Four years ago, Alex Rodriguez looked like a repentant man. In an ESPN interview he confessed to using banned performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) while playing for the Texas Rangers early in his career. He cited his youth, his naïveté, and the external pressure from expectations as reasons for his baseball crime. Rodriguez fought back tears during the interview and swore never to violate baseball’s rules in such a way again.
The New York Yankees slugger even joined the Taylor Hooton Foundation, a nonprofit organization combating steroid use among youth. “I’m finally beginning to grow up. I’m pretty tired of being stupid and selfish,” Rodriguez said. But his words now seem to have been empty.
Rodriguez was one of 13 players suspended from Major League Baseball this month for purchasing performance-enhancing drugs from an anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis of America, in Florida. While 12 players, including stars Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers and Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers, accepted their 50-game ban without a fight, Rodriguez has filed a grievance to challenge his discipline—the strictest of the 13 penalties given. Along with a 50-game ban for using PEDs, MLB handed Rodriguez an additional 161-game suspension for interfering with an investigation and attempting a cover-up.
The evidence is strong, and while all the players linked to the Biogenesis scandal have become villains in the eyes of fans, no one looks worse than Rodriguez. In addition to cheating multiple times, Rodriguez has displayed dishonesty and arrogance. Instead of admitting guilt and at least showing remorse, Rodriguez said his suspension was too harsh. That doesn’t sit well with fans. “I grew up before the steroid time, and baseball players were my heroes and I’d like to keep them my heroes,” said Nancy Hollomon, polled at Fenway Park by The Boston Globe last month. “I’d like to know they’re honest ballplayers.”
Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, once one of baseball’s most popular figures, has also proven himself dishonest. In December 2011, Braun failed a random drug test, and while facing almost certain suspension, pled his innocence in front of fans and teammates. The suspension was overturned on a technicality—an MLB collector mishandled Braun’s urine sample—and Braun quickly declared “the truth is on our side.” Just one year later, Major League Baseball uncovered evidence that Braun had purchased PEDs from the Florida clinic. Braun accepted a 65-game suspension without complaint, though he has yet to admit guilt or apologize.
Steroid use is not baseball’s unforgivable sin. In 2010, baseball great Hank Aaron publicly spoke of his forgiveness for known steroid user Mark McGwire—even going as far as to advocate McGwire’s acceptance into the Hall of Fame. New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, a Sunday school teacher and father of four, admitted to using human growth hormone on one occasion while recovering from an injury. He apologized to fans and has never failed a drug test. While his usage is still a stain on his career, most fans around the league respect Pettitte.
Rodriguez, stumbling on his own pride, as all of us tend to do, has destroyed his career. Scouts labeled him “a sure All-Star” before he was even drafted at age 17, and he has since then seemed full of himself. Four years ago, he spoke to a crowd of reporters at the Yankees spring training facility in Florida: “I’m in a position where I have to earn my trust back. The only thing I ask from this group today and the American people is to judge me from this day forward.”
The judgment is in.