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alex_rodriguez_the_steroid_era_continues | February | 2009 Articles

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Alex Rodriguez: The Steroid Era Continues

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Well, Alex Rodriguez used steroids.

Jose Canseco kept telling us that he had the goods on Alex Rodriguez, but never quite said what he had. No matter how many guilty people Canseco fingered, he's stil an unreliable witness, freely admitting he lied while he played and is motivated now by revenge.

But whether or not Canseco had proof that Alex used, Sports Illustrated independently confirmed it. Alex Rodriguez used steroids, and once a user, always a cheater. He steered clear of the Mitchell Report, but unsealed test results from 2003 convicted him. 103 other names from that testing have yet to be revealed, but Rodriguez is the biggest player in baseball, the highest-paid, the undisputed best.

There are a lot of ways of looking at it. Curt Schilling wants all 103 other names revealed; Joe Posnanski wants to take the time to appreciate a player who probably didn't use, based on his public stance and normal aging and injury curve, Frank Thomas. Rob Neyer refuses to take the moral high ground in condemning Alex, calling him a great player who wanted to do anything to win -- even if it meant seeking the same illegal edge that many of his contemporaries took. All of them remind that Rodriguez isn't the only steroid user, only the youngest future Hall of Famer we know about, but his revelation further serves to cast doubt on the Hall of Fame chances of his contemporaries, including Thomas and Schilling.

I agree with Neyer about the moral high road on cheating. Baseball has never taken an unambiguous moral stance toward breaking the rules to get ahead, and enshrined an admitted cheater, Gaylord Perry, in the Hall of Fame. In baseball, there is one cardinal sin: gambling on games. Cheating has been in baseball since the game began, and cheating to help your teammates win is rarely completely discouraged. In a way, it's almost selfless -- Rodriguez's reputation is shot, but no one can take those Yankee victories off the board.

Cheating has a long history, of course. Bat-corking caused Sammy Sosa's career little more than mild embarrassment. Amphetamine-popping defined an era of its own, one characterized by stolen base kings like Tim Raines (a cocaine user who ought to be in the Hall), Vince Coleman, and of course Rickey Henderson. Sign-stealing is almost outright encouraged by the old men of the game. Spitballing, or ball-doctoring, as we learned from the case of Perry, or the Milwaukee Braves' 1957 World Series MVP Lew Burdette, is often seen as a good thing, if you can get away with it. Steroids are only different by degree. Greenies could steal you a couple bases, but it takes a whole lot of stolen bases to equal the offensive production you get from 70 home runs. Speed kills, but power kills harder, faster, and more.

Ultimately, Rodriguez reminds us why we call it the Steroid Era: whoever else may have been using, the best outfielder, the best infielder, and the best pitcher of the past 20 years were all on the juice. And if the very best players were using, then everyone had a serious incentive to use just in order to keep pace. We'll never know the exact extent of it, how many players used for years and how many (as Andy Pettitte claimed) tried it and then decided not to continue, how many never got caught because their sources never got dimed by an FBI informer. But we will know that it was unbounded, that players from the worst (Alex Sanchez) to the best (Alex Rodriguez) all chemically padded their stats.

Baseball will survive this. The shock is new, but it isn't unprecedented. As with Barry and Roger, the whispers long preceded the confirmation. The effect on Alex -- or on the dysfunctional Yankees, stuck with a decade and $300 million of him -- is hard to know. But the other 29 teams and 749 players will soldier on. Alex Rodriguez may be a pariah, but he isn't unique. He's one of many, separated from the pack only by his astronomic salary, his astronomic talents, and the fact he got caught.

As far as we know, the usage of steroids has gone far down in the past 5 years, though the commensurate rise or fall in HGH (for which there is no test) or other unknown substances is impossible to measure. The steroid era is past its peak, but we will never really leave it as long as No. 13 suits up every day to play third base in the Bronx to serve as a living reminder. Previous steroid revelations have shaken the sport, but they haven't made it impossible to watch. Alex has besmirched himself, but he can't destroy baseball. We're only a few days from spring training. I'm still excited.

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