Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Alex Rodriguez: MLB's "Joe Isuzu"

In the late 1980s, "Joe Isuzu" (who was played by actor David Leisure) made outlandish statements about Isuzu cars while assuring viewers, "You have my word on it." Listening to Alex Rodriguez talk about his use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), one cannot help but think of "Joe Isuzu." The two most important things to remember about Rodriguez are (1) he is a criminal (using steroids without a proper prescription is a violation of federal law) and (2) for several years he has been a bold faced liar about his criminal activities; obviously, committing a crime and lying often go hand in hand but when considering whether or not to believe Rodriguez now it must not be forgotten that he has a lot of practice being a liar in front of TV cameras and members of the media.

Jayson Stark provides an important account of the inconsistencies and omissions in Rodriguez' recent public remarks:

What Rodriguez most needed to accomplish Tuesday was some semblance of closure. Instead, he merely unleashed a whole new set of story lines. So if he thinks this is over, oops. Just wait a day.

But there are other important areas where A-Rod failed the credibility test Tuesday.

For instance, try to glue all these quotations together into one coherent, consistent thought:

• He said at one point that whatever he took, whatever his cousin was injecting into his body, he "didn't think they were steroids."

• But he was still so terrified of anyone finding out, it was "one of those things you try not to share with anyone."

• For "all these years," he said at another point, "I really didn't think I did anything wrong."

• Yet just minutes later, he said: "I knew I wasn't taking Tic Tacs. I knew it was something that could perhaps be wrong."

OK, everybody following that?

One minute, he's continuing to insist he had no idea he had tested positive--or, apparently, done anything wrong--until this story broke. The next, he's grateful that this confession was allowing him to lift the boulder on his shoulder he's been carrying around for eight years. So which is it, exactly? I'm confused. And I'm not alone.

Rodriguez claims that he used PEDs because he was "young and naive" but he was already a 25 year old, seven year MLB veteran in 2001, the first year that he admits taking PEDs. He certainly was old enough and savvy enough to know that what he was doing was illegal and wrong. Why else would he have covered this up for years and lied about it multiple times? Rodriguez' power numbers shot up during the time frame in which he has admitted using PEDs (2001-03), dipped in 2004 but then spiked in 2005 and 2007. Why should we not suspect that he switched to using undetectable PEDs during those years? Also, some research suggests that PED users enjoy permanent competitive advantages that persist even if they stop taking the drugs.

Unless MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is forced to act (whether by Congress, fans or some other outside entity) he will never do anything about this but what he should do is take a page out of the playbook used by the Olympics and by the governing bodies in track and field: at a minimum, Rodriguez should be stripped of the three Silver Slugger awards and one MVP that he received in 2001-03--and MLB should give serious consideration to erasing his home runs, RBI and other statistics from those years. One complicating factor is that in track and field it is easy to expunge one individual's stats without affecting the stats of other competitors but if Rodriguez' stats are expunged then there is the matter of what to do with the stats compiled by the pitchers who faced him. Frankly, I'm not sure how to completely fix this mess--but I absolutely and without hesitation can say that Rodriguez does not deserve his 2003 MVP and 2001-03 Silver Sluggers any more than Marion Jones deserved the Olympic medals that were stripped from her.

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