Baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez will be benched for a long time. Whether the Yankees third baseman becomes one of the game’s infamous few to receive a lifetime ban or he negotiates a deal that sees him sit out the rest of this season and all of next, Rodriguez’s playing career is effectively over.
The 38-year-old is among a number of players linked to South Florida’s Biogenesis of America, the game’s latest performance-enhancing drug scandal. The company’s client list is the game’s latest legacy-tarnishing roster – joining the Mitchell Report and the BALCO client list for that dubious distinction.
As irrelevant as that seems, American sports fans are willing to forgive athlete transgressions based largely on two things: how good a player is in the game and how affable a player is away from it. Rodriguez unquestionably excelled at the first, but the latter has been elusive.
- Maria Burns Ortiz
Even if Rodriguez works out a deal to avoid a lifetime ban, he will probably never return to the field given his age. A sad testament to the impact of more than a decade’s worth of doping headlines, the reality is if Rodriguez did return at nearly 40 and met with any measure of success, the majority of fans’ initial reaction would be to assume he was using PEDs.
Whether Rodriguez makes the Hall of Fame, an honor for which he was once considered a first-ballot inductee, will depend on a dramatic, near 180-degree shift in the attitudes of voters. Given the current sentiment, induction into Cooperstown certainly seems unlikely. A positive end for Rodriguez’s playing career is a long shot.
Rodriguez is unquestionably one of the most talented players to play the game. The accolades he accumulated during his 19-year career are proof: three Most Valuable Player Awards, 14-time All-Star, 10 Silver Slugger Awards, a pair of Gold Gloves and a World Series ring, just to name a few.
He’s also one of the richest. Rodriguez has been the recipient of the two biggest contracts in MLB history, signing for $252 million with the Texas Rangers and renegotiated a $275 million deal with the Yankees. All told, Rodriguez has earned over $325 million – or just shy of one-third of a billion dollars – in MLB contracts over the course of his career. That’s not counting the lucrative endorsement deals he once commanded before links to PEDs tarnished his very bankable image.
Some observers will counter that those honors are ill-gotten gains of a player who cheated to gain an edge. Of course, those claims brush aside key factors. With or without PEDs, there is an incredibly minute number of people in the history of the planet that possess the baseball talent to put up those numbers. Say what you will about Rodriguez, but he is a truly gifted athlete.
Secondly, Rodriguez played the majority of his career in a period of the game that is known as the Steroid Era. Until relatively recently – regardless of debates about the ethical issues of PEDs – using substances to get an edge on the field was rampant in MLB. As the Biogenesis scandal shows, less may have changed than MLB would like the public to believe.
One thing Rodriguez has always struggled with is likability. As irrelevant as that seems, American sports fans are willing to forgive athlete transgressions based largely on two things: how good a player is in the game and how affable a player is away from it. Rodriguez unquestionably excelled at the first, but the latter has been elusive. This latest mess certainly won’t help.
In 2009, Rodriguez admitted to using steroids from 2001 to 2003. While not condoning his actions, Rodriguez’s honesty in admitting to using PEDs in an effort to gain an edge when so many other athletes implicated have danced around the subject was commendable. His alleged decision to continue or return to doing it – as being implicated in the Biogenesis story seems to imply – was certainly not.
Among some people there is a belief that Rodriguez is being scapegoated not only for his mistakes, but for the entire PED saga. If he does receive a lifetime ban, he’d be the first player of the Steroid Era banned for life.
Still, as these spheres all collide – his incredible ability, his lack of likability, the fact that he has grown richer off the game than any player in history, his apparent unwillingness to learn from his past mistakes, the seemingly unending Steroid Era – it’s hard to find much sympathy for Rodriguez.
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz