVP in 2003, the third year of his admitted steroid use. In 2004, when Rodriguez claims that he discontinued his steroid use, he dropped to 36 home runs and had his lowest slugging percentage and on base percentage since 1999. SportsIllustrated.com reports that the new contract that Rodriguez signed with the Yankees in November 2007 guarantees him a $6 million bonus for each time he ties one of the top four players on MLB's all-time home run list (Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds), with an additional $6 million for passing Bonds. If he sets the all-time career home run record then that amounts to a $30 million reward for at least three years of illegal activity that boosted his production! I don't care how many speeches Rodriguez gives about the evils of steroid use, if he collects more cash for his cheating than the average lottery winner then how much impact will his words have? He is poised to earn a fortune as the fruits of committing a federal crime.
Rodridguez' confession is a good p.r. move but his story has holes in it. He claims that he does not even know exactly what substances he took. Call that the "flaxseed oil" defense; it has not worked for Bonds and it should not work for Rodriguez. No one should believe that an elite level athlete does not know exactly what substances he eats, ingests and/or injects.
Although the MLB steroid testing results from 2004 were supposed to be confidential, now that Rodriguez' name is out and he has confirmed that he did take steroids, MLB and the Players Association should agree to release the names of the other 103 players who flunked drug tests. Otherwise, a cloud of suspicion hangs over several hundred players from that era who were clean.
ESPN's Peter Gammons asked Rodriguez if admitted steroid users should be inducted in the Hall of Fame but Rodriguez essentially avoided the question by saying that he has been clean for many years now and that by the time he has retired the bulk of his numbers will have been put up outside of the three seasons that he admits are tainted. Frankly, that just doesn't cut it. He has already admitted to breaking the law, cheating the sport and then lying about it, so we cannot know for certain that he only did steroids for three years and/or that he is not taking undetectable illegal substances now. Also, there is evidence that steroid use elevates performance even after athletes stop using the drug, which has raised the issue of whether steroid users should be banned for life.